Thursday, June 27, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia Will Not Survive in Its Current Borders, Russian Regionalist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – A St. Petersburg regionalist argues in a new book, “Global Separatism as a Means of Overcoming ‘The End of History’,” that Russia is unlikely to survive in its current borders because of the historical burdens it has inherited from the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire and because of its use of force to deal with them.

            Not surprisingly, his views and those of other Russian regionalists who argue for the creation of a genuine federal system in order to prevent disintegration are being attacked by some defenders of the current regime as little more than a cover for “secessionism and separatism.”

            And also not surprisingly, the often vitriolic attacks against advocates of federalism have attracted far more attention than have the arguments of the latter because the latter are more often presented as analytic and even academic arguments rather than the more easily grasped and distilled political polemics of the former.

            That media reality often leads the regionalists and federalists to overstate their cases. Indeed, some of them find that the only way they can attract attention is to do so. But their core arguments deserve to be taken seriously because they form a serious part of political discourse if not in Moscow than in major centers beyond the ring road.

            The ideas of the author of the “Global Separatism” book just mentioned are outlined this week in an article on the Rosbalt news agency.  According to the reviewer, Daniil Kotsyubinsky argues that Russia may provide a new “impulse” for separatism around the world in the 21st century (

                Kotsyubinsky says that this is because Russia is “continuing the tradition of imperial statehood the basis of which was laid more than 500 years ago.” And that means, he says, that “in addition” to the foreign policy challenges it faces, the Russian state now must deal with an inheritance that twice in the 20th century – in 1917 and 1991 -- led to its disintegration.

            Worse, efforts to hold the country together by force like those the Soviets used effectively prevented Russia from being able to pursue a thorough-going modernization, Kotsyubinsky argues, and the current efforts to make the Russian Federation “united and indivisible” by force will have the same effect.

            At the end of the Soviet period and again now, Russians have faced a dilemma, he suggests, forced to choose between “the Motherland” and “Freedom”  -- “”or more precisely to choose what kind of Motherland they want: a united, indivisible and unfree one or a free one which would be territorially smaller.”

            Russia’s enormous ethnic, religious and regional diversity, Kotsyubinsky says, if all this is kept together by force alone will leave the country and its people eternally behind the leading world powers. At the end of Soviet times, many Russians concluded that this was a bad bargain; now, he says, many of them are reaching the same conclusion.

            Instead, the book’s author say that they recognize that the “dismemberment” of Great Russia into more compact andeconomically self-sufficient units” would give them a better chance for freedom and prosperity.  And with time, he suggests, such feelings are only going to grow.

            Moscow’s use of force to hold things together is just one of the problems. Another is the disproportion between the capital and the rest of the country. At present, Kotsyubinsky continues, “the Russian Federation is the only giant country whose capital is several times larger” and many times richer “than any other city of the country.” 

            That in turn has led to “the comically absurd” disproportion between those regions which pay more to the center than they get back and those which don’t.  That isn’t because the populations of the latter cannot work but because of “the global ineffectiveness and injustice of the entire state system of the Russian Federation.”

            Given that, Kotsyubinsky argues that “today there are more than serious reasons for acknowledging that the Russian Federaiton is incapable of normal development and that it is in essence a mortally ill economic and political organism.” Its heart, Moscow, is not a source of energy but rather an enormous “administrative-financial tumor” that must be excised.

            “The country itself, that is the organic conjunction of territories and the population living on them of course will not disappear,” he says. But “the ‘Moscow-centric’ vectors of social development” which have outlasted themselves “will be replaced by new ones,” within the current borders if the regime federalizes but beyond them if it doesn’t.

            This emerging set of arrangements, which Kotsyubinsky calls “Post-Russia,” will have the regions increasingly linked to foreign countries in Asia and Europe even if they are able to maintain many of”the traditional inter-reggional links and continue to place their ‘metaphysical’ role of aa transit corridor between West and East.”

            Some are certain to view this prospect as “’a catrastrophe,’” he says. “But it is possible to view such a future differently, understanding that in the final analysis states come and go, but regions remain.” That is what is happening in Europe, and Kotsyubinsky suggests that it will happen in Russia, however much some may try as now to prevent it.

                Just how offensive such ideas are to many is suggested by a 2800-word article this week  by Regnum commentator Dmitry Semushkin who seeks to link remarks by the author of these lines on the weakness of Russian national identity to the arguments made at a recent Moscow academic conference on federalism in order to attack the regionalists of his country as nothing more than “closet secessionists and separatists,” an article that already has been repeated 9,000 times in the Russian Internet (

Demushkin’s article as been criticized by several of those directly involved as a 1937-style denunciation that mis-characterizes their positions and “promotes separatism” by unintentionally showing that “regionalists want people in Russia to live like in liberal democratic Europe” and that Russia cannot be a European state if it remains an empire (  and

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