Putin and Sabantuy: “He participated in everything that was offered. This became a kind of test”

The price of a coin in katyk, or What was really behind the participation of Putin in the meeting on the elimination of the consequences of the hurricane and the fun on Sabantuy

Putin and Sabantuy: “He participated in everything that was offered. This became a kind of test”
Photo: Mikhail Kozlovsky

Exactly twenty years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Kazan for the first time. That is, on 23 June 2000, he visited the capital of Tatarstan not for the first time but for the first time — as a full-fledged head of state. About how this visit went, what significance it had for the republic and what was most remembered by the witnesses of this significant event — read in the material of Realnoe Vremya.

“The visit was at a time when it was necessary to consolidate the dominance of the federal centre”

The “rehearsal” of the first official visit of the current Russian president to Kazan was a trip to the capital of Tatarstan as acting president — in March 2000, five days before the elections. And on 23 June 2000, Vladimir Putin came to our republic as a full-fledged head of state. And the visit began in a businesslike way: with participation in a meeting dedicated to the elimination of the consequences of the hurricane that had swept through the country five days before the visit on June 19.

Information about the meeting, which took place behind closed doors, was extremely sparse: the media reports of that time do not even include direct quotes, the statements of the newly-made president were given in a retelling. Kremlin.ru stated: “They discussed priority measures to help those affected by the disaster. The participants of the meeting noted that the legislation of Tatarstan in the field of protection of victims of natural disasters is more effective than the federal one. In this regard, Vladimir Putin noted that federal laws should be changed in this situation, not regional ones. If the federal law is bad, it can be changed, but it should apply throughout the country, the head of the state stressed.”

On 23 June 2000, Vladimir Putin came to our republic as a full-fledged head of the state. Photo: Mikhail Kozlovsky

However, if wished, one can see an important signal behind this stingy phrase.

“The visit came at a time when it was necessary to consolidate the dominance of the federal centre, and this was the main task of the head of the state," political expert, director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements Boris Kagarlitsky told Realnoe Vremya in response to the question about the significance of Putin's 20-year visit to Kazan. “On the one hand, it was necessary to strengthen the position of the centre, on the other — not to offend, relatively speaking, the opponents of the Putin-Medvedev bloc in the elections.

On the first day of the visit, according to kremlin.ru's message, Vladimir Putin also met with the first president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, but the content of the conversation between the two presidents was not disclosed. On the morning of the second day, the Russian President met with Bashkiria's President Murtaza Rakhimov, who had arrived in Kazan to talk to him.

“He could have drowned”

But the main actions to build relations between the centre and regional authorities came, I think, on the second day of the visit. Although 20 years later political experts and journalists often fixate on the fact that the long-ago June visit of the Russian president was the only “introductory” one, not tied to the solution of any specific task or goal, but it actually decided a lot.

On the Maidan, Putin caught a five-ruble coin of happiness with his lips in a basin with katyk. Photo: svoboda.org

For example, not so long ago, Russian journalist and political expert Andrey Kolesnikov in an interview with Yury Dud recalled how he accompanied the president on his first business trip to Kazan, and his text about it later caused “a mess” in the Kremlin:

“Sabantuy, Putin dived into a bowl of kefir to get a coin… He dived, and, as they say, was gone for a long time. And I wrote: “He did on principle... and could have drowned.”

Putin, as the guest of honour, opened Sabantuy, dancing an ethnic dance in a tubeteika presented to him, addressed the participants of the celebration in Tatar and made a whole joke out of his participation in belt competitions in Tatar Koresh wrestling, levelling the inequality of forces, since the host party appointed to the role of his opponent... a beautiful girl. I also visited the Kazan race track — at the races.

In the end, it was the beginning of a constructive cooperation for many years, which clearly confirmed in his speech of response onSabantuy by the first president of Tatarstan.

“Everyone who participates in Sabantuy becomes a true friend of the people of Tatarstan," Mintimer Shaimiev said at the time.

“Everyone who participates in Sabantuy becomes a true friend of the people of Tatarstan," Mintimer Shaimiev said at the time. Photo: Mikhail Kozlovsky

“I'm used to having all your people here”

“My impression of Putin began to take shape earlier, during his first visit to Kazan in March 2000," Zilya Valeeva, then the minister for press, broadcasting and mass communications of the Republic of Tatarstan, responded to questions from Realnoe Vremya about the event 20 years ago. “He then met with our KVN, young people behaved in his own way.. Easy to communicate, able to even be confused somewhere, with a sense of humor… After all, everyone was wary at the beginning: everyone knew from what agency he came to power.

Zilya Valeeva recalled how Mintimer Shaimiev “presented” the busts standing in the lobby of the Big Concert Hall to the high guest: “This is our great composer Saidashev, this is our Zhiganov...” Vladimir Vladimirovich, seeing the sculpture of Beethoven, asked in amazement: “Is this one of you, too?" “No, it's Beethoven!” said the president of Tatarstan. “I can see that... But I'm just used to that everyone is one of you," Vladimir Putin joked.

“He participated in everything that was offered to him at Sabantuy in Arsk," the interlocutor of Realnoe Vremya recalled the first visit of Vladimir Putin as the elected president of the Russian Federation. “I watched folk games and competitions with interest, and took part in them myself. Never did an official guest or an important leader, for example, look for a coin by dipping his head in katyk. It is quite rare, funny, not very popular fun. Not everyone will dare to risk their image and authority. But the new president of the country was not afraid... He did not even forbid to take pictures of the face in the “mask” of katyk. On the same day, the entire country and even the world was visited by a unique picture of famous photojournalist Mikhail Medvedev, who at this moment was next to him. This became a kind of test. On Sabantuy, it is not customary to refuse, it is necessary to participate — it's festivity, after all.

“Everyone noticed how the head of the country was dressed on Sabantuy: in light jeans, a T-shirt, Putin stood out sharply against the background of official black suits," she reminded. “Even on his first visit to Tatarstan in March, he seemed to be a man of his own — intelligent, open, although he spoke carefully. In June, after the election, it remained the same. And this aroused respect and sympathy. As for the greeting in Tatar, this is just a small detail. With Tatar, he then surprised us very much. On the 1000th anniversary of Kazan, he began his speech at a solemn, “star” meeting with a live broadcast to the whole world with the word: “Isenmesez!” The first, very important points about the history of the Tatars and the importance of the event, he voiced... in decent Tatar! But the main thing — and this is remembered — in the first visits to Tatarstan, the Russian president aroused our sympathy and trust.

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By Inna Serova
Tatarstan