Staunton, November 26 – If Moscow replaces the existing ethno-territorial division of the Russian Federation with one based on larger and economically more powerful regions, the potential for “oblast separatism” of the kind seen in the early 1990s will once again become “much higher,” according to a Bashkir analyst.
In an interview given to “Ekspert-Ural” last week, Azat Berdin, a researcher at the Ufa Institute of Humanitarian Research and chief editor of “Panorama Evrazii,” argues that the non-Russian republics have always served as a “restraint” on the larger territorial-industrial regions” of the country (http://www.expert-ural.com/1-576-11812/).
Abolishing them as Aleksandr Prokhorov has proposed is thus not only “naïve” but extremely dangerous, Berdin contines, all the more so because “the decline in the legitimacy of [Moscow] above all is occurring, sociologists say, precisely among the Russian-language population and especially that of the major cities.”
The Ufa researcher said that the only thing good about Prokhorov’s idea is that it “finally dispels all the strange illusions” in the republics about liberalism’s plans for the non-Russians, because proposing to abolish their republics is “a completely logical extension of the policies of perestroika which destroyed a great country having given birth to the oligarchy.”
According to Berdin, the Kremlin had two reasons for promoting Prokhorov’s “demarche.” On the one hand, this was a way of launching “a trial balloon on a risking topic.” Earlier the Kremlin used Vladimir Zhirinovsky for such things, but because of the latter’s “grotesque image,” the powers that be no longer employ him for that.
And on the other, Prokhorov’s pronouncement represents yet another attempt to create “a liberal wing, ‘a rightist party,’ which a cerain part of the population would accept.”
The Kremlin, Berdin continues, very much wants such a party and even “sympathizes with liberal ideas” despite what he suggests are the damage they have done to the country. But the top leaaders understand that they cannot acknowledge this out loud” because the population is overwhelmingly opposed to liberalism and its fruits.
The only way to attract many to liberalism, the Ufa researcher argues, is to advance it under the banner of “radical” Russian nationalism, eve though this is “a risky step” and even the launch of a discussion of this notion is “already provoking conflicts” across the entire Russian Federation.
According to Berdin, “the peoples of Russia have supported national-territorial autonomy already over the course of 90 years,” with “the last time” being the support of the referenda of the 1990s “when the overwhelming majority of the ‘titular nationalities’ plus the majority of [ethnic] Russians voted ‘for’ sovereignty.”
Over the last two decades, he continues, “such an extreme form of autonomy as sovereignty has quietly been overthrown.” But and this is the most important thing, “the form but not the autonomy itself!” Eliminating autonomy “already destroyed” the Russian Empire, forcing the regime to establish the country on “a principly new basis.”
That is what the Bolsheviks did by establishing “a hierarchy of autonomies – SSRs and ASSRs where each people received a place corresponding to its possibilities and the rights corresponding to these responsibilities. This created a balance between the striving … toward independence and genuine integration … thereby transforming the local patriotism into patriotism of the entire country.”
Challenging this system by proposing that Moscow should do away with it “splits society on the most dangerous and poorly controlled part of national relations,” Berdin says. It is “naïve” because it is well known that you cannot eliminate a nation “by decree” and what happens “when a people exists but it lacks statehood even in the form of autonomy.”
Thus, he argues, it is “precisely ‘sovereignty’” which “blocks real separatism” because it “kills radical nationalists in their cradles and does not permit the escalation of anti-Russian atttiudes.” In Bashkortostan after 1991, the goveernment “attempted to build a USSR in miniature, with ethno-national official coloration in place of the soviet which had disappeared.”
This “flexible system of national-territorial autonomies effectively tied together and ties now the country over the course of the last 90 years and has not allowed the repetition of the fate of the unitary Russian Empire in 1917 even in such crises as [World War II] and the disintegration of the USSR.”
But if Russia is divided into economically self-sufficient regions alone instead of national republics and regions, that protection would disappear, Berdin suggests. In fact, “the sovereignty of Yekaterinburg would mean the complete collapse of Russia! It would mean that the [ethnic] Russians were being divided” and the disintegration of the country would follow.