Authoritarian Legislation and the Struggle for Sovereignty
The timeline shows how this relationship between the federal center in Moscow and the republics has developed over time, using the examples of the Chechen Republic, the Republic of Bashqortostan, and the Republic of Tatarstan. A timeline covering 32 years examines the processes between the constituent republics of russia and the russian federal government. This map does not claim to present complete knowledge, but rather highlights certain patterns that emerge in the relationship. The timeline focuses on three republics - Tatarstan, Bashqortostan, and the Chechen Republic. All text in the timeline is taken from official documents, articles by human rights organizations and journalists. The map focuses on several aspects of the relationship between three actors - the russian government, the republican governments, and civil society organizations and activists in these republics. It synchronizes the emergence of legislation approved by the Russian government that applies to all republics within russia, legislation and processes at the republican level in Tatarstan, Bashqortostan and the Chechen Republic, various forms of resistance launched by civil society organizations, activists, various forms of resistance by civil organizations, activists, insurgents who disagreed with the policies of the federal center or the republican government, persecution by the federal center of NGOs, insurgent activists, persecution of people on religious grounds, violation of the rights of indigenous peoples in these republics, and events that took place in Ukraine and are relevant in the context of the timeline.
How to read
The map focuses on several aspects of the relationship between three actors - the government of russia, the republican governments and civil society organisations and activists in those Republics.
Each of the actors is marked by a different colour:
* grey - legislation approved by the russian government that applies to all republics within russia
** coral - legislation and processes at the republican level in Tatarstan, Bashqortostan and Chechen Republic
*** dark turquoise - various forms of resistance launched by civic organisations, activists, insurgents from Tatarstan, Bashqortostan and Chechen Republic who disagreed with the policies of the federal centre or the republican government
**** purple - persecution by the federal centre of NGOs, insurgent activists from Tatarstan, Bashqortostan and Chechen Republic; persecution of people on religious grounds; infringement of the rights of Indigenous peoples in those republics
***** yellow - events that are relevant in the context of the timeline
****** blue - events that took place in Ukraine and are relevant in the context of the timeline
The timeline proceeds linearly, from left to right. Above the years are events related to the Chechen Republic and below are events related to Bashqortostan and Tatarstan.
The collapse of the USSR and the decolonial resistance that preceded it set in motion the independence struggle of the Soviet republics. It also set into motion the activities of civil society organisations and activists, provoked referendums on independence, commenced elections of the presidents of the republics, and the adoption of constitutions that enshrined the sovereignty of the republics. After the coup in August 91, the government led by Yeltsin began to return to the hierarchy of power and passed laws declaring the former Soviet republics to be part of the russian federation (RF), which contradicted laws already in place in the republics. The 1992 federal treaty regulated how these republics would be incorporated with the russian federation into a single federation and de facto eliminated the possibility of the republics seceding as a separate state.
This project lays out how this relationship between the federal centre in Moscow and the republics unfolded over time, using the examples of the Chechen Republic, the Republic of Bashqortostan and the Republic of Tatarstan.
Having refused the initial treaty, the Republic of Tatarstan signed a separate treaty with the centre—terminated in 2007—where the Republic retained the right to self-determination. The Republic of Bashqortostan signed a treaty with an annex, based on the constitution of the republic. A system of asymmetric federalism was taking shape, where some republics reserved the right to self-determination and others essentially lost it. With the signing of separate agreements between russian government and the governments of Tatarstan and Bashqortostan, a system of mutually beneficial loyalties was built up which allowed the presidents of these republics to remain in power for up to four or five terms. The Chechen Republic refused to sign the agreement, which started off a sequence of events which culminated in the colonial military aggression of russia and the the first russian-Chechen war in 1994.
The federal authorities presented the resistance in the republics as something homogeneous. For example, during the first russian-Chechen war (1994-1996) the armed resistance was denoted by a single image of the "separatist". In contrast, in the Chechen Republic, groups with different goals, ranging from Chechen independence from the russian federation to the creation of a unified state in the North Caucasus, fought against the russian forces.
The situation was similar in Tatarstan and Bashqortostan. There, activists and public organisations were designated by the federal authorities to be "radical nationalists". This again played down the heterogeneity that existed in the republics’ organisations, with some being in favour of federalisation, some in favour of complete secession, some supporting the policies of the republican government, and others entirely opposed. Some of the social organisations called themselves "republican nationalists", opposing the newly expanding colonial policy of russia. In this way, people who had fought for the right of Indigenous peoples’ self-determination and for the revival of Indigenous languages and cultures were marginalised by federal rhetoric and the republican government.
By the end of the 1990s the governments of Tatarstan and Bashqortostan had all but swallowed up the mass social movements which had played a crucial role during the transition period and made it manageable. The few activists who were still advocating for sovereignty during Putin’s establishment as russia’s president in the early 2000s were repeatedly persecuted for political reasons.
In the Chechen Republic, opinion within the resistance diverged. Some felt that there could be no agreement with the russian federation after the russian army had committed war crimes against civilians in Chechnya during the first russian-Chechen war. Others, on the contrary, were in favour of Chechnya remaining a part of russia. The federal authorities relied on the latter when they declared an “anti-terrorist operation” in Chechnya in 1999, which marked the start of the second russian-Chechen war.
Putin's accession to power in 2000 marked the building of a clear vertical of power. Tatarstan, Bashqortostan and Chechnya had been losing their sovereignty at the legislative level for the past 20 years: the constitutions of the republics were changed so that they lost their right to self-determination; treaties and agreements signed in the early 1990s between the RF and the republics were not extended; direct republican presidential elections were abolished in 2004 before they were returned to all subjects of the RF in 2011; autonomous districts were abolished through merging with neighbouring regions, etc. In parallel, laws were passed to criminalise the actions and opinions of individuals or groups described by the russian government as "extremist and terrorist". Since 2003, following the adoption of the Law on Extremism, activists, civil society and human rights organisations, journalists and non-violent Muslim organisations have experienced significant increases in harassment. After the annexation of Crimea and the armed invasion and unleashing of war in Ukraine in 2014, the russian government intensified political repression against activists, public and human rights organisations and journalists in the republics. People resisting the colonial policy of the russian federation in Chechnya, Tatarstan and Bashqortostan and other republics have risked and are risking not only their freedom, but also their lives.