Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Ten Factors Working Against Non-Russian Republics, But Many Non-Russian and Russian Want Them to Survive

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 5 – Ever more frequently many in Russia are talking about doing away with the non-Russian republics as a form of state organization; and Shamil Sabirov says there are ten major factors working against their survival. But others, non-Russian and Russian, want them to survive and are seeking ways to make that happen.

            Sabirov, a commentator for Radio Svoboda’s IdelReal portal, points to ten factors that he suggests point toward the end of the national republics (idelreal.org/a/rustam-minnikhanov-putin-ramzan-kadyrov/29750328.html). They include:

1.      “Public opinion and the media on the whole are inclined against the existence of the republics. The associations are simple: republics are part of the disintegration of the USSR, a heritage of Yeltsin’s ‘take as much sovereignty as you want,’ ethnocracy, the image of Ramzan Kadyrov, a lack of respect to the rights of ethnic Russians, separatist attitudes, and a threat to the national security of Russia and the Russian world.” Moreover, the voices of opponents of the republics are sounding ever more loudly, and 80 percent of the Russian population now lives outside of them.”

2.      The leadership of the Russian government connects republics with an evil they must address. Putin for example views them “as a bomb placed by the Bolsheviks under the foundation of the state and as an historic error of Lenin.”

3.      The republics themselves have ceased to be the important political force they were in the early 1990s” and today “not a single political party or movement is concerned about the preservation of the republics.”

4.      Calls to amend the constitution to do away with the republics are increasingly coming not from “freak politicians” but from mainstream ones.

5.      Given Russia’s increasing isolation, Moscow “ever more ignores international law, the opinion of the international community and of major national diasporas (the Circassian, the Chechen, the Tatar and the Finno-Ugrics) on the nationality question.”  

6.      The logic of the Kremlin’s nationality policies which are directed at the creation of “an all-Russian civic identity and opposition to republic identity” and at “recognition of the primacy of the Russian cultural code” works against the continuing existence of the republics. And that is only intensified by the activism of ethnic Russians within the republics.

7.      Ever more people in Moscow are coming out in favor of alternative organizational structures such as urban agglomerations or amalgamated federal subjects.”

8.      Many of the republics have serious problems and rank near the bottom of all federal subjects on social and economic measures.

9.      “In nine republics (Karelia, Khakassia, Mordvinia, Mari El, Chuvashia, Udmurtia, Komi, Altai, and also annexed Crimea), the nationality factor is so weak that the absolute majority of the local population most likely will not oppose the liquidation of republics.”  

10.  The elites of the non-Russian republics are operating under extreme constraints. “Therefore, the liquidation of the republics could take place with their silent agreement” given that for them “personal salvation is more likely to be more important to them than national ideals.”
Many non-Russians would challenge most or all of these, and many Russians concerned either with accuracy or with ensuring that there are some counterweights left in the Russian political system to restrict the impact of the hyper-centralization of the Russian system under Vladimir Putin on the rights of Russians and non-Russians alike.
Many people are likely to respond to Sabirov’s important article in the coming days. But likely to be among the most thoughtful of all is one that has appeared only a few hours after the Tatar writer’s. That comes from the editor of the Tallinn-based regional site, Vadim Shtepa (region.expert/republics/).
He points out that Sabirov’s arguments are based on certain “stereotypes,” including that the republics must inevitably be non-Russian ethnic formations” and that the Russian world must be “united and unitary” rather than diverse, both of which ignore that many Russian regions have sought republic status in order to equalize their standing in the country.
“However,” Shtepa says, “the Kremlin has constantly opposed this,” and as a result, “at the beginning of the 2000s, it was not the oblasts which rose to the status of republics, but the reverse: the republics fell to the status of oblasts,” equal in their lack of rights. But that is not necessarily something that cannot be changed.
Today, the regionalist writer suggests, the republics and those who support them “could make an effective and unexpected ‘knight’s move.’ They must support the ethnic Russian regionalists, who are seeking republic status for their oblasts and jointly demand republic status for all subjects of the federation.”
That would lead to a symmetric federalism like those in the US and Germany and would require a treaty-like agreement among the subjects about the kind of country they and not the Kremlin would like to see. And that in turn, Shtepa makes clear, would open the way not just to greater ethnic rights but to rights and freedoms of all kinds.

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