Sunday, March 19, 2017

Siberia Remains a Russian Colony – But St. Petersburg Doesn’t Want to Become One

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 19 – Siberia, despite widespread hatred there of Moscow, remains a Russian colony because of the tight control the center has imposed on that resource-rich region, according to Maksim Sobesky. But yesterday, a demonstration in St. Petersburg showed that residents of the Northern Capital are planning to resist Moscow’s efforts to make it one as well.

            The publication of a Russian translation of German historian Dittmar Dahlman’s 2009 volume on Siberia from the 16th Centruy to the Present has sparked a new discussion about the way in which Moscow has always treated Siberia as a colony,  thus provoking new interest in the oblastniki argument in the 19th century (

                As Maksim Sobeski points out, books in Russian about Siberia other than about the GULAG there are few and far between even in Siberia. Books about “Ukrainian nationalism, boring European anarchists, and Fidel Castro" fill the shelves, and those who want to know about Russia east of the Urals have to work at it.

            The Russian commentator says that in his opinion, “the relationship of the metropolitan center to Siberia is similar to the behavior of the Spanish empire to Latin America,” one of exploitation and repression rather than development. As a result, Siberia has never been able to hold its population, and since 1991, six million Siberians have fled the region.

            Sobesky says that despite this and despite the anger many Siberians feel about what Moscow has been doing to them, the center has maintained sufficiently tight control over the region that there is little likelihood at present that Siberians will go in to the streets and shout, “Stop feeding Moscow!” and go their own way.

            But if Siberia is not currently a challenge to Moscow in that way, the residents of St. Petersburg are. More than 3,000 of them went into the streets yesterday demanding that the government reverse itself on handing over St. Isaac’s, long a symbol of the Northern Capital, to the Moscow Patriarchate (

                What is interesting is that some demonstrators carried signs declaring “I don’t want to live in a branch office of Moscow,” precisely the kind of anti-Moscow regionalism that the center often fears will arise in Siberia or the Russian Far East but that in fact is emerging because of official missteps in Russia’s second city. 

            For background on the regionalist dimension of the St. Petersburg protests and the way that is encouraging Ingria activists, see,  and

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