Friday, November 6, 2020

Russian Opposition Divided on Federalism, Gabbasov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 4 – Both the systemic opposition parties and the extra-systemic political leaders are nearly as centralist in their orientation as the Putin regime, Ruslan Gabbasov says, opening a way for the rise of new political forces advocating decentralization and genuine federalism.

            The Bashkort activist says that despite all the variety in the systemic and extra-systemic groups, which range from the extreme left to the extreme right, they share a common Moscow-centric approach, one that privileges top-down rule rather than bottom-up democracy (

            This means that these parties have little to offer the increasing number of people in the oblasts, krays and republics of the Russian Federation want more local control of their lives, and that in turn suggests that new groups advocating decentralization and federalism should be in a position to gain support, despite Kremlin bans against regionalist or nationalist parties.

            To make his point about the current opposition leaders, he examines in detail the views of Aleksey Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky as well as those of many Russian nationalists and participants in the more liberal Free Russian Forum. All of these people remain centralizers and opponents of genuine federalism.

            Navalny, for example, has said that “a federal treaty between subjects and the center is an unnecessary atavism” and that any decentralization should be about handing some powers from the center to municipalities rather than to larger territorial units like oblasts, krays and republics. And he shares Putin’s position on languages.

            Such attitudes mean that if he were to become president, he would “not meet the main demands of federalists and that it is completely possible that in place of one unitarist would come another,” the Bashkir activist says.

            The situation with regard to Mikhail Khodorkovsky is similar, Gabbasov says. In his programmatic writings, the opposition leader says that he sees the future of the country as being “a single non-ethnic Russian nation” like the one the Soviets promoted in the form of “a single Soviet people” and that Putin has copied.

            He favors the construction of a Russian nation state “where the ethnic Russian people, ethnic Russian culture, and ethnic Russian language will be the foundation for the construction of the nation.” He says nothing about the fate of the national republics. And Gabbasov says he sees “no difference” between Khodorkovsky’s view on federal arrangements and that of Putin.

            Not surprisingly, self-proclaimed Russian nationalists are even less inclined to support decentralization and federalism that these two opposition leaders. But what is perhaps a surprise to some is that Garry Kasparov and Ivan Tyutrin of the Free Russia Forum share many of the same attitudes.

            Participants at its twice-a-year meetings in Vilnius “speak about law, freedom and democracy but do not take seriously the supporters of federalization and the representatives of national republics who are demanding their rights,” Gabbasov argues. When regionalists like Vadim Shtepa ask if they are willing to support federalism, they have no clear answer.

            Even among these most-committed democrats, he says, there is little willingness to support that idea, to talk about improving the situation of the non-Russian republics or responding in a positive way to federalist demands from the predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays.

            Having failed to get support from opposition leaders, those committed to federalism now have set up a Federative Party ( And “practically in every region of the Russian Federation, it has its own leaders who understand the issues of federative relations.”

            That suggests that federal ideas have a political future in Russia, but one, unfortunately, that will be in competition with traditional opposition leaders rather than as should be the case in alliance with them, something that would benefit both groups because it would block Kremlin moves to play one against the other.

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