Office Politics: Tatarstan’s Presidency and the Symbolic Politics of Regionalism

In: Russian Politics
Adam Charles Lenton Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Political Science, George Washington University Washington, DC USA

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This article explores developments in center-region relations between the Russian federal government and the Republic of Tatarstan, a federal subject of the Russian Federation. I argue that instrumentalist accounts are unable to satisfactorily explain several key moments in Tatarstan’s relations with the federal center, and that a focus on symbolic politics provides important analytical leverage. I examine three such episodes: aborted plans to introduce a Latin script for the Tatar language in 1999, the expiration of treaty-based relations and the assault on the region’s Tatar-language education policy in 2017, and the institution of the presidency – which exists to this day. In all three cases, interest-based explanations alone fail to account for what actually happened, whereas ideational explanations can help explain and interpret regional leaders’ actions. This has important implications for how we understand regional political dynamics in Russia amidst conditions of centralization.

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