Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Opposition to Any Decentralization Threatens Russia’s Territorial Integrity, Bykov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 20 – The Kremlin’s opposition to any decentralization of power threatens Russia’s territorial integrity far more seriously than do any of the national or religious movements on its territory, and unless Moscow changes course, its approach in this area guarantees the disintegration of the Russian Federation, according to a Moscow commentator.

            Writing in “Novaya gazeta” yesterday, Dmitry Bykov, who has been seriously criticized for his suggestions in Kazan that Tatarstan and Siberia would soon be independent countries, says that he wants to remind everyone that for 20 years he has been warning about ethnic nationalism and separatism as serious threats (www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/55500.html).

            Today, Bykov argues, Russia does not face collapse, but it will, he suggests, “especially if any critic of the powers that be is said to favor its collapse and any supporter of decentralization is described as someone who is [supposedly] for the territorial disintegration” of the Russian Federation.” 

            Despite what some think, he continues, “Russia was and will remain a multi-national country: efforts to declare it monoethnic … [are] the shortest path to collapse and degradation … The time for the ideology of ‘One nation, one country, one leader’ has completely passed:  [Russians today] are not in the Middle Ages or in fascist Germany.”

            Only internationalism and genuine federalism can hold things together, Bykov argues. Territorial integrity, which is all the current regime can talk about, is “not an idea but one of its consequences,” the result of the fact that “precisely the independence of the regions is what the central powers that be now fear most of all.”

             “Centralization of power is an extremely illusory path to the preservation of unity,” Bykov argues. “On the contrary, the maximum cultural independence of the regions, the acquisition of their own face, the establishment of major centers of dissimilar cities and administrative models is the truest means of strengthening this unity.”

            This can be seen in the United States, the Moscow commentator continues, which is not about to fall apart precisely because it allows so much diversity.  Russia in turn “must become a country of free multiplicity if of course we do not want to have an outburst of separatist attitudes from below.”

            “No one would be speaking about the separation of the Caucasus,” Bykov says, “if the authorities would learn to base themselves on the local intelligentsia; if in the Caucasus, as in Soviet times, would be build bigger institutions than mosques; if the leadership there was chosen not on the basis of loyalty but according to elementary orderliness.”

            But that isn’t the direction Moscow is moving in, the Russian commentator continues. Instead, with proposals like those of Mikhail Prokhorov and Viktor Alksnis for the abolition of republics, the Russian authorities are continuing to provoke that which they say they fear most, a situation which can only end badly unless there is a dramatic change of course.

            Bykov’s arguments are echoed by experts that the Nazaccent.ru portal surveyed and posted online yesterday concerning separatism in Russia (nazaccent.ru/content/5998-opros-nacional-separatizm-v-rossii.html) and in a commentary on the same subject that was offered by the editors of the Rosbalt.ru news portal today (www.rosbalt.ru/main/2012/11/20/1060643.html).

            Aleksandr Khramov, the coordinator of the Russian Civic Union, told Nazaccent.ru that there are “no separatist attitudes” among the elites of the non-Russian republics, all of whom have concluded that “it is simpler to make a compromise with Moscow and peacefully continue to steal than to get involved in adventures with a doubtful outcome.”

            And these elites understand as well that they would face a difficult future if they were able to achieve independence.  “If Chechnya suddenly were to be separated from Russia, then [current republic leader Ramzan] Kadyrov would not retain power for a week. And he knows this perfectly well himself.”

            Religious extremism is a more likely source of separatism than nationalism, Khramov says, arguing that “the source of this Islamist-separatist threat is limited to three republics – Chechnya, Daghestan and Ingushetia.  Neither the republic authorities nor those at the center can do anything” to prevent the  radicals from gaining more supporters.

            Consequently, “sooner or later, the question will arise how to isolate these territories somehow from the rest of Russia in order to block the further spread of Wahhabism, which their residents are exporting to other regions.  If this is done in a timely manner, then the country will be able to avoid further destabilization.”

            Zufar Vakhitov, an activist of the Kuk-Bure Bashkir national movement, makes the same argument that Bykov does: Moscow is creating its own problems by “persecuting representatives of the national movements in the regions” and thereby “provoking the very separatist attitudes” they claim they want to fight.

            Artem Loskutov, a Siberian regionalist and documentary filmmaker, says that the dissatisfaction with Moscow that he has observed has its roots not in ethnicity but economics.  Moscow is running the rest of the country like a colonial overlord.  At present, such attitudes “cannot be called a real threat,” but if people start asking, “how would things be if Moscow did not exist,” things could change and quite quickly too.

            And Ramazan Alpautov, a specialist on ethno-linguistic rights at the Council of Europe, told Nazacent.ru that “the imaginary separatism in the minds of purely prepared bureaucrats is giving birth in Russia to real separatism,” perhaps especially in the Finno-Ugric parts of the country.

            Moscow does not understand “the real situation,” he continues; it ignores history and culture and specific “latent” conflicts like the Prigorodny district, the Nogay and Kumyk movements in Daghestana, and the Balkar issue in Kabardino-Balkaria where “the protest of the [Turkic] Balkars are simply being ignored.”

            The commentary on Rosbalt.ru took a more historical approach.  It noted that together with the other things Russia inherited from the USSR and the Russian Empire, it receives “those internal contradictions which during the twentieth century twice – in 1917 and in 1991—led to the collapse of the Russian state.”
            Among those are its enormous size, its great diversity, and the fears of many that the events of the past could repeat themselves, fears that have led some to support any amount of force to prevent that from happening.  But that approach, Rosbalt.ru say, misses the real dilemma the country faces: should it keep its current borders or should it choose freedom?

            Because Moscow extracts such an enormous proportion of the wealth of the rest of the country and doesn’t return it, the news portal continues, it is in a poorer position to survive than either the Russian Empire or the USSR, especially because “’the Moscow centric’ vectors of social development are being replaced by new ones.”

            If Russia chooses freedom, it can still have it, albeit perhaps with a somewhat smaller territory, the portal suggests. But if it chooses to defend its territorial integrity above the claims of freedom, the portal continues, it is unlikely to have either even though overt separatist tendencies now are not as prominent as they once were.

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