Consequently, while talk about “a United States of Siberia” has its followers, the idea is still only “a beautiful dream” rather than a realizable goal, unless and until the Siberians and other regionalists recognize that they must count on themselves rather than continuing to wait for Moscow to give them what they want because that isn’t going to happen.
Mannikov describes to Vyacheslav Puzeyev of the After Empire portal the rise and fall of regionalism and with it of democracy at the end of Soviet times and in the 1990s. He points to the important role of Yevgeny Kushev’s program, “The Fates of Siberia,” on Radio Liberty in the 1980s, something quite popular then but now long forgotten.
Then, at the end of the 1980s, he notes, he and his colleagues set up the Siberian Information agency in Novosibirsk which put out a press bulletin with a print run of “up to 15,000 copies” – although this had to be printed not in a Siberian city but in the capital of Lithuania.
And he points to the importance of Sibirskaya gazeta, which was issued under the imprimatur of the Novosibirsk oblast committee of the CPSU. All these outlets spoke abut the need for “the de-colonization of Siberia,” and so Manannikov says it was entirely natural that he picked this up as a political program during his election campaigns.
As to his broader program, the activist says, he has forgotten many of the details, but one point remains very much with him: He called then for an end to the use of Siberia as “all-union” jail. “Now, there is already no all-union” one there, but there is “an all-Russian” variant as the Sentsov case shows.
Regionalist ideas at that time were widespread, but “it is difficult to say that the Russian people and the population of Siberia [in fact] struggled for their freedoms.” They took what Mikhail Gorbachev remarkably gave them, and they were prepared to take what Boris Yeltsin offered when he said that the regions should take as much freedom as they could.
But they did not demand these things. Instead, they generally waited for them to be offered. “All their hopes were on the central authorities and this naturally limited the possibilities for regionalism.” Chechnya and Tatarstan were exceptions – they didn’t sign the Federal Treaty I 1992 – but the others went right along.
The 1993 Constitution “of course declared federalism,” but this was not carried out. And because the skeleton of the empire was not dismantled, “a new consolidation [of the country] on an imperial basis occurred, and gradually the special services became the real power” in place of the people.
“Already in the 1990s, the central authorities gradually strengthened themselves at the expense of the regions, but up to a point, this took place informally. After 1999, however, when Putin came to power, this was already written directly into the laws and into the operational instructions” Moscow issued.
Initially, in 1993-1995, the Federation Council of which Manannikov was a member, was “freely and directly chosen by the population.” And it included people who were quite prepared to act like senators, people like Boris Nemtsov, Yury Boldyrev and Ruslan Aushev; but they were then replaced by others who simply took orders from above.
What happened was thus “not only the suppression of federalism but het complete and final suppression of parliamentarianism as well,” the Siberian activist says.
Manannikov says he is very pessimistic about the future and believes that the analyst who has gotten that right more often than anyone else is Irina Pavlova, a Novosibirsk-trained historian who now lives in the United States and has her own widely read blog online -- ivpavlova.blogspot.com/.
She argues convincingly, the Siberian regionalist says, that the regime which Putin and the special services in Russia have established is little different by the mechanisms of its functioning from the Stalinist regime” and that this regime “is only strengthening day by day,” not yet to the level of totalitarianism and mass repressions but in that direction.
And the greatest misfortune is that “no end to this regime is visible!” There is no Gorbachev miracle on the horizon. Instead, in Russia today, “there is a totalitarian leadership system like that in North Korea but one that has been able to adapt itself to the contemporary world and world capitalism. In this is its strength.”