Mintimer Shaimiev: ''The federal government should find more attractive solutions for the peoples of Russia''

Mintimer Shaimiev: ''The federal government should find more attractive solutions for the peoples of Russia'' Photo: tatarstan.ru

First president of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev gave an interview to the television channel TNV. Answering the questions of TNV director general Ilshat Aminov, he remembered the signing of Agreement on the Delineation of Powers between Russia and Tatarstan, the creation of the Tatarstan constitution and how they managed to prevent the appearance of armed opposition in Tatarstan. The state adviser of Tatarstan is convinced that the decision to create a slum liquidation fund was right, though he could be judged for it. He believes that Tatarstan conserved the largest enterprises as a property of the republic due to the region's own privatisation method.

''When one has to make decisions during a turbulent period, they are very important''

Mr Shaimiev, once you said that in politics, one can always find a victorious combination of moves, just like in chess. Do you like chess because it helps to develop a strategic vision?

People look for victory not only in chess but in life. Chess is an ancient wise game, a search of optimal solutions. It is much harder to win in life than it is to win at chess. I think about what we went through and what decision we had to make. Many things were done for the first time. Those years were evolutionary and revolutionary. Coincidentally, it was a period of responsible work at senior posts. All the same, it seems to me that poor origin and circumstances gave an opportunity to live having no right to make a mistake.

I would like to ask you a question, which might be difficult to answer. What was the toughest decision you had to make? Do you remember?

We had to make many tough decisions, because we had not experienced anything like this before. Life itself dictated, situations changed. It was said, not by us, but by great men, great thinkers, that ''May God grant us the mercy of not living in a time of change''. These are words that have come from suffering. The most difficult period was when Perestroika started, the first elections began – the Party had all of the power. I was elected first secretary of the regional party committee on an alternative basis. Mikhail Gorbachev invited Gumer Usmanov to work as secretary of the Central Committee. We all remember the slogans of Perestroika – ''Publicity'', ''All power to the Soviets!''. When Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR on Leadership of CPSU was removed, Perestroika forces started to be dispersed and the party power was toppled in many places.

It happened across the country. Many people came with freshness without looking back and thinking of tomorrow. Entire bureaus of district committees and krai committees retired. Why am I speaking about it and why do I consider this period the toughest one? I worked as first secretary for nine months. I had to make a decision. I did not have great experience as first secretary, though I chaired the government.

You worked as minister for a long time…

When I was young. I gathered the first secretaries of city and district committees of the party. These people all were honourable. They were born to do that job. They were successful in their work. A small circle gathered. I came out and told them with respect: ''You see Perestroika is taking place. All power to the Soviets. Sooner or later, little time left. You are experienced and honourable, people appreciate you at work. I want you to start chairing the Soviets because the Party won't have any power.'' I will never forget it. It is one thing to be an experienced first secretary and work for a long time before that. But I was the new first secretary of the regional committee of the party, I was young. They looked at me as if I was a betrayer. They say: ''Betrayer''. You cannot forget it if you see it first-hand. Their looks. All of the people there thought: ''You, boy, are forcing us to make such a choice…

They turned away from all of our ideals...

Because they were educated in that way. It is impossible to blame anybody. I tried to explain everything in detail. I gave them several months and asked them to make a decision. «Go to the Soviets,» I said – we know you, we will carry out the appropriate administrative work. I have to say that 70% of people went there in two months.

Why did it stick in my mind? Because of the price for this decision. As time went by, they understood how well it was said. I was not afraid, I did not use a hands-off approach because it was people's fates. It was the price. The republic did not lose its staff during Perestroika. It conserved the skeleton. Personally, it was difficult. Even today I can't speak about it calmly. It was a difficult moment, but in the end it was the best way to conserve the staff.The republic managed to work creatively even during the turbulent Perestroika years. We coped with the crisis in 1998 better with this staff. We just needed to gather, come to an agreement and act.

The republic did not lose its staff during Perestroika. It conserved the skeleton. Personally, it was difficult. Even today I can't speak about it calmly. It was a tough moment, which, as a result, became a correct and sure option to conserve the staff

There was a difficult period later when the Declaration on the State Sovereignty was adopted, we started to work on the Constitution of Tatarstan and when we chose the language. People started to accuse me of being against switching to the Latin script.

I always thought and I think that one should look for a greater patriot than me. I was born and grew up in pure Tatar Aktanysh District. Today Tatars account there for 86% of the population or so. My older sister, Marziya apa, is a teacher. She used the Latin script. But I continued insisting that we could not switch to it. However, it is very beautiful, melodious and sonorous for colloquial speech.

How could we do that? To separate Tatars who live in neighbouring Bashkortostan, other regions and krais of Russia. Could any governor or head of a republic make such a decision just because Tatarstan switched to the Latin script? Even our neighbours, the Bashkirs, did not do that. We would stitch up ourselves in that situation. We separated ourselves in terms of writing. That is the fate that those in power have come to. When you are convinced that your positions are firm from your point of view, you need to defend them.

I remembered another very serious moment when we established the post of president for the first time in our republic. The Supreme Council offered to declare my candidacy, I gave it the go-ahead. The period was not calm. The Russian-speaking population were especially worried: ''What will happen to us?'' This question was very serious. They had been living here for centuries. And we have so many mixed marriages! Surely many people are guilty of that?

Of course, apart from progress, a revolution has huge costs. There is no revolution without costs and victims. Fortunately, we managed to avoid them. There was no bloodshed in Russia in general. We like to criticise rulers of those times. But before criticising, one must think carefully. When Boris Yeltsin opened fire on the White House, it saved us from civil war. A civil war was around the corner. What was to be done? It is even more difficult when your allies found themselves on the other side of the front.

Where am I going with this? When I visited labour collectives as a candidate for president, the number of the Russian-speaking population was almost equal to the number of Tatars, the anxiety on people's faces was obvious. They were ordinary people, workers, they did not know whether to believe it or not, there was doubt in their faces. When the first five years of my presidency passed, you asked me: ''What was the greatest success of your first presidential term?'' for a reason. I answered: ''People's faces brightened. They believed in my words''. At that moment, I spoke from the heart even without thinking that something different could happen in the republic. But we managed to get through it. This trust played a major role.

The interreligious relations that had formed in the republic did not show any signs of cracking. A few things happened at the everyday level, but it did not turn into a destructive process. I was afraid when strikes took place in the streets. I was afraid that a Russian would stab a Tatar with a knife or vice versa. Not because of political views but because of a girl or something else. But it did not happen. When one has to make decisions during a turbulent period, they are very important. The price for mistakes is different. These moments when we showed our insistence, reached people's conscience and showed ourselves to be more decisive, they justified themselves. They were life-changing processes when we could not take a step back, we should do or die if we decided.

''When you are in the thick of the action, there is no fear''

The 90s were a very dramatic period for the history of our country, for the history of our republic. As a person, politician and leader, you faced a great number of challenges. I studied your biography carefully and was always surprised: what helped you to withstand the pressure when you were almost on the razor's edge, on thin ice? Nevertheless, you handled it all. Are you really made of iron' (Note that First President Mintimer Shaimiev's name means ''I am iron'')?

It turns out so. Now I say it consciously when you are in the thick of the action, there is no fear. It was difficult for the people who dealt with the Party then. You can't blame people. If he worked as first secretary for ten or twenty years, he felt many times he was impeccable.

Many party workers, directors of enterprises committed suicides in those years. This kind of cases took place in Tatarstan and even in Kazan…

Yes, Vitaly Kopylov is a great personality. We witnessed it. I mean I did not have this burden. We speak about it little, unfortunately. My generation saw the spirit of changes.

Of course, apart from progress, a revolution has huge costs. There is no revolution without costs and victims. Fortunately, we managed to avoid them. There was no bloodshed in Russia in general. We like to tell off rulers of that times. One should think before telling off

Khrushchev?

Yes, Nikita Khrushchev. Absolutely. He revealed Stalin's personality cult. Few people say that Khrushchev separated the Party from production. Soviet people's economies dealt with industry, agriculture – production territorial administrations. Tatarstan had eight production territorial administrations. Aged 25, I headed Selkhoztekhnika Menzelinsk Interregional Union. Moscow approved us. I was a guy, in fact. I was not approved for the first time. They called Fikryat Tabeyev. He insisted. We are young, the young always aspires for new things. It is what we started to live with.

We also witnessed chairman of the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR Aleksey Kosygin's working period. He was like a rock. He understood the life of the world and how we should start to change the economy. He was not allowed to make a step. He visited our republic, delivered a speech at the Djalil Theatre. He told how the country would develop in the next five years without any paper, fluently named figures for four hours. All people admired him. He had news. He had not any support, of course. And Khrushchev was dismissed by his people. But there was an aspiration. Everybody understood they could not live so any more.

And Boris Yeltsin frankly told about it from the rostrum of the last congress of the Communist Party. He said it to me. When he left CPSU at the last congress, we were going to meet at 5 o'clock. He made an appointment. When he gave his party membership card, I went there anyway because we had decided to meet, though it was a shock for everyone.

It was a very brave step.

I came. As chairman of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation, he received me in the White House. He was rushing hither and thither in the room. I tried to say something. I saw the person was anxious. You should have seen that moment. He said to me: ''Mintimer, I served this Party for a long time. But it is impossible to live this way''. He was worried because he left CPSU. Who of party bosses dared to make such a step? Only he. Can flesh and blood easily make such a step? The times were turbulent.

''We claimed our rights the history of our republic did not have''

Mr Shaimiev, let's go back to the 28th Congress of CPSU. At that session, you brought up the issue on raising the status of Tatarstan to a union republic. Then you said your performance was sweated. Why did you say that?

It is difficult to find a stronger word. One needed to dare to do that. It was in summer. It was the last party congress. We can't say that our secretaries of the regional committee did not deliver a speech before me. But the system did not allow to say aloud to be heard. We were not heard for the first time. Tatarstan and Bashkortostan aspired to become union republics from the 1917 revolution. Accidental circumstances impeded when the Czechoslovak Legion appeared. October revolution activists talked about a creation of a Tatar and Bashkir republic. The question was almost solved. But destiny had other plans for us.

When Perestroika started and Russia adopted Declaration on the State Sovereignty, we claimed our rights. It was man enough to say it at a party congress. It was said aloud ''Tatarstan is a candidate!'' Then at a meeting of people's deputies, I climbed on to the rostrum without Mikhail Gorbachev's permission. He did not allow to take the floor. Article 71 of the Constitution of the USSR was discussed then. And I upped and made it public. He did not think people would vote and offered to vote. The congress supported me. So we were on a par with heads of union republics and legal members of a body that was created again – the USSR Federation Council. It was a moment! We became equal participants working on the Union Treaty. We worked on the Union Treaty for several months until 19 August. The Union Treaty was initialled at that time.

Were not you afraid that you could be expelled from the party, imposed sanctions, etc.?

No. It happened later when we started to realise the declaration, established the post of president and started to work on the constitution. We adopted the constitution before Russia. There were intimidations that had a foundation. But to think about myself… I had more serious thoughts, though there is nothing more valuable than life. It is not the point. You believed in something. Changes were taking place.

When Perestroika started and Russia adopted Declaration on the State Sovereignty, we claimed our rights. It was man enough to say it at a party congress. It was said aloud ''Tatarstan is a candidate!''

The Russian historiography's attitude to Declaration on the State Sovereignty of Tatarstan is unclear. I have read many different materials. Some people consider it one of the key documents of Russian separatism. In your opinion, what does Declaration on State Sovereignty of Tatarstan mean to very Russia?

I always say that it is necessary to have arguments to defend interests of the republic. State management is not child's play. Moreover, when we announced our independence. I said then to read Article 1 of our Constitution. The word ''sovereignty'' is also there, it has everything. But we signed the agreement with the Russian Federation. It is clearly written that Tatarstan is sovereign in its power based on the agreement, Constitution of the Russian Federation and Constitution of Tatarstan. It was a self-restraint process. There is no 100% sovereignty in a federal state. But our Article 1 can't be changed without a referendum because the last article of the Constitution of Tatarstan says that Article 1 of the Constitution of Tatarstan can be changed via referendum. We should know the Constitution. We need to teach people. We have rights. We need to work on their realisation.

Our current President Rustam Minnikhanov is working and taking many measures to use these rights to improve people's lives. It is not easy but it is done. Tatarstan goes through any crisis easier. When asked what Declaration on the State Sovereignty gave us, I don't speak about big projects we managed to fulfil. The national self-consciousness, consciousness of our people, first of all, consciousness of Tatars grew.

When the declaration was adopted, it was one of the best speeches, which was impromptu.

Yes, I still like it. Not only I do. It was more sweated than when there was a question on the republic's status because we publicly told the whole world, post-Soviet space, all Russia about our rights.

Declaration is a very serious document. All intellectual powers of the republic joined when it was born. Not only Shaimiev. All team. The team, and not the team. We had different movements at that moment. And the legislative power was diverse. All in all, it all allowed to make a balanced decision. We managed to adopt this kind of text at midnight after all discussions. Nobody was afraid of anybody in conditions of publicity. I have to say that a multi-ethnic republic is a big achievement. We claimed our rights the history of our republic did not have. I said we needed to be mature and responsible immediately to justify this trust in front of ourselves, our people, Russia and the whole world.

It was a serious step. Then we started to work on the constitution.

Many people are speaking that nothing left from Tatarstan's sovereignty, we lost everything. Everything's back to square one. What do you think about it?

No, there is an agreement. Delineation of powers is based on the Constitution of the Russian Federation and Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan and Agreement on Mutual Distribution of Powers. I probably know the Constitution by heart. Article 11 of Constitution of the Russian Federation is very important. It is said that delineation of management and powers between state power bodies of the Russian Federation and state power bodies of regions of the Russian Federation is done via Constitution, federal or other agreements on delineation of management and powers. The constitutional act is our agreement.

I was shocked when as chairman of the Federation Council Sergey Mironov tried ignoring the text of the second agreement. He was the chairman of the Federation Council! But this document is one of the most important tools that regulate disputable points or claims of one of the big republics of the federation that did not sign the Federation Treaty in the past. It was a historic act. We were the first to adopt the Constitution. Then the Constitution of the Russian Federation appeared. This is why this kind of articles appeared on the Constitution of the Russian Federation. They were created to conserve the federation when there are such realias as adopted Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan, Declaration on the State Sovereignty, Referendum on the Status of Tatarstan. A complicated question about the status of Tatarstan was raised in the referendum. But even the Supreme Court of Russia could not deny it after referendum because a referendum is allowed in a democratic state.

I think that this day celebrated on 30 August – day when Declaration of State Sovereignty was adopted – has taken a back seat in recent time. City Day substitutes it. Probably we are those people who forget their achievements and don't try reminding themselves about them more often. Don't you think so?

I can't help but agree with you. At first the city complained like we have Republic Day and City Day on one day. And the city is in shadow. I think we should speak about it aloud: it is our achievement!

State management is not child's play. Moreover, when we announced our independence. I said then to read Article 1 of our Constitution. The word ''sovereignty'' is also there, it has everything. But we signed the agreement with the Russian Federation. It is clearly written that Tatarstan is sovereign in its power based on the agreement, Constitution of the Russian Federation and Constitution of Tatarstan

It is our achievement that still defines our development way.

Of course. Who did cancel it? Who can do it? One should read this document carefully. You mentioned accusations of separatism. Then the Russian Federation needed to be accused of separatism when the Union was dissolving. Following these rules, does Tatarstan pay less taxes to the Russian budget or does it participate in other programmes less today? I would say the republic works on creation. We should patiently explain the young. They must know what a republic we live in, what rights and possibilities we have. We also fall short of our targets.

Let's recall the events that took place on 15 October 1991. A crowd was standing in front of the Supreme Council of Tatarstan and requiring a total independence of Tatarstan. An unpleasant thing happened then. The crowd rushed to occupy the building of the Supreme Council. Several people, police workers and strikers were victims. How did you manage to avoid the situation? Were there any moments when the boat was rocking, and it could have turned turtle?

Crowd is horrible. A crowd has initiators, it is diverse. It can have a national or religious feature. I always had consultations with this kind of leaders. We tried hearing their voice, except in rare circumstances. In general, we worked on it. We tried finding out what it would lead to. It is a patient work.

I want to remember one episode. As secretary of the Central CPSU Committee, Gumer Usmanov saw it all and worried being in Moscow. When Fauziya Bayramova went on hunger strike, he thought it was odd. He called me and said: ''Don't you manage the republic?'' Probably he had the right to say so because I did not have experience in party work. I became the regional committee secretary in opposition to it. Usmanov maybe thought I was stupid and I would not succeed. One day he called me: ''It is necessary to tidy up in the republic. I am coming.'' We received him as it should be. I gathered the regional committee bureau. Fauziya and people who visited her in Svoboda Square were seen out of the window. Usmanov asked: ''What do you do?'' I reported what measures we took.

''Why is she there then?''

''People are coming, she has gone on hunger strike. What can we do with her?''

He was not glad. Gumer Usmanov was quite a strict head. He decided to find out everything on his own. I said: ''Mr Usmanov, let me go. You are a guest. You have just arrived''. He went alone. We were looking out of the window. He went outside and approached Bayramova. He was surrounded. I saw she did not get on with him. We did not go out. 15 minutes passed. He was a hot-tempered person. He turned around and went. It seemed he understood he could not do it. It is not easy to talk to Fauziya and her company. She did starve, she did not simulate. It was her belief. A part of people – Bayramova's supporters – went with Usmanov down his house. His family lived on Bolshaya Krasnaya Street. They accompanied him down his apartment. They shouted and swore, of course. Gumer Usmanov did not call me for several days after that. But we saw him off.

We can't omit another life-changing moment — the Referendum on the State Sovereignty of Tatarstan. It was on 21 March 1992. A huge job was done in the republic. At the same time, the federal centre accepted neither the referendum nor the issue. After referendum and before it, it was said to bring Mintimer Shaimiev in a cage to Moscow. Aleksandr Rutskoy and Ruslan Khasbulatov told that Shaimiev needed to be jailed for 15-20 years. How did you decide to hold a referendum because the problem could have been solved by force? Could troops be sent to the republic for a military operation?

We are people of the system. I observed it. We say it is necessary to build a civilised democratic society. As soon as difficulties appear, we come back to CPSU, as Viktor Chernomyrdin said. That factor also played a role then. How is Tatarstan holding a referendum? It is a nonsense.

We must give credit where credit is due, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation considered the results of the referendum and could not deny them completely. He admitted only a part unacceptable for the federal state. They dared to do it. We were sure, though Fikryat Tabeyev, a person whom I respect, was asked to influence us.

The most surprising thing is that Sergey Shakhrai invited me to talk, he was Boris Yeltsin's adviser. Boris Yeltsin asked him to said to me that we could not hold a referendum. Mr Yeltsin was a democratic torchbearer. He said for a reason: ''Take as much sovereignty as you can swallow''. And here there was a kind of contradiction. I went by train when Shakhrai called me. When I got off the train, I saw Fikryat Tabeyev. He received me. He told the administration had a talk whether we were mistaken about the referendum. We went to Shakhrai together.

Crowd is horrible. A crowd has initiators, it is diverse. It can have a national or religious feature. I always had consultations with this kind of leaders. We tried hearing their voice, except in rare circumstances

We had a determination to hold the referendum, people supported us. We needed to create our own constitution. Everything was ready. In this respect, I had a firm argument — you should welcome such events in a democratic society. There was a serious conversation. Shakhrai understood everything, he carried out the instructions. Later we exchanged views many times. Fikryat Usmanov saw I was stubborn. Probably he never saw me so. I worked as minister under him and regional party committee secretary in the village. We did not come to an agreement. Shakhrai told: ''There is no sense in visiting Mr Yeltsin. You adhered to your opinion. I said: ''Of course, the mechanism was launched. We must hold the referendum. Where are the first fruits of Perestroika?''

Then we went to Khasbulatov, he was Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation. Boris Yeltsin was already President of the Russian Federation. We were elected on the same day — he as the president of the Russian Federation, I as the president of Tatarstan. I told Khasbulatov the same thing. He is very knowledgeable man, he realized that it was useless to discuss it. Fikryat Akhmedjanovich turned out to be in a difficult situation. Apparently, they agreed, knowing that I respect this man, to influence me. But they failed.

But the hardest part was, I wasn't expecting it, when Mr. Yeltsin addressed to the population of Tatarstan. In his address he said, ''If you, the Tatarstan citizens, will say yes to the question posed in the referendum, blood may be spilled.'' After that I had a speech. I said that if we didn't answer yes, blood may be spilled, we would lose the peace in the Republic. We had no choice. We had to give an answer. We announced the referendum, there was nowhere to retreat.

But Farid Mukhametshin was summoned to the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation. He was standing much time, explaining on the podium. I must say even at this point, I am not even talking about deputies from the Tatarstan Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation, there were intellectuals who put Farid Khairullovich in a bad light, why he disagreed, defended his position. Zilya Valeyeva was deputy of Farid Mukhametshin, she did not sleep nights to gather the Supreme Council in case if we suddenly changed the decision.

We did not do that. But everything was close. It was such dramatic moment. But I want to say: the security forces, though subordinated to the federal center, they did not go against the wishes of our people. I can say that with all certainty. They acted based on the interests of our population. At the same time, there were so many leaflets delivered from the federal centre!

Yes, they painted a grim scenario for Tatarstan. That the end of the Tatarstan Republic would come.

A very grim scenario. But the main thing is that the prosecutors warned the chairpersons of the electoral commissions. At that time we had 2,611 polling stations. They were given instructions not to open polling stations out of fear of criminal liability. In the morning I went to work, first thing I did was to find out whether the polling stations were opened. They said there were several delays, although all of them were opened. All!

Nobody lost courage...

Yes, although everybody had been warned. It is trust, unity. Thus, we hold the referendum with the positive outcome. With the exception of the part where the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation had a claim, extrajudicial. And we then adopted the Constitution of Tatartsan before the Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted. We tried to make this document consistent with the international law. It was a very important point.

We have the referendum with the positive outcome. With the exception of the part where the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation had a claim, extrajudicial. And we then adopted the Constitution of Tatartsan before the Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted

''I issued a tight decree on the inadmissibility of the armed opposition in Tatarstan''

Your position played a huge role to overcome this crisis, as well as the position of Boris Yeltsin, who then was able to reverse his opinion and to sign the historic Treaty between Tatarstan and Russia in 1994. What do you think really inspired him on this?

I must say that for him it was a relief. I have already told about this. When he publicly announced in UNICS in front of our intelligentsia, ''Take sovereignty...'', he didn't expect that people were so striving for changes. He saw it with his own eyes.

In the Union of writers of RT Boris Yeltsin met with our intelligentsia. Fauzia was also there. When all these events took place, he asked me (his memory was phenomenal), ''How are the woman? She was so pushing,'' he nicely asked.

Why I am saying this. We finished the meeting with great difficulty, went to the yard. There was a crowd. Guards said: the car can not pass, people do not allow. Boris went, took the second tram, and we went after him. Thus, he ''saved'', this word is wrong, but withdrew from this pressure.

And when we were in Almetyevsk, Mamadysh district, and he saw that everything that required independence, it had been already prepared. Because that day, when he had a peech at UNICS, we sat at the table. He said, ''You won't secede from Russia, will you?'' I saw his understanding and experience as head of Russia and said that it was necessary to calm people down. They demanded complete independence. We need to sit down, to establish a working committee to work on the contract.

We attracted our specialists. I cannot name all the names. Although many need to be called. Our intelligentsia did a lot, my advisors. Vasily Nikolaevich (Likhachev) he was Vice-President then. We quickly agreed, said that our working group would be chaired by Likhachev, it was also profitable. He is Russian man, but defended the interests of the Republic since he is my Vice President, but, nevertheless, this factor was important to work with federal authorities. In that situation it was important. Yeltsin appointed Burbulis. The Commission was created, and the Commission started to work.

Mr. Yeltsin said, ''Work on the articles of the Treaty. Go from simple to complex. As you will be stuck, will not be able to go further, we and Mintimer Shaimiev will sit down and we will solve the most difficult.'' Two or three times we sat with a pencil in hand. There was no departure from agreements on the form. He also understood everything. Especially against the background of what was happening in Chechnya.

At that time they wrote that Dudayev — iron, and Shaimiev — dough. Fueled. But Dudayev, when he came to power, he immediately closed the doors after him. Total independence. What was he thinking, I don't know. Chechnya alone could defeat Russia? But nevertheless, he went to the neighboring republics, gave speeches. The parliament applauded him.

Although the contract also could happen.

It would happen. I'm sorry that the relations between Boris Yeltsin and Maskhadov were spoilt. It is with whom you could talk after the tragic death of Dzhokhar. We met with him, got acquainted. Ruslan Aushev organized a meeting in his country dacha. Then Maskhadov came to us at my invitation. Maskhadov wanted the negotiations took place. But there were forces that prevented their second meeting with Yeltsin.

I can't say about Dzhokhar, I didn't meet with him. Especially after he wanted to supply weapons to Naberezhnye Chelny to create an armed opposition. Then I issued a very tight decree to prevent an armed opposition in Tatarstan.

I didn't know that.

Many did not know. Dudayev gave the go-ahead, he held negotiators. We found out through the relevant services because we were doing one thing in the interests of security of the Republic of Tatarstan. There were many hotheads in Chelny.

I have no doubt. It turns out that the Agreement on the delineation of powers and areas of responsibility removed all the questions and returned the situation in a constructive and positive course of development.

We elected deputies to the State Duma of Russia on the fly, although the Duma had already been working for a year and a half. And the Federation Council sent their representatives. We entered this field, as agreed. The contract had already solved the key issues of ownership, except for defense enterprises. We said that we do not claim on defense companies. The rest of the property remained belonging to the Republic. There were 13 economic agreements.

That time we talked more about politics, but it was all in one unit. Tatarstan held privatization by its own method. It is not accidentally Farid Gazizullin then was sent to Moscow, where he became Deputy Chairman of the RF State Committee for state property management.

We followed our own way. No one did. When the Russian privatization was announced, inflation was at 1 022%. Why did people appear who were able to acquire so much property for small money? It was due to the inflation. And we decided — the whole team — yes, start privatization. But we opened personal privatization deposits for each citizen of the Republic. Every citizen of Russia received a Russian voucher. And we have a lot of properties, we had two our own vouchers. We opened personal privatization deposits in Sberbank, but it was declared a moratorium due to such level of inflation. When inflation dropped to 17%, people were able to use the vouchers. That is why Tatarstan's property didn't withdraw from the region.

Many strong heads of regions kicked themselves when the property was withdrawing from their regions. Try to work in Tatarstan without Republican property with our potential. I do not want to point at them. But the example is in the neighborhood, our neighbours, not to mention others. The main outcome of privatisation à la Tatarstan — we preserved the property in the Republic. What if our property was not in the region? Because these enterprises of oil, petrochemical industries, are leading. If they were in other regions, why would they care about us? But it all remained in Tatarstan, including charity and other issues. It is good. Albert Kashafovich (Shigabutdinov) is a unique person. In those days, he managed even to do business in construction, trade and other fields. Such a good team.

Today it is one of the largest industries of oil refining and petrochemistry.

They work for the Republic. So many people receive salaries, infrastructure, and construction develop. But what if it was all in the hands of others…

When he publicly announced in UNICS in front of our intelligentsia , ''Take sovereignty...'', he didn't expect that people were so striving for changes. He saw it with his own eyes

''We got free of debts and got gasification of the Republic''

The Republic remained the property, that fact made possible the implementation of the program of demolition of dilapidated housing. I know you have repeatedly stated that you are ready that you can be judged for this program. And I know that they even wanted to judge. Why did they fail?

In fact, we really went against all odds. We invaded the fiscal space of the Russian Federation. Everybody knew that. We imposed, in addition to the legitimate taxes of Russia and Tatarstan, an additional tax – 1% of manufactured products deducted in the fund of demolition of dilapidated housing. This was a direct violation.

You are saying this so calmly...

Why I am so calm when saying this? There are moments when you're convinced that nothing can stop you. When I visited the homes of people who lived on the streets of Bauman and Ostrovsky, people were laying in the corridors. No conditions. It's a nightmare. And what stench there was! I am a rural person and even I am not used to this. Rural stench seemed to me almost nothing. There are moments in life when you think it is impossible, what shall be shall be. Republic was paying huge taxes, and we made this step.

Of course, it was troubled times. A real dictatorship of the tax service hadn't established yet. And we won. It was a big win. Sometimes in a year we collected and deducted in the fund of liquidation of dilapidated housing 14 to 17 billion rubles. Each year. We managed to build more than 50 thousand square meters of free housing. This whole districts. We got out people who would never would be able to escape from the barracks, the basement. They had no money, they were already ''on the bottom''. Time goes on, the program works. In the Republic it became easier to breathe.

But after all, people complained, wrote letters, invited for interviews.

Ours also condemned. Some media. But it was worth it. When such conversations go in the line of prosecutors…

It is what I have meant.

I went to Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) and told him. It was interesting for him that in the country there was such movement. We must pay tribute. Then Prime Minister was Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov. Putin said, ''Now Fradkov will arrive, tell him. Maybe we need to take such decision.'' They listened and decided that it was necessary to think, it's a beautiful thing. A normal person could not approve it, knowing that others could not handle.

Before that, Rossel tried, Murtaza Rakhimov tried, a number of major leaders. But they failed. It was necessary so that the heads of large companies also did that. It's a voluntary matter.

Or gasification. It's fantastic, I'm not afraid of the word. We were getting ready, Rem Ivanovich (Vyakhirev) said, ''I want to come.'' In the time of troubles, when there was no cash. Rem Ivanovich Vyakhirev, Chairman of Gazprom, arrived in the Republic. He then gave us Kanchukov (Director General of Gazprom Transgaz Kazan PLC). He said, ''This great guy I will give you. He worked in Siberia, he is Tatar. You will be grateful all my life.'' Indeed, and so it proved. Rafkat is a great person.

Hard to believe, but Vyakhirev said that he had no salary for the gas workers. ''You are huge debtors,'' he said ''What are we going to do?''. Well, we actually consumed 14-15 billion cubic meters of gas per year. It was a government man, he understood that we had no money either. I said, ''Rem Ivanovich, you have plans for rural gasification. We will do everything. We have the production of polyethylene pipes, spiral-welded metal production at Kazanorgsintez, Almetyevsk plant. Wealthy enterprises will deliver. At the expense of the debts of our businesses, let's gasify Tatarstan and will give it to your balance.'' He realized that there was option. And thus he would fulfill the plan for gasification. It was hard to find a better solution.

Sometimes in a year we collected and deducted in the fund of liquidation of dilapidated housing 14 to 17 billion rubles. Each year. We managed to build more than 50 thousand square meters of free housing. This whole districts. We got out people who would never would be able to escape from the barracks, the basement. They had no money, they were already ''on the bottom''

Honestly, I did not know this mechanism either.

The solution was unique. Ravil Fatykhovich Muratov can confirm this, he was engaged in the negotiation process. And we passed the entire gas network to Gazprom, from a point of high pressure to the plate, to the balance in the debt of our businesses. We fot freed of debts and got gasification of the Republic. Rem Ivanovich grumbled in public, but he was satisfied that this was possible.

Why we quickly did all this? Used all the power. Even persuaded the heads of administrations to work with the population. In order people left a bull, fattened and this money used for gasification. In Tatarstan there came the earthly paradise! It has a different quality of life. I thought and still think. We used dung to stoke. All summer children did not play, they sculpted from dung bricks to heat the stove. We were scolded if we opened the door for a long time and lost heat. Imagine a mother of 10 children, hot water is always needed. There were no kerosene either. I saw a kerosene shop in Kazan when I came here to study in 1954. What a benefit it seemed to me!

Mr Shaimiev, I think that the Declaration of state sovereignty, the referendum, the adoption of the Constitution, the election of the President of Tatarstan, the special conditions of privatization, the existence in Tatarstan of ownership, which has not gone outside the Republic, the presence of people who were competent of the property, the program of demolition of dilapidated habitation, the program of gasification and the current growth rate of the economy and the social sphere — all this is combined into one whole and one without the other is impossible.

I agree with you. We have excellent people in the Republic. It is our wealth. It's great.

In your speech at MGIMO, you said that after the Declaration of state sovereignty, after the referendum, after the adoption of the Constitution you were still accused of separatism. And you said that they do not understand that it was the stages of formation of the Federated Russian state. Do they have the understanding today, how do you think?

Today I can do it again. At the same time, I also understand the other thing. With experience and some knowledge of the essence of federalism, I can say that Russia by its structure and composition, and collection of land, is the most difficult federation in the world. Let anyone who does not agree argue. But there are no people wanting to argue.

Imagine, how many people here on historical ancestral lands. Russia is indeed a complex federal structure. There's no other way. It is necessary to find forms. Nobody wants to harm themselves to destroy the federal government. But at the same time, we must find the political will to accommodate the interests of all peoples and of all faiths, regardless of their number.

How many attempts have been made to call the Russian nation or people. Supposedly only through this it is possible to strengthen the Russian Federation. No. Only through federalism we can find levers. The time shows. We live in a difficult time. But that on the part of the subjects of the Federation nothing bad is being done. Therefore, it is necessary carefully to treat everything, without any attempts of infringement. It is necessary to solve not by quantity, but quality. Yes, it's complicated. I don't want to simplify. But there are no simple solutions. Some still advocate that Russia was a democratic federal government. But attempts to influence the educational process and so on…

In a federal state the government should find more attractive solutions for the people who live there, especially for minorities.

The Federation should try to be attractive to their people.

That's what we need. How can people be guilty if they have a particular religious affiliation or history? It is the fate of Russia. This is her wealth. I was outraged when I went to the football, it was visited by avid fans of Spartak. They tore posters with the slogan ''Russian, forward!''. I then said, ''what about us?''. They were calmed down a little bit. And there were also tragic cases was with these fans, thankfully, not on our territory. It is necessary to stop such things. Such impunity is harmful to other fans. It's a disservice. It is impossible for such issues to listen to Zhirinovsky.

Your famous phrase — in the national issue there are no unimportant details.

Yes, it is true. If you ignore the details, it becomes a problem. Who's going to say about this, if not we. We saved the country in the most difficult times. And it recognizes the leadership of the Russian Federation. And by command way we want to do something in terms of striving for civilization and we harm ourselves. Instead of bonding friendship, we are looking for a simple way. What is this need? We cannot help but take into account the interests of the peoples of the Republic, our native land. And for the united federal state it is also necessary to find solutions.

We have miniatures even in the Kremlin. Sometimes I think: how many miniatures have been done. But it was all built.

''Our history is recognized in the world''

Mr Shaimiev, you have been awarded the order of Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow and the order of St. Sergius of Radonezh. At the same time, the award is named after King Faisal, who is awarded for service to Islam. How do you combine these principles? You as an example of tolerance, religious tolerance have pursued the policy the whole life.

A question I'm rarely asked. But I never look for the answer to this question. All of these awards, the recognition, they come themselves. Because Tatarstan is so. I'm not afraid of the hackneyed expression ''peace-loving''. But it is a valuable word. We are. Institutions, religious or secular, decide to support the actions of the Republican leadership, why we shouldn't perceive it. If it is recognized.

I did not expect that there is a prize named after King Faisal, which is equivalent to the Nobel Prize. King Faisal visited Russia, looking for contacts. The current Arab rulers appreciate it. When I was presented this award, Vladimir Putin visited Saudi Arabia. That time I was presented the award. Everyone was nice. They see how many after the attempts to build an atheistic society in Tatarstan mosques were revived and built. At the beginning of Perestroika there were 23 mosques. And now the number is closer to 1 500. People want to return to faith in God. We should be happy. Everyone has their own faith, their own religion. And this must be respected.

The Bolgarian Islamic Academy is being created in the name of creative beginning, including religion, as I understand it?

When people ask me why I took so zealously for the restoration of Bolgar and Sviyazhsk, I answer that it is our history, whether we like it or not. Bulgar is a developed state which voluntarily converted to Islam, 22 years before Kiev Rus ' Orthodoxy. That's where the origins are.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, when I was about to resign, we knew that I was resigning, and he knew and appointed me on 30 December a meeting on the eve of 2010 on these issues. These are objects of the federal significance. But the federal centre allocated 15-20 million at maximum. I won't say that it is not much. All the ministers were already sitting in the waiting room. Mr. Putin was to congratulate them. We agreed, that we put the question this way: the money is nothing. We decided how much the federal center would allocate for its federal facilities, we would agree. I made this collective decision.

I prepared. I tell, ''Mr. Putin, you have recently send to us the distinguished guests. Not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg as before. Everyone is interested in peace and interethnic and interreligious peace and accord in Tatarstan. Many visits have taken place. That means a lot. They came not from the fact that they have extrs time. This money is not enough for anything. So let's do the following thing. We will restore the Muslim object of X—XIX centuries, as well as the Orthodox Sviyazhsk of XVI century on the beautiful banks of the Volga. It is necessary to do. There will be tourists. This large-scale signal for the revival of our spirituality.'' Fortunately, so it happened.

He asked, ''What is the price?'' I said,''We have discussed — half a billion every year until recovery is complete.'' ''Let's 400. Let's start. Who is in charge?'' ''Avdeyev, Minister of Culture, I discussed with him. With Kudrin, too. They don't mind. Said, what the chief says.''

He smiled. There was no inclinantion even at a penny after all these years. Of course, people joined, the business structures. We are grateful to all. Otherwise, it is impossible to raise such amounts. We have miniatures even in the Kremlin. I have so many thanks, kind words never received. It has shaken our society. People like this project.

Rustam Minnikhanov, our President, signed a decree on the restoration of the Cathedral of the Kazan Mother of God on 4 November last year. It is a symbol of victory. Over all the troubled times, the Orthodox were with the icon. The Islamic Academy — the first in Russia, is being created in Bulgar, on the land where Islam was accepted. I'm not afraid of the words that we do beautifully. The restoration of the Kazan Kremlin, Mosque Kul Sharif, the restoration of the Annunciation Cathedral. This is for our people have been done. They like it.

What else are we supposed to do? It is the spiritual food. The result is the same when we focus. The direction of traditional Islam suits everyone because not for one century we have peacefully coexisted with Orthodoxy, other religions. We live well. The best indicator when you don't think about it.

But the special importance of the Academy you know what? Yes, we need have theologians. The founders of the Academy are the Central spiritual administration of Muslims, Council of Muftis of Russia and Tatarstan MSB. The project was supported by Vladimir Putin two years ago when there was a meeting in Ufa. We had big difficulty. But we are building a beautiful complex. Bolgar is of great importance to restore a non-ideological history of the Tatars. It is included in the world heritage list of UNESCO, which indicates its outstanding universal value. This means recognition of our history. Because the nomination of Bolgar includes 300 pages, it is an enormous work of historians, archaeologists, and other scientists. Our history is recognized in the world.

We started with chess. The final question is also connected with chess. What are the next moves planned by Tatarstan State Counsellor?

You compared chess with politics. No player and no politician wants to be defeated, no matter what he did, and no matter how played. We have plans. Then we have to work on our major monuments. This is a huge amount of work. We have given the signal, how to find spirituality, the Russian society needs it very much.

How do you think, what challenges the Republic and the President are facing today?

I have already said, it would be better if my fears did not materialize. Maybe I'm sick for an active policy for several years. Normal development of federal relations with respect to all the peoples of the Russian Federation, avoiding any distortions. Now there is a resource for returning young professionals. A lot of them. It is necessary to create conditions so that they worked for the good of their homeland. Given these factors, I am optimistic. Patience, endurance and wisdom we all need to wish.

And Tatarstan continue to develop, and we rejoice in it. When people ask me how I feel now, when retired from active political activities, the answer is, ''Comfortable. Even happy''. Because so many now I have to read, sometimes I think, well, now I have spare time in my life. I have a new status — grandfather. Let God grant us all health, patience, endurance.

Realnoe Vremya online newspaper