Thursday, February 12, 2015

Can the Russian Opposition Include Non-Russians in its Ranks – or Will It Push Them Away?

Paul Goble


Staunton, February 12 -- Russian liberalism, it has often been observed, ends with Ukraine, but now there are new and perhaps even more urgent questions about the attitudes of opposition figures in the Russian Federation: are Russian liberals prepared to include non-Russians in their ranks? Or will non-Russians go their own way toward independence?


That issue has been bubbling for much of the past year as Russian opposition figures have divided on Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and his continuing aggression in Ukraine, but now it has come to a head with the declaration of a Karelian activist that his compatriots will not march with “the imperial opposition … under the flag of the Russian Empire.”


In a Facebook post today, Vadim Shtepa, a regionalist who lives in Karelia and often speaks on behalf of its national movement, issues what he says is his “farewell to the imperial [Russian] opposition” (


Initially, he writes, the Republic Movement of Karelia supported the idea of the March 1 “anti-crisis” march, but after its St. Petersburg organizers “declared that those taking part could carry only the state flags of the Russian Federation” and that “all others were banned,” the Karelians changed their view.


“We will not participate in any measures under the flag of the Russian empire,” Shtepa continues, and “the ‘tricolor’ is the historic flag of the empire,” whatever some who use it may think. “Today that flag is stained with Ukrainian blood,” just as the Soviet banner was stained with Czech blood in 1968.


The Karelian flag, designed in 1918, by the artist Jonas Heiska, stands for a different tradition, he continues, and “it is becoming ever more popular” as an alternative to anything else. Of course, “in order to avoid charges of ‘separatism,’ [Karelians] are not opposed to the current federation,” if it is one in which Karelia will have “full self-government.”


But when even the Russian liberal opposition seeks to “impose their imperial flags on us,” it is quite obvious, Shtepa continues, that “we certainly live in different countries.”


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