Shtepa acknowledges that he also fell for these Eurasian temptations in the early 1990s; but he soon saw through them after travelling in various countries and various regions of Russia, an experience “which clearly showed all the artificiality and archaic nature of the Eurasian dogmas.”
“For example,” he continues, “the residents of Novosibirsk and Vladivostok hardly consider themselves ‘Asians’ because the border between Europe and Asia is accepted as passing along the Urals.”
But his real epiphany came during a visit to St. Louis in the middle of the United States, a city combining European order and Siberian spaciousness in ways that any visitor from Russia could not fail to notice. It came to him, Shtepa says, that “the future of the Russian space could be a similar synthesis of the European and American experience, both cultural and political.”
Turning to the non-Russians, he says, “the republics within the Russian Federation are analogues of European nation states.” That was obvious in the early 1990s, but now, with the liquidation of federalism in favor of Putin’s vertical, “those who fight for the national-cultural distinctiveness [have lost] a healthy federalist consciousness.”
Today, many non-Russian activists are fighting for the preservation of instruction of their state languages in the schools. But all too often, their statements resemble petitions to the Kremlin tsar and his duma. They should not be seeking but demanding that the powers that be observe the principles of federalism” given that the country calls itself a federation.
“Why in Russia do Kremlin bureaucrats decide everything for everyone?” Shtepa asks rhetorically. “One must force the authorities to answer this question or openly acknowledge the fact that Russia is not a federation but remains a unitary empire.”
But everyone must recognize that “this imperial will not be destroyed by the efforts of the national republics alone,” he argues. The situation now is fundamentally different than in 1991. Then, the union republics which had equal status under the constitution declared sovereignty and Russians supported them.
Now, the republics are far fewer, less equal, and more repressed than the union republics were, and it is inconceivable that Russians anytime soon would come out in support of their right to exist from the Russian Federation. Far more likely they would demonstrate against any such event. In short, “Tatarstan isn’t Lithuania;” and it is a mistake not to recognize that fact.
Consequently, he says, “the position of Andrey Illarionov who views the prospects for a new disintegration of the empire exclusively with regard to the national republics appears too narrow,” Shepa says, citing an article the Russian economist did for his portal ().
He is kind enough to say that the author of these lines is closer to the truth when he argues that “in this process, namely the Russian regionalists will play a decisive role” (“Regionalism is the Nationalism of the Next Russian Revolution” (in Russian at ).
In Shtepa’s view, “any geopolitical transformations of the Russian space are unthinkable until the Russians themselves want to play a new historical role,” one in which they act for themselves and not as the force binding together the Kremlin empire. Is that possible? Many like Aleksey Shiropayev have wrestled with the question ().
Kremlin propaganda treats any such shift toward Russians acting for themselves rather than for the Kremlin as something that will inevitably lead to the disintegration of the country. But Mikhail Epshtein is surely right when he says that “the goal is not the dividing up of Russia but the multiplication of Russias” ().
“For the majority of Russian regions, the American rather than the European experience is more instructive,” Shtepa says, citing the arguments of Pavel Ivlyev (). He adds that “not ‘separating from the empire’ but jointly liquidating ont his space the imperial principle as such” is what can serve as the goal of both groups.
“If the empire is preserved,” Shtepa continues, “even in reduced borders, it will inevitably begin again to threaten the independence of its neighbors” and repress its own people. The Kremlin likes to talk about “a Russian world,” he notes; but as long as the country is an empire, it will be “’a Russian war.’”
“A genuine Russian world will be possible only after the empire, as a federative multiplicity of Russian-speaking countries united not by someone ‘from above’ but on the basis of their own voluntary agreement.” In the Russian case, that means the oblasts and krays must be raised to the status of sovereign republics.
Moreover, “in this case, the Russian language will be transformed from an imposed ‘language of empire’ into a post-imperial lingua franca.” Of course it is “completely possible” that Russian in some regions will “evolve in the direction of regional dialects, just as imperial Latin at one point ‘disintegrated’ into Italian, French, Spanish and so on.”
But regardless of what happens, it is wrong to view Russian as “’the property’ of the empire. It belongs to all who use it.” Unfortunately, “today, as a result of the efforts of the Kremlin unifiers, language issues in Russia are again sharpening.” But fighting only for language will in no way undermine the empire, he argues.
That is a different task entirely – and it is one the non-Russian republics can win only if they adopt a new way of thinking and work to help the predominantly Russian oblasts and krays to do the same.