Staunton, October 24 – Russian federalism in its current form is “shaky,” based as it is on three different principles (ethnic, traditional-historical, and economic calculations) often wrongly applied and can be preserved only under conditions of limited democracy and the direct application of force, Fyodor Krasheninnikov says.
The Yekaterinburg political commentator discusses various aspects of the application of each of these principles and then proposes an alternative basis for federalism, one based on a greater role for municipalities and parliaments and a clear delimitation of the powers of the center and those of the new regions (planperemen.org/opinion/krasheninnikov/23102017).
Any ethnic community “should have the chance to develop its language and culture, have its own media, schools and even higher educational institutions in its own language,” Krasheninnikov says. But does the realization of that right require “the preservation of federal subjects which have an ethnic name?”
That is just one of the questions the powers that be have not been asking. Another Moscow has avoided, also important for the future of the country, is “why are ethnic Russian regions impossible” in such a system given that Russians are an ethnic community and should enjoy the same rights?
“The preservation of national-territorial formations left to us from the Lenin-Stalin nationality policy will lead to the inevitable appearance in the future about the possibility of raising the level of their autonomy to complete independence,” something that as experience has shown could lead to the disintegration of the country.
According to Krasheninnikov, “in any case in those regions where some ethnos forms the majority, the growth of its self-consciousness as a nation does not leave other variants for development, and democratic elections sooner or later will lead to the victory (even if it is only temporary) of nationally oriented forces.”
Whether this is a good or bad thing is “another question,” he continues, but to act as if regions “based on completely different principles” can exist within a single democratic federation is “quite native,” as the demise of other “’nations of nations’” has shown. There can be “only one political nation” in any given state. If there are more, the state won’t survive.
(There is another aspect to this issue, Krasheninnikov says. “the regions created in Soviet times” where the titular nationality is a minority will, if there is democracy, not control the governments of those regions. Only non-democratic means will allow such minorities to dominate.)
The problems of the current arrangements will only intensify with greater mobility of the population and the increasing appearance of ethnically mixed populations in major cities, Krasheninnikov continues.
Using economics together with ethnicity raises other issues, he points out. Regions ought to be able to support themselves because “why should more economically developed regions, without an ethnic title finance stormy ethno-political life in regions that they [via Moscow] subsidize?” That too is one of the explosive elements in the current arrangement.
“The current borders of the subjects of the Russian Federation arose not by a natural path but rather were drawn by the Soviet bureaucracy which took into account the economic realities of the first half of the 20th century,” the Yekaterinburg analyst says. Those economic realities have changed: does this mean borders should as well?
One of those new realities is the formation of diaspora communities that may have more to do with one subject ethnically and more to do with another economically. But another one is the rise of cities which are going to be the drivers of economic development in the future, Krasheninnikov argues.
Consequently, if Russia is to be successful, it must “change the very logic of the existence of regions.” They must be centered on major cities and formed not as “vertically integrated structures” but rather “by associations of local communities who via regional organs of power will decide the issues of inter-city relations.”
According to Krasheninnikov, “the regions as such must not be mini-tyrannies.” Rather, “regional power must be parliamentary and build above all on compromises among the municipalities which are part of it.” And that means that the regions must be based on cities and their hinterlands rather than having some unpopulated areas with their own title.
Under those conditions, Russia could form a genuine federal system. Without them, it will remain either rickety or something maintained by force alone.