Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Regions Compete with ‘Reactionary’ Legislation, Threatening Country’s Common Legal Space, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 6 – Encouraged by Vladimir Putin, Russian regions over the last year have come up with new and often harshly reactionary legislation that taken together has the effect of undermining something the incumbent Russian president took so much pride in creating during his first two terms, a common legal space across the country.

            In an essay on the “Osobaya bukva” portal this week, Vadim Nemolayev describes the competition of some regions in coming up with “curious reactionary laws” and reports on the concerns of members of the expert community on what this may mean for the country (

            Since May of last year, the commentator says, “the fashion for prohibiting, limiting and all possible ‘tightening the screws’ has ruled in Russia.”  What the country’s Duma has done in that regard is well known, but what is going on in the regions suggests that officials there do not want in any way to be left behind.

            Under local law, “Novy Urengoy has de facto become a closed city,” one that can be entered only by invitation or with authorization from above. Belgorod Oblast has created “an inter-fraction group for the defense of Christian values.” And Kostroma Oblast has created a list of approved and unapproved websites to control how residents use the Internet.

            As and others have pointed out, Nemolayev says, such government prohibitions have been received by Moscow with “complete understanding.”  And it is quite possible that many of these regional initiatives will soon be taken up by the Duma and extended to the entire country leading to a situation in which “that which is not permitted will be prohibited.”

            Kirill Rogov, a researcher at the Institute of Economics of the Contemporary Period, argues that local and regional officials are only seeking to “develop … the aggressive obscurantist line on domestic policy which the authorities have shown in the Duma which is under their control.”

                But these local and regional efforts to “over-fulfill” the plan for “’tightening the screws’ can have some ‘curious’ consequences.”  Such inovations, however welcome they are in each case, can collectively “destroy the single legal space of Russia” which Putin worked so hard during his first two terms to create.

            Aleksandr Kynev, a regional specialist at the Foundation for the Development of Information Policy, agrees.  He points to the fact that “the overwhelming majority of regional administrators are conformists” and thus what they are doing is simply copying, albeit imperfectly, the messages they are receiving from the center.

            Consequently, he says, “the current trend will not be changed until the attitude of the federal center changes.” But the possibilities for foolishness among regional leaders until Moscow changes course are truly enormous because the shortcomings such legislation reflects is “unlimited.” 

            Meanwhile, two development this week suggest that there may be even more room for regional variations that could affect the idea that the Russian Federation still forms a single legal “space.”  Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan ruled that residents of a town there can use their own script in place of the ruble (

            Because they do not have enough ruble currency, the residents of the village are issuing script that can be used in place of Russian money, much as many regions, republics, and individual corporations did in the 1990s. This script has allowed the village in question to leap ahead economically, and with the court’s decision, it is likely to spread.

            And also yesterday, Sergey Mironov, leader of the Just Russia Party, proposed that gubernatorial elections not be allowed in those regions and republics where two nationalities each have at least 17 percent of the population lest the voting exacerbate ethnic tensions (

            That would divide “the common legal space” of the Russian Federation into two parts, 67 federal subjects with elected leaders and 16 without, a division that might reduce tensions in some ways but assuredly will increase them in others as members of ethnic groups recognize the invidious comparison such arrangements represent.

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