Thursday, October 3, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Inozemtsev Calls for a ‘Siberian Transformation’ of Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 3 – Siberia, which some analysts have called the source of a resource “curse” on Russia, can be a political “blessing” for that country if the values which infuse its population are extended to that of the Russian Federation as a whole, Vladislav Inozemtsev and his co-author former Krasnoyarsk governor Valery Zubov argue in a new book.

                The book entitled “The Siberian Blessing” is set to be released in Russian this week.  The introduction which lays out its basic argument appeared on Inozemtsev’s web page yesterday ( and has has already sparked discussions on several major Siberian sites ( and

                The authors begin with the argument that Siberia “really has been a colony of the Muscovite state,” although unlike many Siberian oblastniki, they suggest that this status has not been “completely negative” for the region, although it has represented a far greater “curse” for Russia as a whole than many now think.

            “The methods of the advance of Russians to the East were at the initial stage analogous to those which drove the Western settlers in North America,” the authors say. “Migration to Siberia reduced the sharpness of potential social and religious conflicts in Muscovy” by allowing those most opposed to the regime to move away and live their own lives by exploiting the natives.

            Inozemtsev and Zubov continue by arguing that “Siberia for centuries has remained a territory to which by their own will or that of the state people with initiative and free thinking came.  But this fact means also that the European part of Russia was deprived of many of those who could have made the country as a whole less conservative and retrograde.”

             Moreover, the two suggest, “although with the unification of Siberia, Russia became wealthier and more successful, this did not mean the acceleration of development for either the European or the portion of the country beyond the Urals.”

            “In contrast to the traditional colonies of the European powers,” they write, “Siberia never manifested separatist tendencie” – a claim many would dispute – and thus “it to a large extent protected Russia from turbulence but at the same time it protected the country from progress as well.”

            Siberia’s natural wealth meant in short that Russia for the last several centuries has suffered from “the curse” of dependence on those resources, something that has kept the country from modernizing economically or politically by giving the central elites a source of rent that left them uninterested in changing the situation.

            Thus, Inozemtsev and Zubov say, “the thesis about ‘a Siberian curse,’ as advanced by certain Western authors in fact is deper than this may seem at first glance an dpossibly even deeper than the supporter of this idea hve in mind.”

            To support this argument, the two authors compare the development of what they describe as the two largest colonies in the world: the American West and Siberia. They suggest that these regions developed in fundamentally different ways that in turn have played out at the national level.

            On the one hand, they argue, “The Siberian campaign was  a centralized effort for the unification of new lands to an already existing ‘nucleus,’ a kind of ‘campain for incomes for the center. From this came centralization, an impoverishment of life in the new territories, and their inclusion within the borders of the state by military advance.” In the American West, the lands were first settled and organized by “’cowboy adventurers’ and only then” included in the US.

            “The Siberian campaign” approach continues to be “a serious problem today,” the authors add.  “how many rational decisions can be madefrom the center under conditions of the growing dynamism of contemporary economic competition? We are ceretain that not many can,” and unless Siberia is not ruled by “the vertical,” Russia will not become “genuinely successful.”
On the other hand, they point out, the difference in the way Siberia and the American West were added to the metropolitan country played a role in the kind of attitudes of the state toward entrepreneurialism.  “The goal of movement to the West was income based on new types of activities. The goal of movement to the east was income obtained from the exploitation of natural resources or the local population.”
“Even in the 20th century, this logic in relatin to Siberia was preserved,” they say.
But if Siberia has been a curse to Russia because of that approach, it can become a blessing if Russia recognizes that Siberia is the future and that Russians need to accept Siberian values, Inozemtsev and Zubov say.
“The task of Siberia does not consist nor can it exist in separation fro Russia.” Were it to become independent, it would join “the list of states which provide raw materials to more developed countries” and “the new Muscovy would be converted into a powerless borderland of ‘greater Europe.’”
According to the two authors, “the mission of Siberia is in the transformation of a still great state, in shifting it from its traditional paradigms to new paths of development, from stagnation to experimentation, and from bureaucratism to freedom.” 
If Siberia has been a curse to Russia, so too Moscow has been “a curse for Siberia” because of Moscow’s “imperial ambitions, bureaucratic spirit, outdated ideas about national interests, and a foreing policy build on the canons of the previous century,” Inozemtsev and Zubov conclude.
Thus, they add, “Siberia for Russia is not a source of problems as it appears to many of us and to many abroad.  It is a source of new vital forces and a new dynamism for the country which is tired of being too celtralized, stratified, and bureaucratized.  Siberia is a curse for a Russia which looks to the past, but a blessing for a Russia open to the future.”

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