Interview with Rafael Khakimov on the Constitution of Tatarstan —

Historian Rafael Khakimov on the topicality of the main law of the republic and the financial problems of federalism

Photo: Maksim Platonov

Tatarstan Constitution Day was celebrated in the republic on November 6. The main document for residents of Tatarstan was adopted almost three decades ago – after a referendum on the sovereignty of the region on November 6, 1992. The Constitution of the republic still causes heated debates, it still contains provisions contradicting federal legislation, declaring the sovereignty and independence of Tatarstan. The Realnoe Vremya newspaper discussed the topicality of the main law of the republic for residents of Tatarstan with one of the main participants in the constitutional processes of the 1990s, historian Rafael Khakimov.

“Russia also began to violate its Constitution”

Mr Khakimov, the Constitution of Tatarstan was adopted 28 years ago. Did it need to pass given all the following arguments with Moscow over sovereignty and the power-sharing agreement, which was not extended in 2017?

Of course, the Constitution had to be adopted at that time. As the Constitution was a declaration, in fact, not laws, not the main law. It had to be arranged, explained, repaired. The referendum also played a big role, of course – the results of the referendum of March 21, 1992 were to be fixed (the declaration of state sovereignty of the Republic of Tatarstan became the result of the referendum). The results of the referendum were in the first article. In fact, this was the main article for which the Constitution of Tatarstan had to be adopted (according to it, the Republic of Tatarstan was declared a democratic state united with the Russian Federation by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Agreement between Russia and Tatarstan).

According to the first version of the Constitution to which changes were made 17 times later, Tatarstan was declared a democratic state. Formally, according to the Constitution, it remains a “state”, not a region of the Russian state. Obviously, there are contradictions here with the Russian Constitution. How? ‘Or’ What should they or they to be Explain and resolved now today?

There may be contradictions, which is why there is the Agreement on the Distribution of Powers and Mutual Delegation of Authority between the State Power Agencies of the Russian Federation and the State Power Agencies of the Republic of Tatarstan.

The referendum also played a big role, of course – the results of the March 21, 1992 referendum had to be fixed. The results of the referendum were in the first article

But the agreement has lost its force. According to federal law, Tatarstan lost its right to divide jurisdiction and power between public power agencies of Russia and public power agencies of Tatarstan in 2017. Because the agreement was not extended in 2017 …

You know, this happened because Russia also started violating its Constitution and legislation. That is why it turned out that relations between Moscow and Kazan are fixed by them. This may seem like no problem. There are analogues of such a state of affairs: for example, today Bavaria is also a formally free and independent state, which incidentally contradicts the German General Constitution. But Germany and Bavaria exist at the same time. So we also exist.

“Russia will become a real federation anyway sooner or later

So I can’t help but ask such a question: the first version of the Constitution of Tatarstan spoke of the principles of “federalism”, but there has been no federalism itself for the past 20 years, from Putin’s vertical of power to amendments to the Russian Constitution. Or do you disagree?

There is federalism in certain files today anyway, whereas this federalism is very minimal in certain files. For example, our foreign affairs in Tatarstan are like those of Germany and other sovereign states – and Tatarstan, in fact, has rights over them. While in some issues it all depends on Russian legislation today.

Photo: Roman Khasayev

“I am sure that Russia will become a real federation anyway sooner or later. It’s just talking if something wants it or not”

Do you think that as a historian, political scientist who remembers the 1990s, should Tatarstan strive to be sovereign, at least in the confederation or as in the case of Bavaria in Germany? Or is it more comfortable and preferable for Tatarstan to exist on the principles of centralized, if not “imperial” power?

Imperial? It can’t be worse. Such a country will collapse sooner or later. Federalism is necessary for a country as large as Russia, with such territory and a diversity of cultures, not just nations but regional cultures with 11 time zones. So I am sure that Russia will become a real federation anyway sooner or later. It’s just talking whether someone likes it or not. The fact that someone is for unitarianism, a unitary configuration of the Russian state today is, in fact, connected with the concentration of financial resources [in the federal centre] and corruption, by the way.

How Kazan agreed with Moscow to help other regions with Tatar textbooks

Debates on the national character of the Constitution of Tatarstan have not ceased since its adoption: as the republic has played a national card by asserting that power in Tatarstan is exercised first in the name of a separate nation, I quote: will of the multi-ethnic people of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Tatar people…” Should we play this card in the 1990s?

Firstly, we are talking about the “people of Tatarstan” and mean both Tatars, Russians and other nations. And this principle is still followed today because not only Tatar but also Russian are fixed in law as official languages. But since different ethnicities live compactly in our region, Tatarstan has schools in the Mari, Udmurt and Chuvash languages. There are both corresponding newspapers and clubs, whatever these ethnicities want in this regard. As for the question of why the “Tatar people” is mentioned separately in the Constitution, the answer is simple: the majority of Tatars live precisely in the Russian Federation, with the exception of Tatarstan. That is why this phrase was used in the text because Kazan agreed with Moscow that Tatarstan was responsible for the cultivation of all Tatars in Russia. And Moscow itself recognized this and even asked us, for example, to supply textbooks to Tatar schools in other regions. And today, we supply these schools with textbooks — we print them ourselves, while the regions buy them from us.


Kazan agreed with Moscow that Tatarstan was responsible for the cultivation of all Tatars in Russia. And Moscow itself recognized this and even asked us, for example, to supply textbooks to Tatar schools in other regions.

Nationality issues are not relevant, while the distribution of taxes remains an issue

As for nationality, according to Article 21 of the Constitution of Tatarstan, there is a provision on “nationality of Tatarstan”, which, by the way, was fixed by a decree of the Constitutional Court of Tatarstan dated May 30, 2003 Is the institution of nationality important today? or does it have no practical meaning?

As for nationality… If there is a republic, although nominally there is a language, there are attributes, there is a corresponding nationality. So today I think that the question of nationality is not becoming topical, so important throughout the world. The borders of the European Union are open, and these borders are open to citizens of EU member states, without caveats regarding nationality. I think the question of nationality has already lost its force compared to the 90s.

To sum up the conversation, what could you wish for the federal and republican authorities, legislators, politicians to solve the problems of federalism and improve the interaction between Moscow and Kazan?

I think that our relations with Moscow, the federal centre, are already good today. In fact, the only debatable question is how much money from collected taxes we should give to Moscow and how much leave to Tatarstan because it is not correct when 72% of the republic’s taxes go to the federal center. While customs duties go completely to Moscow. Moreover, 60% of Tatarstan’s industrial products are exported. What do we have? Yes, we live quite well with the remaining non-low percentages. The problem today is to establish and improve interbudgetary relations. And for Russia, the situation where almost all regions turn out to be beneficiaries is of course sad. How to come? What country is it? What federalism is it when all regions of the federation depend on Moscow and how Moscow will divide the money deciding who it will give money to and not? What principles are these? I don’t really understand them.

The situation in Tatarstan is not bad. Moreover, we know how to get money from Moscow practically, with certain policies. We simply propose large projects that make sense for all of Russia – federal funds are allocated for this. We live well thanks to that, of course.

By Sergei Afanasyev


Rose D. Jones