12/17/2021, 09.56
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End of the federation, Moscow returns to being an empire

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Russian Parliament abolishes the terms 'president' and 'governor' for the leaders of federal bodies. Putin wants a "unitary" and centralised state. The fears of ethnic groups such as the Tatars in the face of Great Russian nationalism. The Caucasus sees hike in "hate of Russians".



Moscow (AsiaNews) - The State Duma has approved the law "On common principles of organisation of public authority in the subjects of the Russian Federation". The measure abolishes the terms "president" and "governor" for the heads of the almost 100 federal subjects (republics, autonomous districts, regions, metropolitan cities), who will now only be able to call themselves "heads".

In the vote on 14 December, a quarter of the 400 deputies voted against, expressing the unease of the "defenders of nationalities", who consider this further step in imposing the "vertical of power" and the death knell of the very concept of a Russian federation.

The Putin regime began to assert itself in 2000 by stripping regional leaders of the autonomy granted to them by electoral consensus, making them presidentially appointed officials. Eligibility was partially restored in 2012, counting on the completed 'normalisation' of all forms of autonomy. However, the issue has become topical again in recent years, with the emergence of an "imperial" variant of Moscow's central power in the face of protests and electoral surprises in many provinces, especially in Siberia.

According to Rkail Zajdullah, deputy of the Tatarstan State Council and president of the writers of the Tatar republic, this step is a prelude to the elimination of the status of "national republics", of which Tatarstan is one of the most historically significant, as he said in an interview with Radio Svoboda. There are about two hundred nationalities throughout Russia, and they enjoy legal and political recognition in various areas, from the use of their native language to foreign representation, which Moscow has tolerated in alternating phases. It was Boris Yeltsyn in the 1990s who invited local authorities to "take as much autonomy as you are able to digest".

Zajdullah speaks of "a sense of impotence in the face of this imposition, which leaves us with our fists clenched in our pockets for the offence received. They didn't accept any corrective measures; we had proposed to at leas include a confirmatory referendum at local level." He explained that 'it's not just a question of the formal titles of the top leaders, chief or khan, as Žirinovsky says; the dignity of the institutions is at stake. So we shouldn't even call those in student clubs president, let alone the Academy of Sciences'.

For Zajdullah, 'the president of Tatarstan is the symbolic leader of all Tatars, we don't want to put him on the same level as the president of France, and in any case many faculties will be taken away from him, not just his name'. The post-Soviet presidents of Kazan, 84-year-old Mintimer Šaimiev and his successor Rustam Minnikhanov, in office since 2010, did not want to support the local deputies' revolt against the law, well aware that Putin would not back down on the idea of the "unitary state".

Moreover, the Russian president has intervened several times in recent months, saying that the Federation was "a mistake made by Lenin, a great revolutionary, but a bad statesman", which Stalin had to partially remedy, "even with repression". The Tatars, and like them other ethnic groups in Russia, are afraid not so much of losing their identity, usually well protected in their homeland, but of no longer being able to defend their compatriots in the other regions of the Federation and abroad, and therefore of being 'ghettoised' and compressed by Great Russian nationalism.

Some fear that the centralist forcing may lead to radicalisation of ethnic groups, which is very difficult in a Russia that is increasingly fierce in repressing all forms of "extremism" and foreign interference. It is no coincidence that it is representatives of culture, such as Zajdullah, or the well-known film director Aleksandr Sokurov, who on 10 December argued with Putin live on TV, during an online meeting with members of the Human Rights Council, calling for the "liberation" of regions that want to separate from Russia, especially in the Caucasus, because "they are beginning to hate the Russians". The president reacted harshly, as if they wanted to "return to Muscovy", the original state of central Russia in the Middle Ages, before Moscow started building its Eurasian empire.

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