Staunton, July 4 – The entire world seems to know that July 4th is US Independence Day; but very few are aware that the same day (O.S.) is also the anniversary of Siberia’s declaration of independence from Moscow. This year is the centenary of that action, and it has become an occasion for reflection about not just the past but the future as well.
In 1918, following an anti-colonial rising of the Siberian people against Muscovite Bolshevism, regionalist Yaroslav Zolotaryev recalls, Petr Vologodsky and a group of like-minded Siberians proclaimed the establishment of the Siberian Democratic Republic, the highwater mark of Siberian independence ( ).
The state existed behind the lines of a front; and was opposed by a Bolshevik force that at least initially consisted of Hungarian and German POWs rather than Russians let alone Siberians. In the declaration, the Siberian republic specified that “no legitimate Russian statehood existed in the summer of 1918.”
Having dispersed the Constituent Assembly, the Bolsheviks had lost any claim to be legitimate other than one based on superior force. The western regions of the country were occupied by the Germans, and the Don and the Caucasus had de facto separated themselves from the Muscovite state.
Unfortunately, all claims to the contrary, “the situation of the illegality of the central authorities [in Russia] has been maintained to this day,” Zolotaryev says. “In order to secure legal succession with pre-Bolshevik Russia, it would have been necessary to convene a Constituent Assembly in 1991 and genuinely condemn the communists” for their actions.
“But because this wasn’t done,” the regionalist writer continues, Russia today “does not have any relation to the tsars or to their Russia. [Its rulers and people] have a relationship only to those very same Bolsheviks who destroyed that Russia.”
In July 1918, the Siberians expressed their hopes that a democratic Russia would emerge and that they would then, on the basis of close consultation with the population, be able to establish close relations with it. But the fundamental reality of that time was that “Russia in general did not exist while Siberia did,” in the view of those behind the declaration.
Zolotaryev says that the “symbolic” parallel between the two places which declared their independence on this date. The Siberians did so on July 4th old style; and the Americans on that date new style. Siberians have always looked to the US as a model; and in the 19th century, they envisioned the creation of a United States of Siberia.
“However, they weren’t able to achieve this and therefore the current contrast between the two is extremely instructive – a flourishing democratic American state and an unhappy Asiatic colony oppressed by the totalitarian Putin regime, a land which does not have even its own political status” but is just “a collection of oblasts in the east of the empire.”
According to Zolotaryev, Siberians could easily have “made out of Siberia if not America then at least Canada.” The Siberian regionalists of a century ago were “people of democratic or moderately socialist convictions: in the present-day European political spectrum they would correspond to left liberals and social democrats.”
Had they not been suppressed by the Red Army, the Siberians could have achieved real miracles; but they lost and were forced into emigration, where they formed “a Siberian diaspora” which produced books and memoirs about their accomplishments. That is happening again now ().
Despite the Bolshevik victory over the Siberians, “the dream of the Siberian people” never entirely disappeared and flared up anew during Perestroika “when again arose a massive regionalist and at the same time democratic movement.” It too has been harassed and suppressed by the Muscovite regime to this day.
Within Siberia and Russia, it is thus almost impossible to speak publicly about Siberian independence; but the people have not forgotten it or the possibilities it offers for “a glorious future,” one that will build on the struggle of the Siberian regionalists of 1918.”
Their actions, Zolotaryev says, are “the historical ray of light which guides us on the road ahead when after the inevitable fall of the Kremlin imperial regime, the Siberian people must again decide everything on their own just as they began to decide their fate” a century ago on July 4, 1918.