Staunton, February 28 – Many Russian officials believe that regionalism is a gateway to separatism and try to suppress it whenever and wherever they can, Vadim Shteppa says. But regionalism will grow into separatism only when Russian officials do not respect the principles of federalism as specified in the Russian Constitution.
Unfortunately, Russian officials don’t respect the constitution and support federalism and regionalism only in neighboring countries like Ukraine where they see these phenomena as a means of weakening or even detroying these states rather than as sources of strength (rufabula.com/articles/2014/02/26/the-boundaries-between-the-terms).
Shteppa begins his essay by calling attention to the latest absurdity in the Russian position: Officials in Karelia refused to register the Republic Movement of Karelia unless that group dropped the word “regionalism” from its charter. The officials said it was “unclear” and therefore “suspicious” (vesti.karelia.ru/news/chinovniki_boyatsya_regionalizma/).
It would be a mistake, however, to see this as a shortcoming of provincial authorities alone, Shteppa says. In fact,”no ‘Ministry of Justice of Karelia’ now exists.” It is simply affront for “federal bureaucrats” as indeed its official title makes clear: “The Administration of the Justice Ministry of Russia for the Republic of Karelia.”
Regionalism has become “taboo” in Russia, despite international support for such movements. (See among other documents on this the 1996 EU declaration on regionalism at aer.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/PressComm/Publications/DeclarationRegionalism/.dam/l10n/ru/DR_RUSSE.pdf.) In Russia, those who support regionalists are typically called “’separatists.’”
Following Roland Robertson, Shteppa argues that regionalism today exists as “a dialectic partner” of globalization, with the outcome being “glocalization” in which globalized firms take into consideration regional differences. And he says that this trend is “more open and progressive” than the one which supports “the format of nation states.”
Consequently, he continues, the political institutionalization of regionalism via federalism is not a threat to the state but rather a partner which will allow the state to take advantage of globalization rather than hide behind an autarchic system and lose access to the new global economy (inache.net/post/835/).
Some separatist theorists – and here Shteppa refers to Daniil Kotsyubinsky – nonetheless argue that separatism is “the logical conclusion of regionalism,” but that argument, Shteppa suggests, is too rigid and recalls the Marxist insistence that “’imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism’ or that socialism must inevitably grow into communism.”
“Separatism really can become the result of regionalist development,” he continues, I within the framework of an existing state, this development is blocked and’prohibited.’ Only in this case, one must place the blame not on the regionalists but on the state itself” as the situation in the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union demonstrates.
Russian officials do not seem to have learned from these examples, Shteppa says. Instead, they seem to be copying exactly what didn’t work n the past. Instead of promoting federalism, Moscow has adopted a law “on the struggle with separatism,” a law that provokes what it is intended to prevent (rufabula.com/articles/2014/01/15/victory-over-common-sense and echo.msk.ru/blog/k_borovoi/1197106-echo/).
But the situation of the Russian authorities is even more absurd and from their point of view counter-productive both within the country and abroad. Within the Russian Federation, Moscow is “liquidating” federal arrangements, causing regions “to lose interest in one another,” and thus opening the door to a new wave of separatism.
And abroad, as Moscow’s advocacy of federalism in Ukraine demonstrates, it is pushing for a kind of “federalism” that promotes separatism by ignoring the fact that Ukraine, while officially and constitutionally a unitary state is in fact far more federal and regional than is the Russian Federation.
That leads to the absurdity in which “those who would like to see Russia a federation are against federalism for Ukraine,” the Russian regionalist theorist says. “And on the contrary, Ukrainian federalism is being actively promoted by those who want to see Russia [remain] a unitary empire.”
It is obvious, he continues, that “in both cases, we are observing a strange treatment of federalism as crypto-separatism and an attempt to oppose the interests of the two countries. But if one approaches the problem without preconceptions, [it becomes clear that] both countries need real federalism.”
Many officials in eastern Ukraine have spoken against federalism precisely because they too confuse federalism with separatism and because they know they would have a hard time maintaining themselves in office if they had to face the local electorate rather than be appointed by one of their party colleagues in Kyiv.
Indeed, the expansion of genuine federalism in Ukraine would reduce tensions between east and west because not all issues would have to be solved in Kyiv, making many of them zero-sum game event, but could be solved differently in different parts of the country at the level closest to the electorate.
Everyone needs to get over the stereotype that the east of Ukraine is ruled only by “’pro-Russia’” officials. That is just as much a propaganda nonsense as the assertion that the west of the country is controlled by “’fascists’ and ‘Banderites.’” One must remember that in the December 1991 referendum, the east voted for independence just as did the west.
Thus, contrary to what many in Moscow hope and what some in Kyiv fear, a more formally federalized Ukraine would contribute to the maintenance of the territorial integrity of the country and, what is more important, to the division of powers and the growth of democracy there.
The same thing is even more true for the Russian Federation, Shteppa argues. It too will be able to maintain its territorial integrity and make the transition to democracy if and only if it devolves powers to the regions and becomes a genuine and not just a nominal federal state.
A first step toward that desired outcome, he suggests, is to be clear as to who are the real federalists. Many who call themselves federalists in Russia today are in fact supporters of “a unitary-imperial policy, while those who support federalism call themselves regionalists and are typically denounced as separatists.
But of course, Shteppa concludes, this is neither new nor confined to the legal system. “The CPSU nomenklatura did not see to build a real ‘communist paradise’ for the entire people. It was content to create special distribution arrangements for itself. Today’s [Russian] bureaucrats” are much the same, and the problem is thus far broader.
Russian officials “loudly call for patriotism but buy houses in ‘hostile’ Europe,” Shteppa notes. Meanwhile, he says, Russia’s “priests fervently denounce ‘western perversions’ but close their eyes to what is going on in their own monasteries and seminaries” (russ.ru/Mirovaya-povestka/Federaly-protiv-federalizma ).