Staunton, October 31 – The events following the declaration of independence by Catalonia including Madrid’s effort to find a way to provide enough autonomy to the Catalans that they will be quite prepared to remain in a united federal Spain may be the most important developments in the world, Igor Yakovenko says.
The Spanish government recognized that its attempt to hold in Catalonia by force was costing it both support within that region and across the European Union and so decided on a more cautious approach, the Russian commentator says. But Moscow has adopted a different approach (afterempire.info/2017/10/30/catalan-mirror/).
The Russian state in its various guises has “at all times sought to preserve the unity of the country with the help of force. A century ago, this was one of the factors of the collapse of the empire which then was assembled again by force of arms. And then it fell apart again 26 years ago,” Yakovenko continues.
“Today, there is not a single positive cause why Siberia and the North Caucasus, the Far East and the Volga region should carry out Moscow’s commands and more generally even remain in the borders of a single country while not having any rights to decide independently the problems of their development.”
He continues: “The single cause which keeps Russia in its current borders is repression directed against any centrifugal forces.” And “by its placing a taboo on the theme of federalism, the Kremlin has created conditions for the disintegration of the country.” The last reassembly of the empire by force lasted about 70 years; this time “it will last far less long.”
Russians should be learning from the Spanish government’s response to the Catalonian events. But polls show that “more than a third of our fellow citizens don’t know where Catalonia is located: 26 percent honestly admit they don’t know, five percent put in it in Italy, and one percent” put it in a whole range of other countries, including the US and the former Yugoslavia.
Moreover, according to the VTsIOM survey, two out of five Russians say that Catalonia’s relations with Spain are “not important for Russia,” although slightly more say that it does. Sixty-eight percent say Moscow should remain neutral, 14 percent say it should back Catalonia, and five percent support Madrid’s position.
Russians also appear to be ignorant about the enormous number of regionalist movements and parties “in all countries of Europe.” Some support these groups if they weaken Russia’s opponents, but most oppose any movement that calls into question existing borders anywhere lest that spread to Russia itself.
According to Yakovenko, “in Russia, the problem of the striving of regions for independence is resolved simply” and forcefully. First, the Kremlin transformed the Federation Council by eliminating elections to it. Then it banned the creation of regional parties. And most recently, it has imposed criminal sanctions against any calls for separatism, something Moscow defines ever more broadly.
“The very idea of federalism in the Russian Federation (!),” Yakovenko says, “has been declared a crime and is completely officially defined as a form of extremism.” Indeed, “any measures with the word ‘federalism’ and related terms are taboo in the Russian Federation” of today.
A year ago, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation issued an explanation of Article 280 that clearly extended extremism to include separatism and federalism. “That is,” Yakovenko says, “a Plenum of the Supreme Court specifically stressed that in order to be imprisoned for two or three years it is totally unnecessary to call for any specific action … [or] for the use of force.”
It is now sufficient, he continues, “to pronounce the words about the federalization of the region … or its statehood.” Those things are now crimes in Putin’s Russia.
“The idea of federalism, the striving of people living in a region to take their fate into their own hands, this on the one hand is a constituent part of the idea of freedom, the main value of the Western world and on the other a manifestation of that very growth of diversity which is the only thing that can oppose social entropy, stagnation, and decline.”
Thus, Yakovenko says, “to preserve the unity of a country in conditions of freedom is possibly only by having given the regions such a level of sovereignty and autonomy that people live there will feel comfortable and the benefits from living within a single state will significantly exceed the potential benefits of leaving it.”
The United States for more than two centuries is a model of this, and Spain now, having recognized the error of using force against Catalonia earlier, is as well. But this is a model Russia hasn’t followed. Unless it does, it won’t survive in its current borders for long however much force it employs.