Staunton, December 20 – Vadim Shtepa, a Karelian regionalist who edits the After Empire portal from his exile in Estonia, says that at the present time and despite all the claims to the contrary, neither a civic Russian nation nor an ethnic Russian nation exists. Instead, there is only “a fragment of the Soviet people” and a diverse and not yet self-conscious Russian ethnos.
In a commentary on the Rufabula portal today, Shtepa argues that “a Russian civic nation simply doesn’t exist. The population of the current Russian Federation is simply the largest fragment of a no less virtual ‘Soviet people’” and it won’t become a civic nation without the development of regionalism (rufabula.com/articles/2016/12/20/regionalist-answers).
And at the same time, he says, “there is no ‘Russian nation;’ there is only a Russian ethnos which is extremely diverse regionally.” Those who suggest otherwise demonstrate that they are as yet incapable of acting as nationalists and remain trapped in “unitary-imperial stereotypes.”
Shtepa’s comments sum up his response to Yegor Yershov, a self-described “Russian democratic nationalist,” who recently posed five questions to Russian regionalists (rufabula.com/author/egor-ershoff/1444; for a discussion of Yershov’s argument, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/12/five-facts-about-russias-regions-and.html).
The regionalist says that by posing the questions in the way that he has, Yershov has shown himself to be committed to a unitary state. “Of course,” Shtepa says, “’democratic nationalists’ love to criticize the empire, but their unitary inclinations remain completely imperial.”
First of all, Shtepa points out that democratic nationalists are always concerned about the past periods of the earlier “coexistence” of peoples of Russia under a common state. This recalls the attitudes of a few Europeans who also long for the return of something on the lines of the Roman Empire.
“In Russia, however, such phantom pains about the loss of a single ‘state roof’ over one sixth of the earth” are to be found in democratic nationalists who do not recognize that they are promoting an empire rather than working to create and to promote the interests of their own nation.
The EU in certain respects, particularly as to size, “really can be called ‘a remake’ of the Russian Empire. But only if one considers the historical structural transformation” of the continent it has undertaken. The Brussels bureaucracy, Shtepa says, plays too big a role but not as much as Russian propaganda frequently tries to suggest.
“In fact,” he continues, “the EU is a confederal community, one in which there are no ‘provinces’ in the Russian imperial sense of being something backward and secondary [and] deputies from European regional parties are present in the European Parliament,” although they are banned in Russia.
“In place of a centralist ‘vertical,’” Shtepa says, “the Europeans have built a continental ‘horizonal,’ a network of vital ties among various countries and regions.” Were Russia to do the same and become a genuine federation, no one would want to leave, although it would be necessary to shift the capital as “the Kremlin is too connected with the empire symbolically.”
Second, the Russian regionalist says, Yershov underestimates the strength of regional identities while at the same time seeing them as a threat to the territorial integrity of Russia. But “in fact, this isn’t a problem” as the American experience shows. “No one confuses Alaska with Florida;” only in Russia is attachment to a region viewed as separatist.
Shtepa also points out pace Yershov that no serious regionalist wants to have a new federal treaty signed by the current incumbents in power in the regions. Instead, such a document can be signed only on the basis of accord among “freely elected regional parliaments” in which regional parties will be allowed to run.
Third, Yershov’s concerns about the size and vitality of this or that region and the possible need to redraw borders also betrays his centralist and fundamentally imperialist perspective, Shteppa says.
Consider the United States, the regionalist continues. “There little Vermont is next to incomparably larger and wealthier New York but it doesn’t come into anyone’s head to do away with it or “amalgamate” it with its neighbor. In the future, some regions in Russia may want to combine or redraw borders, but it should be their choice, not that of the imperial center.
Fourth, Yershov’s suggestion that the regions and republics of Russia be known as lander in the German fashion is interesting, Shtepa says. But again, the choice as to what they call themselves should be their’s rather than Moscow’s.
And fifth, he says, the decision about what powers the regions should have is one that they should make rather than remaining imperial provinces where all the decisions are made in the center, a center based not on the non-existent Russian ethnic or civic nation but on imperial aspirations.