Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Three Plans for Changing Borders and Their Meaning in Russian Federation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 24 – At a time when Moscow is mulling a new approach to the regions, one that may very well involve redrawing the administrative-territorial borders of the federal subjects (iarex.ru/articles/60237.html), this week has brought three calls for fundamental change – one from above, one from below, and one from abroad.

            First, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant head of the LDPR, has called for cutting the number of federal subjects from the current figure of more than 80 to 40, eliminating any ethnic basis for any of them, and beginning his process in the North Caucasus by combining all the republics there into two new regions: the Mountain Kray and the Caucasus Kray.

            The first of these would include Daghestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia and have its capital in Khasavyurt; the second, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and North Ossetia with a capital at Vladikavkaz (egnum.ru/news/2487657.html and nazaccent.ru/content/28269-zhirinovskij-predlozhil-sdelat-iz-severokavkazskih-respublik.html).

            According to Zhirinovsky, the current arrangements threaten to lead to “division and separatism,” but his proposal is more likely to provoke exactly that by leading republic leaders and populations to conclude that Moscow is rapidly moving from an attack on their language rights to their very existence as state-forming populations.

            His ideas about the North Caucasus are especially likely to be disturbing to people there. None of the republics would be happy with this situation, and Moscow almost certainly would be against creating the Caucasus Kray because, except for North Ossetia, it would represent a major step to the restoration of Greater Circassia – and thus threaten Russian control in another way.

            The second move, this time from below, involves moves to promote the economic, cultural and educational “integration of three subjects of the Russian Federation” – Tuva, Krasnoyarsk Kray, and Khakassia – into “Yenisey Siberia” (tuvapravda.ru/?q=content/tonkaya-materiya).

                The leaders of the three have already had at least two meetings to promote this idea.  What makes it interesting and important is not that it will lead at least anytime soon to the redrawing of the borders of federal subjects but rather that it is a move  from below, without Moscow’s sanction, and will change the meaning of those borders.

            Such efforts have not been much in evidence since the late 1990s when plans to create broader regional organizations via agreements in Siberia and elsewhere threatened to undercut Moscow’s control. That they are re-emerging now suggests that the regions are once again exploring such possibilities.

            And the third, this time from abroad, involves efforts in Ukraine by the various diasporas of nations from the Middle Volga to promote a common identity and to call for a single Idel-Ural Republic.  They have published a map of that broader union in 1000 copies and distributed them to schools and libraries to promote the idea (idelreal.org/a/29506451.html).

                This is the latest product of the social movement Free Idel-Ural that was set up in Ukraine in March of this year by Rafis Kashapov, a member of the All-Tatar Social Center (VTOTs). Moscow will oppose this vigorously – and to blame it on Kyiv and the West – because dividing up the peoples of the Middle Volga was the Soviet Union’s first great act of ethnic engineering in 1920.

            But the appearance of the map highlights something more important than these attacks will suggest: when peoples from the Middle Volga find themselves in a freer country than Russia, they unite on the basis of Idel-Ural rather than remain in, as Stalin put it in 1913, “their separate national tents.”

            Over time, such cooperation abroad can play back into relationships within the Russian Federation. 

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