Rule in Russia Being Further Centralized


Watching the internal developments of Russia facilitates our understanding of the Russian interior/exterior policies. The tendency shows that Russia is on course to become a more centralized state, where all is controlled and directed from the center. The last vestiges of even ritual autonomy/independence seem something which they aim to block/restrict.

Months ago, I wrote about the non-continuation of the power-sharing agreement between Moscow and Kazan, the capital of the oil-rich region of Tatarstan. At present, the region still enjoys the rights of autonomy, which includes having its own president. That Moscow is set on a definite course of diminishing Tatarstan’s ability to act of its own is well seen in the Kremlin’s intentions to restrict perhaps the biggest asset the region has had so far: the freedom to instruct the Tatar language in schools.

On November 29, the Tatarstan Prosecutor-General, Ildus Nafikov, said that children in the region's schools will study Tatar for two hours a week on an optional basis and with written parental consent. That essentially means that Tatar language classes are no longer mandatory in Russia's Tatarstan region.

This goes against what Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov said on November 8, that Tatar language classes would remain mandatory but be scaled back from six to two hours per week.

The problem of Tatar language classes flared up after Russian President Vladimir Putin said in July that people must not be restricted in their choice of whether to learn a tongue "that is not their mother tongue". Putin also ordered state prosecutors to figure out whether such was happening in Russia’s “ethnic” regions where indigenous, non-Russian ethnic groups are represented.

Following Putin's statement and order, Russian-speaking parents publicly demanded that the schools in the ethnic regions scrap mandatory courses of local tongues.

This caused a wave of protests across several of Russia’s ethnic regions. In Bashkortostan, people protested and demanded that the Bashkir language be kept as the state language i.e. mandatory in schools.

It was announced that the leader of Russia’s Komi region suspended cancellation of mandatory Komi-language classes. This latter news somewhat contradicts what happened in Tatarstan, but nevertheless should not be seen as a final decision.

This could be seen as an example of rising Russian nationalism, but nationalism which can be easily contained if it is not necessary politically. Thus, it could be argued that the issue with ethnic languages overall falls into the wider internal developments inside Russia. The case of Tatarstan fits into the wider processes unfolding in Russia under Putin. Centralization of power in Moscow has already been at full steam in the last several years. As Putin gears up for his next presidential term, the central government wants near total control over all the regions; any opposition must be stamped out and control over regional economic assets must be in Moscow’s hands. The case of Tatarstan, although some think it only symbolically important, is nevertheless an example of modern Russia further tightening control as the Kremlin feels more pressure from abroad and within about Putin’s rule.

Various indications show that Russia seems to be gearing up for the worst. Over the past two years, laws were introduced limiting internet freedom and the work of foreign and local NGOs. Putin also created a powerful National Guard of up to 300,000 troops, essentially under his control, to snuff out future resistance. Further limits have also been placed on regional governments to solidify the Kremlin’s control over remote regions. Then come talks on possible limits of foreign media outlets operating in Russia.

I have written before that modern Russia is quite different from what it was ten years ago. It is crucial to watch Russia’s internal processes so as to forecast the trajectory of Russia’s development not only in terms of what is happening inside the country, but also how this influences the Kremlin’s foreign policy.

Emil Avdaliani

04 December 2017 18:10