Staunton, December 27 – Russia needs three kinds of decentralization – from Moscow to the regions, from the regional governments to the municipal ones, and from the state to society – but both because of a tradition of hyper-centralization and because the supporters of one kind are often the opponents of the other two, it may not get any of them anytime soon.
Those are the stark conclusions of Natalya Zubarevich, a cultural geographer at Moscow State University, as presented in an interview in “Novaya gazeta” and in a commentary on the problems of cities on the Postnauka.ru portal (novayagazeta.ru/politics/66664.html and postnauka.ru/faq/38237).
One of Russia’s most obvious characteristics, she writes, is that “there is Moscow and there is the rest of Russia.” The capital has eight percent of the country’s population but 20 percent of its GDP, almost 20 percent of its investment and together with Moscow oblast, almost 20 percent of new housing and 20 percent of trade.
It is “a super-city which concentrates everything in itself, and this very much interferes with the development of other million-resident cities” and regions. “Why does this happen in Moscow?” Zubarevich asks rhetorically. There are two reasons: “the super-centralization ofhte system of administration and the authoritarian aspects of the system of administration.”
Such a system under ceteris paribus conditions invariably leads “to the super-concentration of resources in the capital. There [Russia] needs de-centralization,” and that decentralization must take the form of the center to the regions, of the regional capitals to the municipalities and districts, and the state to the society.
At present, the Moscow scholar continues, “except for Moscow and St. Petersburg, all the other big cities are municipalities. And they must be able to expand their authority and resources.” Only if that happens, she suggests, will the country be able to modernize and develop.
Unfortunately even tragically, the Russian government is moving in exactly the opposite direction, concentrating ever more power in Moscow, allowing the concentration of ever more power in the oblast and republic capitals, and promoting the growth of the state relative to society in the economy.
By ending gubernatorial elections and now ending mayoral votes, Moscow is not only destroying “the political system of local administration” but is creating a situation in which “a wise political balance” of forces will no longer be able to exist and in which officials closest to problems will be able to make decisions about that.
That will slow the country’s development, but even more seriously, it means that “if and when the central authorities weaken (and in Russian periods of such weakening appear on a regular basis – such is our history), in the region there will remain one tsar and god, shah or prince.”
As a result of the Kremlin’s actions now, that will “stimulate the future satrap-ization” of the country, one which, although Zubarevich does not say so, will create conditions that will resemble those that led to the disintegration of the USSR a generation ago because there will not be any countervailing force to maintain balance in the political system.
More immediately, although again the Moscow geographer does not say so, this Moscow approach in which the governor is everything and the cities and districts within his oblast, kray or republic are totally dependent on him just as he is on Moscow creates another danger: the emergence of deep splits between the center and the periphery within districts.
One new analysis shows that this is already happening in Sverdlovsk Oblast between Yekaterinburg, the capital, and Nizhny Tagil, a large city with its own distinctive interests and goals, and suggests that it could easily emerge in other regions where there are “second cities” upset with their status (znak.com/svrdl/articles/26-12-12-43/103408.html).
But it is not just the power relations within the state between the center and the periphery or between the regional centers and their peripheries that matter. It is also the balance between the state and society, and there too under Vladimir Putin, Russia is headed in the opposite direction from that required to promote modernization and growth.