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Tatarstan: Grandpa’s republic

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“It could have been a second Chechnya here”, says a former minister of the republic of Tatarstan. “But thanks to the wisdom of our president, we avoided that fate.”

Tatarstan is a republic in the west of Russia through which the Volga runs. Its capital Kazan is the oldest city in Russia– it celebrated its 1,000th birthday last year. About 50% of the population are Muslim Tatars, including the president, Mintimer Shamiev, and many of his senior staff.

In the early 1990s, Tatarstan was one of the more independent of the regions, with the local administration establishing the state’s own flag, national anthem, ministries and presidency. The president came under pressure from local nationalist organizations to declare complete independence from Russia. The region’s large oil deposits and industrial enterprises made such ambitions plausible. However, Shamiev managed, and continues to manage, to tread a fine line between regional autonomy and federal membership.

This includes the question of the region’s Muslim practices. Here, particularly, Shamiev is careful not to damage relations with Moscow.

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