Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Novosibirsk Activists Seek Unified ‘Macro-Region’ of Siberia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – Two Novosibirsk activists, who earlier created a national cultural autonomy for Siberians, are calling on the presidential plenipotentiary for the Siberian federal district to begin a process that would lead to the unification of all the regions and republics east of the Urals into a single Siberian “macro-region”

                The creation of such a political-territorial unit would go a long way to satisfying the demands of Siberian regionalists and Sibiryaks as many of them now identify themselves, and it would potentially allow for the more rational development of a region that has often suffered because of the internal divisions Moscow has imposed on it.

            But because it would be so large – more than half the area of the Russian Federation – and because it would promote rather than retard the kind of a separate “Siberian” identity that would challenge a Russian identity civic or ethnic, the idea of a single Siberia is unlikely to find the necessary support among Russian officialdom.

            Nonetheless, in an open letter to Viktor Tolokonsky, the plenipotentiary for the Siberian federal district, Yevgeny Mitrofanov and Aleksandr Bakayev do their best to couch their proposal in terms of ideas that Tolokonsky himself has on occasion articulated in the past (sibinfo.su/news/sfo/1/41898.html).

            Mitrofanov and Bakayev write that they are encouraged by Tolokonsky’s own words about the need for “the development of Siberia as a macro-region” and the presidential plenipotentiary’s awareness that “today Siberia is encountering a whole list of problems which are significantly restricting its development.”

            Among the most important of these is the imbalance in the distribution of tax revenues with Moscow getting far more and Siberia and other regions far less than they need.  “As long as the entire configuration [of the state] including legislation is directed toward maximum centralization,” they say, the current problems in the regions will only get worse.

            Indeed, they say, the regions are given so few resources back from Moscow that they either run deficits or have to borrow money to meet even their basic obligations, let alone fulfill the directives of the Russian president and other officials. That does not serve the interests of either Moscow or the regions.

            “Unfortunately,” Mitrofanov and Bakayev continue, “discussion over many years about the redistribution of the tax base between the regions and the center has still not gone beyond the level of promises of particular representatives of the leadership of the country,” even though polls show that most Russians would support a change.

            That is unlikely to happen as long as regional leaders are appointed rather than elected, something that makes it difficult for them to come together to advance their common interests.  This aspect of the problem is already quite clear “not only to Russian but also to foreign analysts.”

            “Thus,” the two Novosibirsk activists continue, “in the opinion of one of the lading Washington political analysts Paul Goble, the policy of hyper-centralization of power being carried out by the Kremlin undercuts the idea of Russian federalism as established in the Constitution.”

            Given that residents of the regions ever more clearly “understand the injustice of the existing system of the distribution of the tax base, [their] total dependence on the decisions of the federal center, and the regional authorities lack of real levers of administration,” “not only the growth of dissatisfaction with the existing order and protests” is “inevitable.”

            In addition, and equally “inevitable” is the appearance of separatist tendencies which are extremely dangerous for the integrity of the Federation,” tendencies one can already “observe in a number of regions east of the Urals.”

            These “separatist attitudes are not germs from across the ocean intentionally injected into a healthy organism,” they write. Instead, they are “manifestations of one of the most radical forms of popular dissatisfaction.”  Repressive measures alone, without a restoration of true federalism will be counter-productive and led more people to think about “secession.”

            “In order to preserve the integrity of the Russian Federation and guarantee conditions for the development of Siberia as a strategic macro-region,” Mitrofanov and Bakayev argue, the authorities need to come up with “’a road map’ for the de-concentration of power, the decentralization of authority, and the redistribution of the tax base in favor of the regions.”

            The two call on Tolokonsky to take the lead and “initiate at the level of the highest leadership of the country a process of unification of Siberian regions into a macro-region of Siberia with greater tax, administrative and legislative authority.”  Such a step will create budgetary efficiencies, produce economic growth, increase transparency, improve administration, and “in the final analysis preserve the federal system.”

            “We are certain that precisely You as a native Siberiyak and a mman with colossal political and administrative experience is capable of taking such a decisive step which will forever make you a historical figure as a true patriot of Siberia,” the two Novosibirsk writers conclude.

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