Staunton, September 25 – The share of Russians who say they don’t like Moscow has risen from about half in the early 1990s to approximately 75 percent now, Ivan Shemyakin says, a trend that reflects growing inequality between Moscow and the regions and that if it is not reversed threatens the survival of the country.
In a Gazeta commentary, the Russian analyst says that because of the nature of the Russian political system, this tension has not yet broken into the political spheres, “but it has already become a fact of mass culture. A clear example is ‘Leningrad’s’ son about burning Moscow” (gazeta.ru/comments/2017/09/21_a_10900460.shtml).
Most Russians don’t dislike Moscow as such but rather “’the idea of Moscow,’” Shemyakin says. Indeed, according to Olesya Gerasimenko, the author of a book Not Unified Russia, “when people curse Moscow, they are cursing ‘the federal center’” and their words have nothing to do with actual Muscovites.
And she cites the words of a St. Petersburg separatist who points out that “if the capital of the Russian Federation were now to be shifted to Vyshny Volochek, that would mean that all would begin to hate Vyshny Volochek.”
But beyond any question, Shemyakin says, “the existing level of inequality is viewed as unjust by all, independent of their incomes.” Hating capitals is widespread around the world, but the situation in Russia is worse not only because of income inequality but because of the hyper-centralization of almost all aspects of life.
“It seems to me,” he continues, “that the danger of dislike of ‘Moscow’ not as real place but as a symbol which embodies the ideas of unjust inequality, ‘a luxurious life at the expense of the rest of Russia’ is seriously underrated” by many who fail to see that hatred of the capital can quickly become hatred of the country itself.
“’We are not for separatism; we are against Moscow’ is both deceptive and horrific. The slogan of the nationalists, ‘Stop feeding the Caucasus!’ is capable of seriously wounding Russia; the slogan ‘Stop feeding Moscow!’ is capable of killing it.”
At the end of Soviet times, “one could not infrequently hear” in the regions and republics that “we have nothing against Russia and Russians, but we want to separate ‘from the Kremlin.’ The union republics, especially Ukraine and Russia, decided that they would ‘stop feeding’ one another. [As a result,] the united country died.”
Lest that happen again, Shemyakin argues, “the country must immediately adopt a program to reduce the break between the level and quality of life of Moscow on the one hand and the rest of Russia on the other.” That program must be based on the idea that “Moscow is not a tumor on the body of Russia but on the contrary is a source of its development.”
Both the government and business must decentralize, he says, something that will “allow for an increase in the geographic mobility of the population not on the model of ‘periphery-Moscow’ but on the American and European one which presupposes the movement of people from one city to another in the course of a lifetime.”
That will help hold the country together and be “critically important for the formation of a nation,” Shemyakin says. But it will be hard for many who are used to looking at moving to Moscow as the capstone of their career rather than as one stop among many.
Obviously, Russia should not move the capital but rather some of its functions, and it should move them not to the other end of Russia in Siberia or the Far East but rather to places closer by, like Kazan, something that would help integrate the Tatars into the Russian political nation.
“As a super-centralized country,” he says, “Russia needs a strengthening of regionalism, it needs to see the move to the regions and their centers of entrepreneurs and intellectuals which would be itself reduce the absolute domination of Moscow,” Shemyakin says. And these centers must come to view themselves “not as capitals of little principalities but as all-Russian centers.”
If that doesn’t happen, he suggests, there are real dangers to the territorial integrity of the country.