Staunton, November 29 – Yesterday, “Novaya gazeta” carried a 4,000-word article about an institution few know much about, the permanent representations of Russia’s regions and republics in Moscow and elsewhere, dismissing them as costing a lot and doing little and thus part of “the façade federation” that Vladimir Putin has put in place of the real thing.
The article and the comments appended to it suggest that “from the era of the parade of sovereignties remains something rudimentary, buildings in the center [of Moscow] occupied by the permanent representatives of the regions. They have no real power or serious tasks but they do have staffs, salaries and parking places” (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2016/11/28/70694-fasadnaya-federatsiya).
That characterization is wrong on at least three counts: First, these institutions trace their origin not to the late 1980s but rather to the dawn of the Soviet period when they were set up to ensure communication between Moscow and the regions and republics of the country. For a discussion of that, see Peter J. Potichnyj, “Permanent Representations (Postpredstva) of Union Republics in Moscow,” Review of Socialist Law, 7:1 (1981), pp. 113.-132.
Second, it ignores the consular functions these institutions perform not only for officials from regions and republics but for students from them who are enrolled in Moscow institutions as well as for people in the regions and republics who are having problems with particular Moscow institutions, including but not limited to the defense ministry.
And third, it fails to capture the symbolic and practical role these institutions played for the union republics in Gorbachev’s time when they were used by senior republic officials to reach out to foreign governments and ultimately became the foundations on which the embassies of the former Soviet republics were built.
Under the first and last Soviet president, the Moscow media had fun with the fact that the Armenian SSR used its first computer to create a dating service for ethnic Armenians in the Soviet capital so that they could more easily meet other Armenians rather than have to date anyone else.
But the media generally ignored what was perhaps the high point of the existence of these Soviet institutions: the decision of Heidar Aliyev to go to the Azerbaijani SSR permanent representation in Moscow to denounce Gorbachev’s dispatch of troops there in January 1990 (biweekly.ada.edu.az/vol_5_no_3/How_Black_January_united_Azerbaijan_changed_the_West_and_destroyed_the_USSR.htm).
These institutions are not just of historical interest, although the article in “Novaya gazeta” may be a testing of the waters for Putin to do what even Stalin did not: closing these institutions down, perhaps fearful that their symbolism as proto-embassies for republics and regions in the Russian Federation is something he no longer wants to put up with.
Indeed, the permanent representations remain both practically and symbolically important for many regions and republics. Among the developments in the last decade that are especially worthy of note are these:
· Despite their costs, 75 percent of the federal subjects do maintain them in Moscow (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2010/07/window-on-eurasia-three-fourths-of.html) and when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea, that region opened its office in Moscow as well.
· The permanent representations cooperate with each other and make contact with foreign embassies as well. They have sought, so far without success, to gain official recognition for their collective activities (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2010/03/window-on-eurasia-regions-seek-revival.html).
· Some republics, like Daghestan and Chechnya, have opened similar offices across the Russian Federation (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2009/10/window-on-eurasia-non-russian-republics.html and windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2009/05/window-on-eurasia-daghestan-now-has-50.html).
At least one, Tuva, has drawn on the model to open an office in Mongolia (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/03/window-on-eurasia-tuva-opens.html
· The Adygeya representation is now teaching Circassian to Circassians in Moscow (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2010/07/window-on-eurasia-adygey-representation.html), and the Kalmyk one has been instrumental in expanding investment in that republic (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/05/kalmyk-mission-to-moscow-begins-to-work.html).
The “Novaya gazeta” article does concede that these institutions allow the republics to “show the flag” in Moscow, something its commentators say is all about showing their loyalty to the Kremlin. But the ways in which that matters for people in those republics as an indication of possibilities in the future is obviously about something else entirely.