Thursday, April 14, 2016

Karelia More Interested in Political Freedom than Most Regions of Russia, Moscow Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 14 – Karelia is more interested in the development of political freedom than are most other regions of Russia, according to Rostislav Turovsky, an interest that arises not from concerns about defending a nation as in Tatarstan but rather from its location on the border of Europe and traditions extending back to Novgorod and a free peasantry.

            In an interview with Oleg Reut of, Turovsky, a specialist on regional politics at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says that in addition to these underlying factors are certain current features of the republic that set it apart from other federal subjects (

            These include, the Moscow expert continues, “the lack of a harsh power vertical,” “a politically active business community,” and a highly developed independent media. As a result, in recent years, Karelia has been on the “’liberal’” part of the map of the Russian Federation.

            An example of this, Turovsky says, is that support for Yabloko in the republic “always was above average for the country as a whole.  The election of Galina Shirshina as mayor of Petrozavodsk and the selection of Emiliya Slabunova as head of the federal Yabloko organization are products of this.

            Indeed, he argues, “Karelia undoubtedly is a unique region for which it is difficult to find any analogy.”

            One of the most important distinctions is that Karelian governors have seldom been able to dominate the legislature in the ways that they have elsewhere.  The governors usually get their way but only because United Russia’s fraction cooperates with the LDPR deputies.  At the same time, “it is impossible to consolidate all opposition forces.” But the system is more open.

            “Strictly speaking,” Turovsky says, “the head of a region is not required to control everything there in order to be an effective administrator. There is another variant: to be able to reach agreement and bring together the interests of various players.” But most Russian governors are used to vertical command methods and are “not inclined to dialogue politics.”

            That however “does not raise their authority among elites and in society but does allow of course for stabilizing the situation for a time,” the Moscow specialist says.

            Asked why republic head Aleksandr Khudilaynen has devoted so much effort to remove Shirshina as mayor of Petrozavodsk and other opposition figures at the municipal level, Turovsky says that this is “a typical policy of the head of a region” who is appointed from outside and who seeks to “take the territory under his complete control.”

            “In the case of Karelia,” he continues, “an obvious contradiction has arisen between the direct methods of establishing gubernatorial control and the presence of political groups ready and able to resist this policy.” Ending municipal elections may come but the process of doing so will be resisted in Karelia more than elsewhere.

            What Moscow’s governors are doing in the country’s regions and republics, Turovsky says, does not reflect any well-thought-out policy. Instead, they are acting in ways that they think Moscow will like, even though the center doesn’t always benefit from their actions and may even be the loser as a result of the tensions such gubernatorial moves provoke.

            At the very least, the efforts of heads of regions and republics to control everything mean that the regions are unlikely to develop. Instead, they will continue as they have, on “inertia.”  The only way out of this dilemma is for new forces to be incorporated into the political system with the governors taking the lead in negotiating with them.

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