Staunton, May 18 – Many Russians mistakenly think a Maidan in their country can begin only in the capital and that what happens in “the provinces” is irrelevant unless it crosses the ring road, Moscow writer Natalya Yeliseyeva writes. In fact, as the Kremlin’s opponents understand all too well, “a rising in Moscow is starting in the regions” (realtribune.ru/news/people/2033).
The events in Yekaterinburg, Arkhangelsk, and Ingushetia are prompting ever more Russian analysts to ask themselves whether their own Moscow-centric thinking has caused them to miss something fundamental that may lead to the political transformation or even disintegration of their country.
Yeliseyeva is only one of them. Others and in a way flattering to the author of these lines are focusing on Russian regions rather than national republics as the greatest threat to Russia today. They are picking up on an idea I outlined more than two years ago: “regionalism is the nationalism of the next Russian revolution” (afterempire.info/2016/12/28/regionalism/).
Without naming me, they are picking up on the argument I made then and observing that “many regionalist movements in present-day Russia are moving toward more radical separatist ideas than one can find among representatives of the non-Russian nationalities” (socportal.info/2018/10/05/pojavilas_versija_o_tom_kakie_dvizhenija_privedut_k_raspadu_rossii.html)
They quote my December 2016 article to the effect that this has occurred, “besides everything else because of the development of the Internet which allows broad dissemination of ideas about a multitude of local and regional identities. It is not surprising that the Russian authorities are resisting this trend.”
Further, as I argued then, “because the Soviet Union disintegrated along nationality borders, many Russian and Western analysts continue to focus on purely ethnic questions while the growth of regional movements and the efforts of Moscow to suppress them attract much less attention.”
Indeed, as I pointed out, “regionalist movements look at the present stage as having more prospects than ethnic ones do because the Russian Federation is a more ethnically homogeneous country than was the USSR and the main contradictions between the regions have an economic and spatial character.”
Over the last two years, the Sotsportal continues, “the significance of regional identities has significantly grown. In the Internet have appeared ever more texts about local differences, while Moscow has continued to disregard regional interests and problems.” What the center has done is close down regionalist websites, arrest regional activists or force them into emigration.
“But,” the portal says, “regionalism cannot be suppressed that easily, and the network character of the Internet comes to its aid. Instead of one site that has been closed down, there may appear several on the same theme. Moreover, the state by suppressing regionalist movements is only radicalizing them.”
This means that whatever tactical victories the Kremlin gains over regionalists, it is at the level of strategy “losing the war.” As Urals regionalist Andrey Romanov, who has been forced to emigrate, puts it, what is obvious to many does not seem to obvious to any in the current Russian government.
Many now see, he says, that “Russia has no chances over the long term to remain in its current borders. Indeed, the main event of the 21st century will be the disappearance of Russia and the formation on this territory of new independent states,” not on ethnic lines alone but primarily on regionalist ones.
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