Staunton, November 28 – Russia now faces a choice, Rafael Khakimov says. It either can limp along under its current hyper-centralized system with more clan rule and corruption, or it can move to a federal system which recognizes regional differences and makes regional elites rather than Moscow responsible for what happens on their territories.
Khakimov, the vice president of Tatarstan’s Academy of Sciences and former senior advisor to Tatarstan leader Mintimir Shaymiyev, has been the leading advocate for genuine federalism in Russia since the end of Soviet times; and he now offers a summing up of his longstanding arguments on its behalf (afterempire.info/2016/11/23/federalism/).
All developed countries, the Tatar scholar says, are federal in principle even if they do not openly declare that fact because it is impossible to run effectively a large modern state from a single center without recognizing variations and allowing those variations to be the basis for experimentation and development.
“The idea of centralization,” he continues, “which has thoroughly penetrated the Russian mentality is a poor alternative: it stimulates clan rule, corruption, and the constant shifting of responsibility for the development of the regions to the center.”
“The clan system originated in the Golden Horde,” the historian says, but it arose as a result of the large number of nomadic peoples from whom there was no other way to collect taxes and was not imposed on sedentary populations. It thus assisted with the administration of a very different kind of pattern of settlement than that in Russia today.
Some now are inclined to “call Russia ‘the Horde Turned Upside Down,” to the extent that there has been erected a similar power vertical but with a capital not in Saray but in Moscow.” However, it should be remembered that the Tatar tribute was about 10 percent; now, Tatarstan send “more than 73 percent of its taxes” to the federal treasury.
One should not overemphasize Russia’s links to the Horde, because in important ways “what Russia has preserved is its Eurasian foundation,” something that when properly understood calls not for centralization but lays the basis for the emergence of genuine federalism.”
Empires, Khakimov continues, evolve in two ways: the Roman which seeks unification and homogeneity, and the Eurasian “which openly gives preserve to variety. One can provisionally call them ‘the path of Caesar’ and ‘the path of Chingiz Khan.” Russia has gotten in trouble when it has tried to impose the first on the second.
Peter the Great was the chief proponent of this but even he did not destroy all the regional variety in administration that had existed prior to his rule. But by pursuing the Roman strategy in a Chingiz Khan world, he introduced “colossal contradictions” in the governmental structure of Russia.
“The very Eurasian nature of Russia required federalization, which appeared in the recognition of particular laws on various territories,” the historian says. Its territory and its peoples were never “a Euclidean space on which it was possible to draw borders at the whim of politicians.”
Now, “the ethnic diversity of Russia strikes everyone, frightening some as the cause of a possible disintegration of the country on the basis of an analogy with the end of the USSR.” But those with such fears “somehow forget that the collapse of the Union took place on the initiative of Moscow and Kyiv,” not the Tatars.
The Tatars “voted for the preservation of the federation because they are basically statists and it was hard for them to understand why it was necessary to destroy their own state with their own hands.”
“Chauvinistic politicians want to liquidate the republics and make all of them gubernias calculating that this will eliminate the causes of federalism.” But in urging that, Khakimov says, such people “do not notice that regional diversity is no less significant than ethnic” and that “regional identity is growing at an uninterrupted rate.”
“Over the last few years, there has occurred the fusion of the local administration with the business elites of the regions; and in the absence in the country of an ideology, local interests re becoming dominant.” Trying to put in place “constructivist” ideas like the “rossiiskaya natsiya” will do nothing to stop that.
Those who think otherwise should remember that “even Stalin did not decide to formally turn away from federalism although he with all his soul hated this system and did everything possible to destroy the republics” while leaving them formally in place.
“Effective administration from a single center over large territories is impossible in principle,” Khakimov says. It may create “the appearance of a strong power” but “in practice it will give birth to corruption which will radically undermine any effort to carry out the economic policy of the state.”
He adds: “If Russia should make a step toward federalism and broaden the capacity for independent action of the regions,” there will be a new control mechanism introduced into the society: control from below that is the only means for reducing the level of corruption among officials.
“Only the people itself cannot be bought off,” Khakimov argues. And the supposed need for centralization to preserve the country’s unity is “a myth created by certain political circles who don’t know well the real history of their country and thus are not capable of understanding the nature of Russia and the aspirations of its people.”
“From weak regions,” Khakimov says, “a strong Russia cannot emerge.” Only if the regions are strong will the country flourish. And he offers the following “simple slogan” for the future “’Strong Regions for a Strong Russia.”
Khakimov’s article appears on an important new web portal, “After Empire,” that merits widespread attention. Its organizers seek to promote federalism in place of centralized imperial rule not only because they believe that Russia is the last empire but because empires by their nature fight against their regions and the world (afterempire.info/2016/11/02/why-after-emp/