That Russians should view regionalists as separatists is not entirely surprising given the events of 1991 and the goals of state independence some who position themselves as “regionalists” today have announced – including those who would simply replace one ethnic hierarchy with another and who can’t wait to have the attributes of independent statehood.
The reason many regionalists think in these terms, Savvin says, also lies in the Soviet past and the collapse of 1991. Many things happened in that year, but the main thing didn’t: the elites who had been in power remained in power. And like the Bourbons, they forgot nothing and learned nothing from the experience.
“The appearance in the borders (the very same Soviet ones!) of republics, krays and oblasts de facto or even de jure of independent states with the retention of ‘regional elites,’ that is, the local neo-Soviet quasi-elite, inevitably gives the same result” as in Russia as a whole, although in some cases in an “even more misshapen form.”
No sensible individual will support that or its repetition, Savvin says; and no one should.
But there are logical and compelling reasons for Russians and non-Russians to turn to regionalism, if they look not above and to the past but below and to the future. In Russia today, they should be looking not “at oblasts, krays, republics or anything of this kind” imposed by the Soviets in the past but to municipalities and localities that should emerge on their own.
Otherwise, there will be irresolvable problems. Savvin, who comes from the Trans-Baikal points to the situation in Buryatia where the Buryats want the republic to serve their interests even though they form less than a third of the population and the Russian population wants to ignore the Buryat interests altogether.
Such problems can be overcome if Buryats and Russians there focus not on the existing republic lines but on smaller areas like cities and towns where they have a far better chance of working out a modus vivendi useful and acceptable to both, the Russian émigré analyst continues.
“If we want to achieve real decentralization and the reanimation of regional distinctiveness, then the point of departure should be not the current krays, oblast and republics but the municipalities,” Savvin argues. It is “the local community” that should decide not holdovers from the Soviet past.
That community must be free to choose its own leaders; and it must be free to form relationships, including territorial accords, with its neighbors. If that occurs, many of today’s problems will disappear as the map of Russia is transformed with Soviet divisions and Soviet survivals of the past in office and among the opposition gone from the scene.
Such municipalities and the cooperation they will achieve with their neighbors “won’t require new passports, new state borders or new flags. And everyone will be better off except for the neo-Soviet nomenklatura patriots and their hangers’ on.” But with luck and time, they will pass from the scene without reproducing themselves in succeeding generations.