Sunday, July 28, 2019

Moscow Must Not Only Cease to Be the Capital; It Must Cease Being a Single City, Khodakovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 25 – It is axiomatic among Russian regionalists (and many others as well) that for Russia to become genuinely free and federal (or confederal) Moscow must cease to be the capital and that the renewed country must either shift its center to another existing city or build a new capital altogether.

            But few have addressed the issue of what should happen to Moscow itself once it loses its status as an imperial capital and becomes a Russian city like any other. Now, one has. And in a provocative article in Region.Expert, Gleb Khodakovsky argues that for Russia to be free, Moscow must be divided up into its component parts (

            Not only s Moscow “the clearest symbol of the present-day empire,” he argues, but in its current form, the line between “’city’” and “’federal’” has been blurred to the point of non-existence, leading Muscovites to view themselves not as residents of a city but as rulers of the country, a status no one elected them to.

            As a result, the uniquely Muscovite urban consciousness that existed when Moscow was not the capital has been destroyed or at least “does not find definite political embodiment” in the city. Steps must be taken too recover that consciousness, and it may be, the regionalist writer argues, that this will require dividing up the current metropolis into several cities.

            The current fight about registering candidates for the city country, Khodakovsky says, is directly connected with the fact that Moscow isn’t allowed to be a city but has become a monstrous imperial center, one in which “the authorities can’t allow opposition deputies to have control over their corrupt schemes.”

            But the city council question is bigger than that, he continues. Forty-five deputies for a city of 20 million is far too few for the representatives to be closely connected with the population and its requirements.  There needs to be a dividing up of the city and the creation of equally large or even larger city councils in each of them.

            Such a dividing up, of course, will not involve putting up barbed wire fences among them. Just the reverse: the new cities will interact with each other directly rather than through the constant mediation of some powers above them. And this will help overcome “the main problem of the empire, the suppression of civic self-administration by gigantic state institutions.”

            There is growing evidence that residents of the current city of Moscow want something like this in the fact that they are protesting against renovations and plans for trash dumps that they had no role in designing.  The most obvious dividing lines are the various small towns which existed up to the early 20th century but which have been absorbed and obliterated since.

            That is the easy part of such a transformation, Khodakovsky says. The bigger challenge is to deal with the central region.  He says that he would like to see it included in a city dominated and controlled by the students of the Moscow University who would be able to exploit the archives of the former central institutions like the KGB, the foreign ministry and the Kremlin.

            The regionalist writer says that he is quite ready to accept criticism of his plan as “utopian,” but he adds that his only justification for offering it is “the absence of other acceptable variants.” Muscovia -- and its capital!-- delenda est. The two things are interrelated and unless they are both addressed, the peoples and regions of the current country won’t be free.

            “The preservation of the current situation is impossible,” Khodakovsky says. “Already in the Soviet period, the borders of the city had passed all reasonable limits and the natural cultural and natural milieu was destroyed.  The only wise way out,” he says, “is ‘puncturing’ the Moscow bubble,” by stripping it of its role as capital and dividing it up into human-sized cities.

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