Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Muscovy Must Become a New Republic in Russia, Lazarenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 27 – The city of Moscow and the surrounding Moscow Oblast must unite to become the Republic of Muscovy, and the capital of the Russian Federation must be shifted to a new city near Tver, according to a radical Russian nationalist and ideologue of what might seem to many as a contradiction in terms, “Muscovite regionalism.”

            What makes this argument so interesting, however, is that it is a classic example of the ways in which opponents of a regime may jump on and redirect an initiative, in this case, regional amalgamation, that President Vladimir Putin has been associated with and that various sources suggest may be about to restart.

            Indeed, at a pragmatic level, the ideas about the creation of a new Republic of Muscovy may be part of that debate, an effort by some to warn the Kremlin that any further steps in that direction – and combining the city and oblast of Moscow appears to be near the top of the agenda in this area – could have unintended and very much unwanted consequences.

            In a speech to a Moscow conference on federalism in June (the transcript was published only recently), Ilya Lazarenko, who hosts a program on Liberty News and was a co-founder of the National Democratic Alliance, argued Moscow needs a “regionalist” agenda at least as much as any other part of the Russian Federation (inache.net/mnogo/802/).

            The nationalist commentator began his remarks by noting that few take note of the fact that Russia does not have a law regulating the process of changing the status of a federal subject even though the 1993 Constitution calls for the adoption of such legislation.  There is no such law, he said, because “the authorities do not want to give the subjects of the federation the chance to define their own status.”

            That has two serious consequences. On the one hand, it means that the Russian Federation remains “asymmetrical” with republics having more rights than oblasts and krays. And on the other, it means that “the change in the status of a subject of the federation is possible only by unifying two subjects and forming in this ay a new one.”

            “This is nonsense,” Lazarenko said, “but this is at the present time [Russia’s] legal reality.”  And consequently, it is the framework within which those who want to change the country and its parts have to work.

            As a Muscovite, he continued, he affirmed that “the project of Muscovite regionalism is the project of forming a Muscovite Republic, which presupposes as has already been talked about for a long time the unification of the city and oblast.”  But regionalists, unlike the Kremlin, “would like to give this process “a clearer and more definite character.”

            It is long past time to end what he called the “completely insane” situation in which Moscow’s problems are often decided by the rulers of “a wedge of land” between the ring road and Kaluga oblast and, by creating a republic, make sure that “the status of Mmoscow will correspond to the real situation.”

            The regionalists of Moscow, he continues, “consider that Moscow being the largest megalopolis of the country ought to have republic status and not anything else.” Its current “status” as “a city of federal importance … does not have any legal meaning” but simply gives birth to “constant arguments between city and federal authorities.”

            Once the city and oblast of Moscow are united, Lazarenko said, it will be necessary to take the next step: to shift the capital of the Russian Federation to somewhere else because “Moscow does not need to fulfill the functions of a capital,” functions from which it “only loses and does not gain.”

            Lazarenko said that he believes that “it is necessary to build a new city” for this rather than “destroy the historical face of one or another of our oblast centers.”  He proposed that the best place for such a new capital would be “the Upper Volga, not far from Tver and somewhere between Petersburg and Moscow.”

            The nationalist commentator then proceeded to make a far more powerful argument: he noted that while all of Russia’s republics at the present time are non-Russia, there is nothing in the Russian Constitution that says that republics “must be national. Not a word.” Therefore, any subject can become a republic in full correspondence with existing Russian law.

If Russia does finally adopt a law on changing the status of federal subjects, then, Lazarenko insisted, “certain oblast will want to raise their status to that of [ethnic] Russian national republics alongside the existing national republics.” Such a move will mean that “the national majority” – the ethnic Russians – will achieve “national self-determination in the framework of the Federation.”

That is especially important in the case of Moscow because of the need “to form a non-imperial self-consciousness” among its residents, “90 percent of whom remain imperial” at heart. Current arrangements only encourage that, and thus all regions of Russia have an interest in this change, in forming a Republic of Muscovy and moving the capital to somewhere else.

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