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March 15, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8636

Tatar Mufti Samigullin Questions Title 'State-Forming People' Awarded Russians In Revised Constitution

March 15, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8636

On March 2, Russian President Vladimir Putin, prior to the second reading to the new amendments bill to the Russian Constitution filed a series of amendments. [1] The amendments ran to 24 pages.[2] Inter alia, the amendments contain a reference to the deity, enshrines traditional family values and names the Russians as a state-forming nation. The text of the amendments, as well as their method of adoption, prompted discussion. According to a Levada Center poll, only a third of the Russians surveyed claimed to have a clear idea of the substance of the proposed amendments or the reasons for amending the constitution”.[3]

The concept of a "state-forming people" in that section of the constitution devoted to the linguistic issue provoked sensitivity of the Tatars. They feared that the elevation of the Russians to the status of state-forming nation could presage an encroachment on their rights, bearing in mind that they had been exiled by Stalin after WWII on charges that they had collaborated with the German invasion. During Soviet times, there were periods of Russification and attempts to eliminate or discourage minority languages. Russian officials claimed that no slight was intended to non-Russian peoples, but Russian nationalists felt that Russia's role deserved special recognition, and that the Tatar complaints were warning signs of anti-Russia sentiments.

A survey of the controversy follows below:

Tatar Mufti Samigullin: 'We Have All Contributed To The Formation Of This State'

On March 3, 2020, the Mufti of Tatarstan Kamil Samigullin opposed the introduction of the concept of "state-forming nation" in the Constitution”.[4] "I do not see any positive perspectives in introducing the concept of 'state-forming nation' in the Constitution as it is applied only to a single nation,"said Kamil Samigullin, "… along with Russians, there are many other indigenous nations that live on the modern territory of Russia. We are Russians,[5] and we all have contributed to the formation of this state, to the defense of the state borders, to the spiritual sovereignty of Russia, to the formation of diverse all-Russian mentality and to the development of a mighty socio-economic space".[6]

At the same time, the mufti supported the amendment that provided for mention of the deity, noting that this is an international practice.


Kamil Samigullin (Source: Tatar-info.ru)

Journalist and editor Maxim Shevchenko, an expert on policy in the Caucasus, backed Samigullin's complaint. He claimed that the current wording raised the question "If the Russian people are state-forming, then what kind of people are the Tatars?"

"I find this suggestion simply absurd. I simply don’t understand which state is formed particularly by the Russian people and how other nations should feel meanwhile",said Maxim Shevchenko.

If we were talking about state formation then the term would be more appropriate to the USSR: "The Russians were carriers of the Soviet project. Moreover, during the Civil War, the 'red Bolshevik spot [on the map]' was based on the Central Russian provinces to a large degree, Shevchenko emphasized.

He suggested an alternative wording "It is necessary to write that the state language is Russian, which is the language of the Russian people in the family of other peoples comprising the Russian Federation,"Shevchenko said."

He also recommended replacing the controversial term state-forming people with “Russian people”.

“In this way, the Russian people would be distinguished in the Constitution, and there would be no ambiguity with state formation, because the federation was formed by many peoples by agreement for the sake of living together,"Shevchenko said.

“It would be very reasonable to single out the Russian people in the context of the language. But they (the authorities-Ed.) Took a very controversial path, fawning on chauvinism and nationalism. Honestly, the Russian people absolutely do not need to be blamed on all the crimes and atrocities committed on behalf of the state. They got very comfortable, ”said Shevchenko.[7]


Maxim Shevchenko (Source: Ruvera.ru)

The speaker of the State Council of the Republic of Tatarstan Farid Mukhametshin noted: “…Teachers of national languages in the national republics [of the Russian Federation] are starting to raise a question. Will there be an infringement [in the curriculum], will there be any prohibitions? It is necessary to spell out more clearly whether it would be possible to learn the language of father, mother, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and [by doing so] to save it. This is what worries us."[8]

Russian Officials: No Slight Was Intended

In response to the criticism by Samigullin and others officials responded that no slight was intended by the wording of the amendment.

Presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the amendment “does not create the premise for a conflict… the amendments as they are set out in the new edition of the Article 68, they just propose to guarantee the right of indigenous nations and the cultural identity of all people and ethnic communities of Russia,"said Peskov.[9]

The Circassian writer Iskhak Mashbashev told Kommersant that the amendment about Russian as “the language of a state-forming nation"sounded correct and referred more to the language itself, and not to the peoples: “The Russian language is truly state-forming, in it I communicate with Dagestanis, Chechens, Ingush and other peoples of the North Caucasus - this unites us.”[10]

The Chief Mufti of Russia Talgat Tajuddin supported the introduction of the aforementioned amendment to the Constitution of the Russian Federation including the wording “state-forming nation”. “They not trying to parade that the Russian people are the only state-forming nation, it’s justification for the Russian language to be the state language throughout Russia. I’m for it," said the Chief Mufti, “This also indicates that we have a voluntary union [of nations], not acquiescent colonies. Small and large nations entered the union on an equal rights basis and live in one united Fatherland. I fully support it."[11]


Talgat Tajuddin (Source: Islamrb.ru)

Russian Nationalists: The Tartars Are Manifesting Separatist Tendencies

Tsargrad.tv the conservative media claimed that Russian were indeed the state-forming people and the amendment if anything understated that role. The head of the World Russian People’s Congress Konstantin Malofeev weighed in: “The concept of a state-forming nation (in terms of its semantics) implies a nation that formed, united around it and created a specific state. Russia has been historically created by the Russian people as a national Russian state."Political scientist Mikhail Demurin, also cited by Tsargrad, stated “Throughout the history of our country, only one nation was ready to take and took responsibility for the country as a whole. None of the nations of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union was ready for this and was able to do this. The situation is exactly the same now. We just have to admit it. In my opinion, the wording of the proposed amendment in this regard is not and 'overstatement', it is too weak!"[12]

Konstantin Zatulin, a State Duma Deputy from the ruling United Russia Party noted that the word “Russian"is mentioned only once in the current Constitution. In his opinion, this is "clearly not enough" to reflect the "important, system-forming role of the most numerous Russian people in Russia's existence and development." The Tartars, Zatulin claimed, were employing a double standard as shown by the constitution of Tatarstan that opens with the words “This Constitution expressing the will of the multinational people of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Tatar people”. This wording emphasized the special role of the Tatar people in the creation and existence of their republic so why were the Tatars denying Russians the same status?[13]

The heaviest broadside against Kamigullin came from Roman Silantiyev a member of the expert's council of the Education Ministry's supreme certification board. Silantiyev held his fire from the Mufti of Tatarstan whom he did not regard as an enemy of the Russians, but he questioned the motives of the Tatarstan authorities:

"As the head of the The World Russian People's Council Human Rights Center, I regularly receive complaints about violations of the rights of the Russian and Kryashen population of Tatarstan, and Orthodox Tatars complain of pressure. As far back as 2002, His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II wrote to the head of the republic Mintimer Shaimiev, calling inter-ethnic relations in the region far from the norm. Over the past 20 years, the situation has certainly improved, and we no longer observe the massive arson of Orthodox churches and chapels by Wahhabis, but many problems remain.

"It is sad that the authorities of Tatarstan continue the short-sighted policy of the nineties, when the most rabid nationalists enjoyed their support. Its consequences were not only sharply aggravated relations between Russians and Tatars, but also the emergence of a full-fledged terrorist underground in the region. Pseudo-scientific works and even university textbooks, published until recently by zealots of the “special path of Tatarstan”, were indistinguishable from the opus of radical Ukrainian nationalists, at Russian rallies they called for resettlement in Ryazan and even to pay arrears of tribute from the time of Tokhtamysh. Now, thank God, many nationalists have received criminal convictions for inciting hatred or terrorism, and also left the country in a good way, but their cause lives on…

Speeches against the commemoration of the Battle of Kulikovo and the [Great] Stand on the Ugra [river][14], protests against the installation of monuments to Ivan the Terrible, attempts to forcibly record the [Russian Orthodox] Kryashens as Tatars do not contribute to the strengthening of international peace and the unity of Russian society. Historians remember well that there were no Russian-Tatar wars, and a significant part of the Tatars always stood on the side of the Russians, however now it is 'the fighters against Russian colonialism', who they prefer to make into heros. But if we want reconciliation, then why is the main mosque of Tatarstan named after the head of defense of Kazan, Kul Sharif, and a monument to Ivan the Terrible who stormed this city cannot be erected even in Astrakhan?

Unfortunately, the Russians have accumulated many questions about the policies of the Tatarstan authorities, and they will ask them further and more frequently. And it is necessary to remind people that this region is not a sovereign khanate or mini-khanate at all, but an ordinary subject of the Russian Federation, no better and no worse than others.[15]

Samigullin Issues A Clarification

On March 4, 2020, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Tatarstan reported that “Mufti Kamil Samigullin was not against the amendment to the Constitution containing the concept of 'state-forming people, but only expressed his concerns about its wording".[16]

Samigullin himself issued a detailed clarification:

“Unfortunately, my personal statement as part of the discussion on changes to the amendments bill to the Constitution drew very different comments, including incorrect ones.

"And if, regarding the mention of God in the Constitution, glory to the Almighty, there is basically a common understanding, then about the “state-forming people"discord arose. Therefore, I consider it necessary to give an explanation.

"What are the main lines of interpretations and attacks? First - the mufti announced the position of Tatarstan; second, he opposes the amendments proposed by the country's president; third, he does not want to recognize the Russians (Russians) as a state-forming people.

"Let's take this in order. What I spoke out is just my personal opinion, expressed following an approach by Business Online. Addition, I emphasize that our national leader initiated the discussion, in the framework of which I formulated my perspective.

"If we are talking as a whole about the amendments to the Constitution introduced by the country's president V.V. Putin, then I share them and will vote for them, because I see in this the constitutional consolidation of Russia's achievements over the past decades, the desire to promote the state's interests in the international arena, while also building a balance of power within the Federation. Moreover, we see the extent of the great attention that our President places upon the revival of spirituality and support for initiatives of the traditional faiths.

Now about the 'state-forming people.' I did not speak out against the amendment, but expressed doubt with regards to its wording. The Russian language's special status as the state language should certainly exist. Should the state express and safeguard the interests of the Russian people - of course it should, since they are the majority of the country's population. Then, perhaps, it would be advisable to use the following thesis in the Constitution: 'expressing the will of the multinational people of the Russian Federation and the Russian people'. Such an approach would emphasize both the state's multinational character, and its special role in the Russian people's destiny.

"Ultimately, we all rejoice for the prosperity of our Fatherland and the discussions only reflect our desire to be useful, to introduce our reasoned perspective into the fundamental law of the country.[17] "

 

[1] Sozd.duma.gov.ru/bill/885214-7

[2] The State Duma's constitutional amendment procedure, the president is allowed to introduce amendments only upon the second reading and not at the beginning of the amendment process.

[3] Levada.ru, February 28, 2020.

[4] Rbc.ru, March 3, 2020.

[5] The Mufti uses the term "Rossiyane” which while translated “Russians”, actually means citizens of Russia, but not necessarily ethnic Russians.

[6] Interfax.ru, March 3, 2020.

[7] Kazan.mk.ru, March 4, 2020.

[8] Business-gazeta.ru, March 3, 2020.

[9] Rbc.ru, March 4, 2020.

[10] Kommersant.ru, March 4, 2020.

[11] Ria.ru, March 3, 2020.

[12] Tsargrad.tv, March 6, 2020

[13] Kommersant.ru, March 4, 2020.

[14] Events in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth centuries, where Russia cast off the Tatar yoke.

[15] Tsargrad.tv, March 4, 2020

[16] Ria.ru, March 4, 2020.

[17] Tatar-inform.ru, March 4, 2020.

 

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