Tatar activists contest authority of leader of Russian Federation and demand autonomy
IVAN the Terrible had to conquer Kazan in 1552 before he could go on to subjugate Siberia. Almost four and a half centuries later, Kazan again is an obstacle - this time for Russian Federation leader Boris Yeltsin. Like Ivan, he will have to pacify the city's nationalist desires to effectively extend his rule across Russia. The surge of nationalism that swept across the Soviet Union's 15 republics is also growing within many of the Russian Federation's 16 autonomous republics. And like republics trying to break away from the union - especially the Baltics and Georgia - many autonomous regions are aiming to gain sovereignty from Russia.
Kazan, the capital of the autonomous republic of Tatarstan, has emerged as a hotbed of the sovereignty-minded activism within Russia. The movement has intensified since Mr. Yeltsin, the leader of Russia's parliament, announced a Russian presidential election would be held June 12.
Yeltsin is virtually assured of winning, enhancing his ability to challenge Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. But the Russian presidency will also expose Yeltsin to many of the same problems that have hounded Mr. Gorbachev during his six years as Soviet leader - especially the matter of renegade republics.
"He [Yeltsin] may become the president of the Russian Federation, but he won't be our president," said Fauzia Bairamova, leader of Ittifak, the main Tatar nationalist movement. "We in Tatarstan want the same thing that those in union republics are fighting for - independence."
In theory, Bolshevik leaders established autonomous republics within union republics to give various national groups limited freedom. But in many cases, the boundaries for such republics were drawn more according to political rather than ethnic considerations, making the regions easier to rule.