Staunton, December 7 – A truly contemporary Russia cannot be an empire, Gary Kasparov says. “Other countries long ago and successfully overcame their imperial consciousness but it remains in Russia up to now and pushes it in the direction of various adventures.”
In an interview with the After Empire portal at the Fourth Forum of Free Russia in Vilnius, the extra-systemic opposition leader says that the only positive way forward is to reconstitute the state as a parliamentary democracy with a genuinely federalist system (afterempire.info/2017/12/07/restart/).
But Kasparov acknowledges that if such a federation is to be real, it must be voluntary; and if it is voluntary, it is likely not to include all the regions and republics now within the borders of the Russian Federation given the enormous diversity among them and the continuing impact of centralist ideas in the state.
The differences between Wyoming, on the one hand, and Massachusetts, on the other, in the US are far less than the differences between St. Petersburg and Chechnya. Indeed, he argues, keeping the latter two together would be an extraordinary challenge for any federal system, let alone one with Russia’s heritage.
And there is another fundamental difference between the states of the US and the regions of the Russian Federation, Kasparov says. “In all the states of the US, despite their legal differences, an understanding that they form one country all the same predominates.” But Kasparov says he has no similar confidence about Russia’s regions.
He agrees with Vadim Shtepa, the editor of After Empire, that any separatist tendencies in parts of Russia are the products of the imperial and hyper-centralized Russian state and says that “in a normal federation, this capital super-centralism would be liquidated. It is possible that would lead to a certain reduction in the standard of living in Moscow.”
Speaking more generally about federalism, Kasparov says that “a normal federation in general must be build not on ‘verticals’ but on horizontal ‘net’ connections among regions on the basis of their mutual interests. And of course, underlying everything must be the principle of voluntariness.”
That means, he continues, that as Russia reconstitutes itself as a modern state, “it is possible that this territory will be less but in it will come precisely those regions which are interested in a common economic, cultural and legal space.” The others may very well go their own ways.
Unfortunately, Kasparov continues, when the Russian had a chance to reconstitute itself in 1991, it didn’t make use of it, and “therefore the Russian Federation remained only a continuation of the USSR with the very same nomenklatura and special services, an outcome which in the final analysis led to the restoration of the empire.”
To move forward, Russia must return to the principles of the Constituent Assembly of 1917, a body which might have achieved much but which was destroyed by the Bolsheviks who then proceeded to build “the most horrific totalitarian regime in the world.” Everything connected with that regime must be discarded.
For example, Kasparov says, “the Kremlin should be a purely tourist site and not a center for those in power, because if the reverse is true, the specters f the past will as before rule over us.” It is even possible that a new Russia will need a new and different capital city, one that will epitomize not an empire but a genuine and free federation.
It will be based on a recognition that “the interests of people in the Moscow region are no more important than the people in Novgorod or Siberia, just as the residents of the smallest US state Rhode Island have in no way fewer rights than those in gigantic New York,” Kasparov continues
As for a future parliament, it must be entirely new. The current Duma isn’t a real parliament and the parties in it are not real parties. They will all pass away when real political competition begins, and their departure will thus open the way to the construction of a genuinely free and federal Russia.