Staunton, July 4 – From the very beginning of the oblastniki movement in the19th century, Siberians have viewed themselves as having the potential to be another United States or Canada; and so it was no accident when 101 years ago today, the Siberians declared their independence on July 4, America’s Independence Day.
Under the leadership of Petr Vologodsky, a Siberian native and national democrat, the Siberian people rose against the Muscovite Bolsheviks and proclaimed the independence of the Siberian Democratic Republic, an action that did not lead to the statehood they hoped for – the Bolsheviks suppressed it -- but to this day remains the embodiment of the Siberian dream.
Siberian activists now carry a flat that resembles that of the US, but with snowflakes instead of stars; and as Siberian activist Yaroslav Zolotaryev notes in an appreciation of the movement on this anniversary, the Siberian independence declaration forced the Soviets at least initially to treat Siberia as a whole (region.expert/siberia100/).
The July 4, 1918, declaration led even Stalin to “describe Siberia as one of the subjects of the planned RSFSR.” And more immediately, it laid the ideological foundations for the eventual creation of a truly legitimate Russian state by insisting that no final decisions be made about state structure until constituent assemblies at both the all-Russian and Siberian levels were held.
Tragically, Zolotaryev says, other Russian groups did not act on those ideas; and “the situation of illegality of the central authorities remains in general the same up to now.” Moscow didn’t convene a constituent assembly in 1991, and what that means, he says, is that all Putin’s talk notwithstanding, today’s Russia is linked only to the illegitimate USSR and not to Russia.
More than a century ago in its declaration, “the Siberian government expressed the hope that a legitimate Russian statehood would at some point be restored after which ‘the character of future relations between Siberia and European Russia will be defined by an all-Siberian and an all-Russian constituent assembly.”
Whether those would be federal, confederal, or complete independence was left often, but, as Zolotaryev notes, “at the moment of the adoption of the Declaration [of Siberian independence, Russia did not exist but Siberia did.” Siberians have held fast to those ideas, in emigration and now in Siberia itself.
“The dream of the Siberian people about freedom was reborn again during Perestroika when again arose a massive oblastnik and at the same time democratic movement. The Russian government of Vladimir Putin has done everything it can to suppress the movement and even achieved a certain success in that.
But the dreams of 1918 have not gone away; and the fact that they were so clearly declared a century ago gives today’s Siberians hope that in the future conditions will evolve so that they can achieve their goals which include freedom and democracy not only for themselves but for all the peoples within the current borders of the Russian Federation.