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‘A faction’s a faction, but I have my conscience, too’ Why a Tatar legislator from the bloc representing Russia’s ruling party voted no on the new constitutional amendments

Source: Meduza
State Council of the Republic of Tatarstan

On March 12, the State Council of Tatarstan voted in favor of major changes to the Russian Constitution, falling into step with other regional parliaments whose approval was needed to move toward a nationwide vote on the amendments. In every region, legislators voted for the changes almost unanimously — even on a nationwide scale, there were only a few negative votes. One of them was the singular “no” among Tatarstan’s deputies: Rkail Zaidullin, a member of the United Russia faction (but not the associated party, which is politically dominant in Russia). Zaidullin said he specifically objected to the clause in the proposed amendments that calls ethnically Russian people foundational to the Russian state. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev spoke with the legislator and asked him to elaborate on his views.

Did you vote against the constitutional amendments because of the clause on the Russian ethnos as foundational to the Russian state?

Yes, and I spoke during the hearing to criticize [that clause]. After all, we’re not the only ones seeing a lot of debates over that change; the same thing is happening in other national republics. It’s just that most deputies are part of a “united” party: They might be against it in their souls, but they vote along the party line.

You’re also part of the United Russia faction, but you voted no. Did others try to convince you to vote in favor of the amendments?

I have been speaking out about that clause for a long time. Even on a logical level, I couldn’t find any way to approve it — that would have meant going against myself. A faction’s a faction, but I have my conscience, too. Just before the [voting] session, when the [United Russia] faction members got together and decided to vote as a bloc, I abstained — I’m not in the party, see. My colleagues in the faction took my vote calmly. They know I’m a writer, a free person; they also react just fine to my speeches because they know I say what I think and do what I say. There was no pressure on me either before or after the vote.

Does the Constitution’s current language about Russia as a multiethnic people meet your standards?

Exactly — right now, that’s what it says: Russia is a federation, and that doesn’t infringe on or detract from the rights of the Russian ethnos in any way. Nobody doubts the greatness [of the Russian people] — we’re all children of Russian culture and literature, of Pushkin, of Tolstoy. Why write that into the Constitution? We shouldn’t be thinking in sixteenth-century categories! Right now, the separation of church and state is codified, but the amendments have a clause about God over a thousand-year history. There’s no need for that in the Constitution, in my opinion.

Sulustaana Myraan, a deputy in the Yakutian parliament from United Russia, not only voted against the amendments but also resigned her post. Have you heard about her?

I have, and her opinion is noteworthy as well, but it’s never too late [to resign].

The amendments are being passed as a set, and that set includes clauses on the Russian government’s system of power: the State Council, zeroing out presidential term counts, and so on. What do you think about those measures?

I’m critical of them as well. There should be alternation of power in a democratic society, right? I’m not familiar with all the intricacies of politics, of course, but why do we need a State Council, too? We’ll have to rename our own State Council [i.e. the legislature of Tatarstan]. Maybe they did think it all up just to zero out the [presidential] terms. I don’t know. But they want to introduce the concept of federal territories into the Constitution. If a given territory is considered important, then it can be controlled directly by the federal government separately from the other subjects of the [Russian] Federation. That’s also problematic, and it’s against federalism. I’m for the Russian Federation, so I’m against amendments like those.

Interview by Andrey Pertsev

Translation by Hilah Kohen

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