Staunton, January 15 – The economic crisis at the time of the collapse of the USSR forced Moscow to relax its traditional hyper-centralization of all aspects of life and cede more powers to the regions and republics. Now, the same process and for the same reason is beginning again, something all republic leaders should be alive to, Tatar historian Rafael Khakimov says.
And that possibility means that they should focus on the opportunities they failed to take advantage of 25 years ago so that they will be able to respond more adequately if greater freedom for republics and regions again becomes possible, according to the former advisor to Mintimir Shaymiyev, the first president of the Republic of Tatarstan.
Khakimov, who has long been among the most thoughtful advocates of genuine federalism in Russia, makes these two interrelated arguments in an interview with Ramazan Alpaut for the Kavkazr portal (kavkazr.com/a/poteryaet-li-moskva-status-tsentra/28231691.html) and in an article in Kazan’s “Business-Gazeta” (business-gazeta.ru/article/334361).
At least in modern times, Russia has always been over-centralized, with not only political power but also economic and transportation arrangements organized to maintain the centrality of Moscow. But there have been times when economic problems have forced the center to reduce this centralization in the hopes of getting the country’s economy moving again.
Today appears to be one of those times. Not only has Moscow allowed the North Caucasus republics to develop their air connections with each other and with other regions without going through the center, but some in the Duma are urging more fiscal federalism (znak.com/2017-01-14/regionam_predlozheno_vernut_pravo_imet_svoi_nalogovye_sistemy).
Khakimov notes that hypercentrallization is “an inheritance of the Soviet union when everything was done through Moscow.” But even today there is little chance of quickly changing that even if everyone can see that the regions and republics would become stronger as a result and the country as a whole would thus benefit.
What are needed, he argues, are “transportation hubs” to link regions and republics together, although there is currently a great deal of debate as to whether the hubs should be created first to promote economic ties or the regions should seek to development these ties as the basis for the emergence of the hubs.
Tatarstan both because of Moscow’s insistence and its own choice has chosen the second approach: “we will open such flights but out resources are limited.” That is how Moscow wants it because its control over transportation networks gives it control over the economy and the opportunity to extract even more resources from the regions.
Those at the center are very much aware that “if they lose this, then Moscow will become simply a region and not the center” it is and want to remain. But history suggests that Moscow will give ground to the regions and republics whenever there’s an economic crisis. It did so “at the end of the 1990s when Yeltsin didn’t know what to do” and it is beginning to do so again.
The regions and republics need to be ready to seize any such opportunities, Khakimov says, and the best way to do that is to examine “the missed opportunities” they failed to take advantage of in the 1990s and to consider “what could have been done better” in order to make better choices now and in the future.
“The historical opportunities for the selection of a path of development are always limited by the political, economic, financial and cadres situation. It is of course possible to fantasize,” but that won’t help unless one has the necessary resources available and ducks in line to do something, the former Shaymiyev says.
But “at the same time,” he continues, “there exist moments of historic choice when the course of history depends on you.” Tatarstan faced several of those moments. When Kazan got the opportunity to control its own economy, it had the chance to become an oil exporter and no more, a choice Russia as a whole made.
“In Moscow they supposed that the market woud solve all problems,” Khakimov continues, “but we on the other hand listened to the opinion of the guys from Harvard who showed with the help of graphs the danger of dependence on raw materials alone.” That led Shaymiyev to focus on high technology instead.
In 1996, Kazan even developed a plan, identified “for internal use” as “Tatarstan after Oil,” to guide this process, something that has been the foundation of all the successes the Middle Volga republic has had since that time. But that doesn’t mean that Tatarstan and its leaders were always right, the historian notes.
“History knows the phenomenon of missed opportunities. Had there not been the Islamic revolution of Uzbek Khan, capitalism would have arisenwith us in the 14th and 15th centuries as t did in the south of Europe. Had Lenin lived longer, then Russia most likely mmost have gone along a social democratic path,” and not become the dictatorship Stalin imposed.
Kazan made the right choice to push quickly for building the Kul Sharif mosque. Had it waited, it probably wouldn’t have been able to do it at all. But it was slow to move toward the Latinization of its alphabet and lost the opportunity to do so for some time, especially since Moscow has prohibited it as a violation of the Russian Constitution.
“What then is the historical lesson here? This was a missed opportunity.” Had Tatarstan moved more quickly, it might have succeeded and the West would have been shown an example of “Russian pluralism,” something that would have been better for Tatarstan and for Russia as a whole.
Consequently, Khakimov concludes, “the study of missed opportunities gaves us a chance to make fewer mistakes in the future.”
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