Staunton, January 29 – There is a fundamental but often unrecognized asymmetry in the meaning of discussions about the history of statehood in Russia today, Vadim Sidorov says. “If for Russia as a whole, this is a question of its character as a state, for the republics within it, this is a question of their very existence.”
Many Russians among both regime supporters and opponents are pushing for the official restoration of the Russian Empire convinced that “the present-day Russian Federation must have [stress in the original] state-legal continuity (legal succession),” the federalist commentator continues (region.expert/no_fed/).
Sidorov points out that in 2011, then president Dmitry Medvedev sparked controversy by saying that in that year, Russia was “only 20 years old” and not the thousand years that Vladimir Putin and others wanted with their “conception of ‘historical Russia.’” But from “a strictly legal point of view,” Medvedev was correct.
The Russian Federation arose “as a result of the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) on June 12, 1990.” That declaration and the state it created were based on principles diametrically opposed to those of the Russian Empire, Sidorov says.
The new state proclaimed “the sovereignty of the multi-national people instead of the unlimited power of an autocratic monarch,” “the equality of peoples and confessions instead of the rule of some and the subordination of others,” “the equality of all citizens instead of the discrimination of various groups of officials.”
None of these was completely realized, and now all of them are under attack in the course of Vladimir Putin’s latest constitutional reforms. But what is critical to understand in this debate, Sidorov says, is the very different meaning its outcome has for Russia as a whole as compared to its consequences for the republics.
If for Russia as a whole, the debate is about what kind of a political system Russia will have, for the latter, it is “a question of their very existence.” That is because these were created within the RSFSR and enumerated in its basic laws as part of what the Bolsheviks called “a state of a new type.” There had been no such entities in the Russian Empire.
But the current Kremlin ruler “does not hide his negative attitude toward the principle of the self-determination of peoples which he describes as ‘an atomic bomb under the edifice called Russia” and has worked to restore “a strictly centralized state” like the one that existed in the Russian Empire before 1917.
As a result, Sidorov continues, “instead of the principles of a democratic, legal, and federative state of a multi-national people established after the fall of autocracy and the community empire, the peoples of Russia are being directed to fit into a state build on the principles of absolutism, the rule of one church, and a lack of sovereignty, civic and national rights.”
“Considering the views of those who have seized power in the country and their attitudes toward the foundations of the constitutional system, this is completely logical.” But for those who care about democracy, freedom and the right of nations to self-determination is it little short of a complete disaster.