(Washington, DC--August 3, 2007) Mintimer Shaimiev, the president of Russia's oil-rich, Muslim-majority Republic of Tatarstan, emphasized the importance of his republic's power-sharing treaty with Russian federal authorities in Moscow as well as the need for a free society, free access to information and free media during a wide-ranging, 24-minute interview at the RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir service's bureau in the Tatarstan capital of Kazan.
Shaimiev told RFE/RL that the power-sharing treaty, approved by both houses of the Russian parliament in mid-July, will maintain Tatar statehood within the Russian Federation. Shaimiev said his government's next step will be to prepare lower-level intergovernmental agreements, to address such issues as the environment, taxation, and the cultural needs of Tatars living outside of Tatarstan's borders. Shaimiev noted that Tatarstan seems to be the only region within the Russian Federation to be dealt with in this fashion by the federal center.
Concerning his republic's transition to democracy, Shaimiev said, "We should act in the best interests of our people. It is a process where one shouldn't hurry." According to Shaimiev, "Even countries that consider themselves democratic and that we also consider democratic have already started looking for certain boundaries... Without a doubt, society should be free. There should be no dispute about issues of the freedom and rights of the press. If they don't do any harm, then they should have their own opinion and make it known to the people, and the people, every person, should be prepared to accept or reject this information. If we reach that level, we'll see civil society and democratic processes develop."
The sensitive issue of moving the Tatar language to a Latin-based script, supported by many people in Tatarstan, is "very complicated", Shaimiev told RFE/RL. Shaimiev said his concern arises less from the actual script switch and more from the possibility that such a move may divide the greater Tatar nation if Tatars outside of Tatarstan decide to retain the current Cyrillic script.
RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service broadcasts four hours of programming a day to Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, with programs produced in Prague and the service's Kazan Bureau and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, satellite and FM signals provided by local affiliate stations. Tatar-Bashkir Service programming is also available via the Internet, at the service's website http://www.azatliq.org and at http://www.rferl.org; English-language news about events in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan can be found on the RFE/RL website, at http://www.rferl.org/featuresarchive/subregion/tatarstanandbashkortostan.html