Sunday, January 29, 2017

Putin Driving Russia Back to Fake Federalism of the Past, Tatar Historian Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 29 – If Moscow continues to tighten the screws and imposes an ever more progressive “tax” on successful regions to fill its coffers, Tatarstan historian Ayrat Fayzrakhmanov says, Russia will soon return to the fake federalism of Soviet times when Moscow took almost everything and left the regions and republics with nothing.

            In a commentary for Kazan’s “Business-Gazeta,” he points out that since 2010, Moscow has taken two-thirds of the increase in the incomes of federal subjects from taxes and other sources leaving those which are doing well with fewer resources to address the unfunded mandates the center has imposed on them (

            The logic is simple but cruel, Fayzrakhmanov says, “the more you earn, the less you get,” a result of what he calls “the ‘progressive’ tax” Moscow is now imposing on donor regions. If Moscow doesn’t move even more rapidly in that direction, current trends say that Tatarstan will control little on its own territory in coming decades.

            It is thus no surprise, he continues, that few in Moscow ever recall federalism in their speeches.  References to federalism “not only are not fashionable but apparently have non grata status in public.” Even in the Federation Council which consists of people who nominally represent the republics and regions there is no mention of it.

            Instead, the Tatar analyst says, “it has become a mark of good tone to curse the appearance of federalism” supposedly introduced by the Bolsheviks “with a stroke of the pen” and to denounce it as something “’unnecessary’” for Russia. They appear to think that if harsh centralization had been imposed, “we would live in the best country of the world.”

            Such claims don’t withstand any examination, Fayzrakhmanov says. In Russian history, hyper-centralization has always been “the strongest institutional barrier to the development of the country.” And now it is taking on new and unprecedented forms in which the regions receiving federal largesse are aligned with Moscow against the donor regions.

            Most of Russia’s federal subjects are not doing well and need federal subsidies, but in taking funds from those subjects that are doing well, Moscow is keeping far more for itself than it is transferring to the recipient ones; and it isn’t willing to allow any discussion of direct transfers from one region to another.

            As a result, the donor regions are being forced to cut back in their support of public services while the recipient ones aren’t able to maintain the levels they had. The latter are becoming ever more indebted to the center, and the center uses this as a weapon against the donors.

            This means, the Tatar historian says, that all are suffering but that Moscow can count on the recipients to continue to support its centralizing drive against the donors while shifting the responsibility for services away from itself and blaming the regions and republics for any shortfall and ignoring the diversity of the situations of the federal subjects across Russia.

            “Today,” he concludes, “the reproduction of the old institutions of imperial and soviet statehood in combination with new institutions and their mutations” is overwhelming the entire country. The only way forward, Fayzrakhmanov argues, is for all the regions to coordinate their actions given that both donors and recipients are victims of Moscow’s policies.

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