Saturday, January 5, 2019

Russia’s Regionalists Must Stop Playing the Nation-State Game, Kotsyubinsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 5 – If Russia’s regionalists are to succeed not only in achieving something better for their own populations but in becoming an attractive alternative to Putin – the only hope of ending his reign before his death – they must stop playing the nation-state game of seeking preferences from the center or independence, Daniil Kotsyubinsky says.

            The regionalist theorist argues that they must stop doing that and instead come up with their own doctrine of “regional sovereignty,” one that defines regions in their own terms, leads to cooperation among regions, and thus presents an alternative to a hyper-centralized and autocratic state, the regionalist theorist says (

            In his After Empire commentary today, Kotsyubinsky develops an idea he presented last summer in an essay entitled “Regional Sovereignty – an Elixir for Peaceful Life in the 21st Century” (in Russian, at ( by focusing on the ways such an ideology, once developed, could help all of Russia overcome Putin.

            Kotsyubinsky begins his new essay by observing that many have misinterpreted what the “dislikes” Putin’s speech received. It is true that ever more Russians dislike the Kremlin leader, but that does not mean as some think that he has lost legitimacy in their eyes or that the population will or even can overthrow him.

            Putin’s power remains “firm” and “the main reason for this” is that his power is “autocratic,” the analyst says.  And according to Russian lights, that gives him “legitimacy.” And Putin’s control over his entourage and his marginalization of opponents thus mean he is likely to remain power “for life” unless someone or some institution can emerge as a credible alternative.

            “Autocratic legitimacy,” however, “is invincible” only in the absence of such an alternative. In the run-up to 1917, an alternative emerged: “a responsible ministry” and the autocracy collapsed.  That might seem an attractive model, but “alas, today, the idea of ‘a democratic Russia’ as a real alternative to Putin’s patriotic ‘sovereign vertical’ is impossible.”

            According to Kotsyubinsky, “the alternative to Putin’s inviolability can be only that force which from the outset does not rely on the slogan ‘a single country,’ ‘the struggle with the threat of disintegration,’ and other demo-imperial chimeras.”

            “There is such an ideology,” he argues, and “it is not the much-ballyhooed nationalism of small peoples for they by themselves do not have the power to destroy the empire, as shown in practice more than once.”  Instead, “the only prospective anti-imperial (and more precisely post-imperial) ideology is regionalism.”

            That consists of a set of ideas on the civil-political self-standing of all the lands of which Russian consists, independent of their national, religious, or other identities with the exception of civic-territorial ones.” Such an ideology began to take shape under perestroika, Kotsyubinsky says, but it proved largely stillborn.

            There are two reasons for this, he continues.  On the one hand, Russia’s regionalists focused on attacking the center or extracting more resources from it rather than articulating a positive program of action.  They thus became isolated harping sectarians rather than a political force based on their common interests.

            And on the other, regionalists and not only in Russia “lack a conception of regional sovereignty.” As a result, they struggle to raise their status or to achieve independence, giving the state the whip hand to block them on both counts because they are playing by “nation-state rules.”

            They must stop doing so. Otherwise, Kotsyubinsky says, “the chances for Russian regionalism to emergence as an alternative to great power patriotism will fall to zero;” and that in turn will mean that a force that could gain traction as an attractive alternative to Putin’s authoritarian hyper-centralism will never emerge.


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