Staunton, February 22 – “Federalism in Russia is impossible because it is impossible to imagine the level of political self-standingness of regional societies” that pre-existed the rise of federalism in other countries, Aleksandr Morozov says; and without that, “it is impossible to ‘construct’ a federation.”
The head of the Nemtsov Center for the Study of Russia at Prague’s Charles University says that there must be regional powers based on property rights that have been secured as a result of a contest between them and the central authorities. “Russia has never had this” (afterempire.info/2018/02/20/morozov/; republished in newizv.ru/article/general/22-02-2018/aleksandr-morozov-federalizm-v-rossii-nevozmozhen).
And when regional elites did appear to be emerging in Russia during periods of crisis (1917-1920 and 1989-1991), they quickly were reined in and did not establish “’a contract’ with the Russian center of power” that might have become the basis for the institutionalization of genuine federalism.
“In Russia, there is no ‘aristocracy of the land,’ as was the case in Germany or Britain; and therefore there is also no tradition of a different system of power in the regions besides one based on being representatives of the center. Federalism cannot exist without independent political subjects which form it.”
That is why in Russia, “the question is always not about ‘a federation’ but about ‘the powers of the regions.’” When Gorbachev or Yeltsin were talking about sovereignty, that is what they meant: greater regional authority but not federalism in any real sense. Things might have been different under the Provisional Government, but it did not last.
If decentralization is to take place in a way that might allow for the rise of real federalism, Morozov suggests, it is not going to be along the existing oblasts or republics but rather around the 13 “millionaire” urban agglomerations where “’politics’ in Russia is now concentrated.” That is where the political future of Russia will be decided.
“At present,” the commentator says, “there are no large active political groups, but in each there is a large contemporary and progressive milieu; and a conflict between this milieu and the new, even large – conservative strata. After several years we will see how this conflict will end.”
To win out, the progressive groups will need to form “a political majority” not in statistical terms but rather by forming “an alliance with a significant part of the establishment with broad strata of their own citizens who ‘are waiting for change.’” At various points, both Gorbachev and Yeltsin possessed a political majority in this sense.
But then they lost it, Morozov says; and as a result, “not one of the so-called ‘revolutions’ at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries despite all expectations and energy led to fundamental changes in the political system of any country” where people rose in the streets against their rulers.
Instead, “the governments change but the reformist plans were choked off.”
As far as the power of regionalism in Russia is concerned, Morozov suggests it should not be overrated. “In cultural and economic terms, it is very fruitful; but ‘political regionalism’ is almost always a rightist, conservative political utopia.” That is certainly the case in Russia today.
“One can of course try to construct from nothing the status of Bavaria for Kalmykia. But you won’t get any ‘Bavaria’ there. Instead, all you’ll get will be ‘a Daghestan.’”