A historic referendum held on March 21st 1992 saw the Tatarstan public confirm their country as a “sovereign state” and a “subject of international law”. This was a victory for the government, who sought to redefine their relationship with the Russian Federation on a bi-lateral treaty basis rather than within a federalist structure. There was huge support to vote ‘yes’ and ratify sovereignty in ethnically Tatar areas, whereas in the five Russian-majority districts, the referendum suffered defeat.
Staff from the Helsinki Commission monitored the practices on election day. Although procedings were relatively smooth, some irregularities were still observed which, though common during the Soviet period, fell short of the standards of international law. The Russian Democratic Party, who strongly opposed Tatar independence, claimed that such practices were widespread in unobserved areas, and the Russian Federation Commission on Constitutionality even declared the referendum unconstitutional. Russian media also attempted to influence a “no” vote. It was expected that Tatarstan’s rebellion against Russian dominance would inspire other autonomous regions to renegotiate the terms of their involvement in the Federation.