Thursday, 5 July 2007

The dangerous precedent of Tatarstan

It is a paradox that whilst world economies become more global and multi-national cooperation seems to make more and more sense, recidivist tribal instincts to fracture, separate and diminish, still thrive. Nationalism is a base impulse, but it is an impulse none the less.

The Russian Federation remains, even after the break-up of the Soviet Union, one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Europe. Given this diversity it has developed a unique system of regional government, which includes, ethnically identified republics, territories (or kraya), autonomous regions and oblasts (provinces).

The republics derive their ethnic character from the titular nationality of the majority, although this is by no means accurately ascertained. Any virulently discriminatory law issuing from these regional governments should theoretically be tempered by the supremacy of federal law.

It should concern Russia watchers then, that a dangerous constitutional precedent seems likely to be set by the Duma in its dealings with Tatarstan. The republic, which is a hair over 50% ethnically Tatar, looks to have secured the signing of a treaty with their own federal parliament. Not only is this a constitutional absurdity, but the treaty due to be signed institutionalises language restrictions by which the Russian parliament is conniving in discrimination against its own citizens. The consequences of this precedent, in a federation which still includes Chechnya, Dagestan and other restive regions may be indescribably dangerous and foment volatility.

It is unlikely that the weakening of the Russian Federation will cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the west, but it should be of concern to us all when ethnic nationalism is stirred up and indulged.

The bloodshed which accompanied the break-up of the Soviet Union was reasonably localised when the horror which might have unfolded is considered. Weakening the federation raises fresh dangers and awakens fresh instability. Rather than indulging its Russophobic impulse at every discomfiture for whichever incumbent regime, perhaps the US and EU should view the bigger picture and realise the importance Russia has as a source of stability in Central Asia.

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