Staunton, November 16 – The current hysteria in Moscow about separatism is just “the latest link in a chain” of events intended to allow the Kremlin to have a free hand in running the country and to stamp out what freedoms Russians still have left, according to Aleksandr Podrabinek.
The Moscow commentator argues in an essay entitled “Unfreedom and Independence” that this chain involves the multiplication of prohibitions concerning “the most varied” and unspecific things in order to “create a universal system for the suppression of freedom of speech” in the Russian Federation (grani.ru/opinion/podrabinek/m.221156.html).
By introducing these prohibitions one by one rather than all at once, Podrabinek suggests, Russians and others get used to the changes without necessarily understanding where they are headed, a sharp contrast to the conflict that might arise if the Kremlin sought to impose them all at once.
While the Moscow blogger does not use this metaphor, his argument recalls the story of the frog who was put in a pot full of water that was gradually heated. At first, the frog felt that he was just in warm water. When it got warmer still, he went to sleep. And when it got hot, he was cooked and dead.
What is striking about this next link in this chain, Podrabinek says, is that the proposed ban on separatist propaganda calls for punishments that are not such small “doses.” “Twenty years is more than the authorities give for murder.” Quite clearly, he says, the powers that be in Putin’s Russia fear “independent social activity more than anything else.”
They fear, Podrabinek says, that people can “get along without them.”
“Local self-administration is separatism ‘lite,’” he continues. If people can run their own affairs locally, what do they need with the power vertical? That is why the reform of local administration was “buried.” That is why the authority of the regions has been “cut back to the minimum.” Moscow is willing to send money to the regions in order that the latter be dependent.
According to Podrabinek, there are two approaches to the issue of separatism: the human and the state. The human one is based on a fundamental respect for the right of other people to manage their own affairs, even if the others want to do things in ways that make some uncomfortable.
The state approach is “based on the desire” for power. “It is more pleasant to run a big country, to manage a big budget, to come up with big plans, and to overcome big challenges … The individual in this system is unimportant: he is only a cog in the big government mechanism, and no community of cogs needs to be taken into consideration.”
“Both approaches have their supporters,” Podrabinek says. Separatism usually emerges where it is difficult “to live in a big family [and] where the rights of the individual are easily violated.” It is less common in democracies where rights are respected because people do not feel they need to leave in order to defend themselves.
The commentator says that he is disturbed by the reaction to separatism among the “advanced” part of society: Memorial and “the greater part of the human rights community not only did not support the demands of Chechnya for sovereignty but tried in every possible way to avoid even the discussion of this subject.”
“Even liberal publicists write about separatism with concerning, describing it as “a terrible threat.” But the problem is not in the consequences of separatism but in the way the process is managed: “Thus, the wise Havel divided the Czech Republic and Slovakia peacefully, but the stupid Milosevich drowned the country in blood” to oppose it.
Those who have grown up in imperial traditions find it difficult to understand that “there is nothing bad in the desire for an independent life” or that such desires have transformed the map of the world. In 1900, there were 47 countries; in 1950, there were 75; in 2000, 192; and now, 258, including 195 in the UN, 19 unrecognized, and the remainder in an uncertain status.
The tendency is clear. No new territories are being discovered but the number of states is “becoming larger and nothing terrible is taking place” because of that. There are problems, of course, but they are “insignificant in comparison” with those involving the struggle for independence.
Podrabinek concludes that “the Russian authorities fear separatism like fire. They need a big country in which people find it difficult to agree among themselves” and therefore leave to the powers the opportunities to run the situation without consulting them. But given how the authorities are doing that now, it is fully understandable why many want to separate.
Although the Grani commentator does not talk about this, Moscow’s struggle against separatism not only is exacerbating the situation where it already exists but may provoke its rise where it hasn’t. That is because the authorities, taking the lead from the center, are now identifying as separatism something that earlier they might have called something else.
In recent days, there have been reports about separatism among the Khanty and Sakha,, two numerically small peoples of the North (znak.com/hmao/articles/13-11-20-20/101490.html and minval.az/news/26546) and even about a Kremlin plan to fight separatism among the Finno-Ugric peoples as well (izvmor.ru/news/view/17321).
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