Rafael Khakimov: ‘We know how to get money from Moscow’

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

Rafael Khakimov: ‘We know how to get money from Moscow’
Photo: Maksim Platonov

Tatarstan Constitution Day was celebrated in the republic on 6 November. The main document for Tatarstan residents was adopted nearly three decades ago — after a referendum on the region’s sovereignty on 6 November 1992. The republic’s Constitution still causes heated debates, it still contains provisions contradicting federal legislation, declaring Tatarstan’s sovereignty and independence. Realnoe Vremya newspaper discussed the topicality of the republic’s main law for Tatarstan residents with one of the key participants in the constitutional processes in 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 be adopted considering all following arguments with Moscow on sovereignty and Agreement on Division of Power, which was not extended in 2017?

Of course, the Constitution had to be adopted then. As the Constitution was a declaration, in fact, not laws, not the main law. It had to be laid out, explained, fixed. The referendum also played a big role, of course — the results of the referendum held on 21 March 1992 needed 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, it was the main article why the Constitution of Tatarstan needed 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 amendments 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 with the Russian Constitution here. How should they be explained and solved now today?

There can be contradictions, this is why there is the Agreement on Division of Jurisdiction and Mutual Delegation of Power between Agencies of Public Power of the Russian Federation and Agencies of Public Power of the Republic of Tatarstan.

The referendum also played a big role, of course — the results of the referendum held on 21 March 1992 needed to be fixed. The results of the referendum were in the first article

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

You know, this happened because Russia also began to violate its Constitution and its legislation. This is why it turned out that the relations between Moscow and Kazan are fixed by them. It might seem to be no problem. There are analogues of such a state of affairs: for instance, today Bavaria is also a formally free and independent state, which contradicts the general German Constitution, by the way. But Germany as well as Bavaria exists at the same time. So we also do exist.

“Russia will anyway become a real federation sooner or later

Then I cannot help but ask such a question: the first version of the Tatarstan Constitution talked about principles of “federalism”, but there has been no federalism itself in the last 20 years from Putin’s vertical of power to the amendments to the Russian Constitution. Or don’t you agree with it?

There is federalism in some issues today anyway, while this federalism is very minimal in some issues. For instance, our foreign affairs, in Tatarstan, are like that of Germany and other sovereign states — and Tatarstan, in fact, has rights for them. While in some issues everything depends on Russian legislation today.

Photo: Roman Khasayev
“I am sure that Russia will anyway become a real federation sooner or later. It is just talk if something wishes it or not”

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

Imperial? It can’t be worse. Such a country will collapse sooner or later. Federalism is necessary for such a big country as Russia, with such a territory and a diversity of cultures, not simply nations but regional cultures with 11 time zones. So I am sure that Russia will anyway become a real federation sooner or later. It is just talk if somebody wishes it or not. The fact that somebody is for unitarism, a unitarian setup of the Russian state today is, in fact, linked 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 haven’t stopped since its adoption: like the republic played a national card claiming that power in Tatarstan was performed, first of all, on behalf of a separate nation, I cite: “Expressing the will of the multiethnic people of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Tatar people...” Should this card be played in the 1990s?

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

Photo: mon.tatarstan.ru
Kazan agreed with Moscow that Tatarstan was responsible for all Tatars’ culture in Russia. And Moscow itself recognised it and even asked us to, for instance, supply Tatar schools in other regions with textbooks

Nationality issues aren’t topical, while tax distribution is still a problem

As for nationality, according to Article 21 of the Tatarstan Constitution, there is a provision of “Tatarstan’s nationality”, which was by the way fixed by a decree of the Tatarstan Constitutional Court as of 30 May 2003. Is the institution of nationality important today or does not it have a practical meaning?

As for nationality... If there is a republic, though nominally, there is a language, there are attributes, there is a corresponding nationality. So today I think that the issue of nationality doesn’t become topical, so important around the world. Borders in the European Union are open, and these borders open for citizens of EU member states, without caveats about some nationality. I think the issue of nationality has already lost its force now compared to the 90s.

Summing up the conversation, what could you wish federal and republican authorities, lawmakers, politicians to resolve issues of federalism and improve the interaction between Moscow and Kazan?

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

The situation in Tatarstan isn’t bad. Also, we know how to get money from Moscow practically, with certain politics. We simply offer big projects that have a meaning for all Russia — federal money is allocated for this. We live well thanks to this, of course.

By Sergey Afanasyev
Tatarstan