Staunton, October 16 – The new regionalism, Vadim Shtepa argues, is “in essence the geographic projection of the networked society” made possible by the rise of the Internet, poses more fundamental challenges to the centralized state than did separatism or irredentism in the past, and is currently being actively opposed by centralized states both on line and otherwise.
As part of a discussion of regionalism launched by Moscow’s Liberal Russian Foundation, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal develops these ideas concerning what he calls “the regional revolution” that the rise of “networked” society has made possible (liberal.ru/articles/7412 reposted at region.expert/network_regionalism/).
Regionalism, “as a phenomenon of networked society,” Shtepa says, in principle “strives to be as transparent and democratic” as possible, but “the smaller size of many regions in comparison with major states does not by itself guarantee a higher level of democracy.” It does, however, create “the preconditions” for this by making government closer to the people.
It is thus very much part of the phenomenon of globalization and its corollary, globalization, he continues. “Globalization often is viewed as a process of worldwide universalization, although geographic differentiation in ‘the globalized world’ not only is being preserved but increasing.”
In fact, Shtepa argues, it is the spatial manifestation of the process of glocalization described by Roland Robertson, the adaption of universal principles of political order just like the adaption of products for the market to local conditions, something that has profound consequences for larger political units.
He points out that “regionalists (for example, Scots and Catalonian) are active supporters of the unity of the EU,” in contrast to main countries “with an imperial history” where Eurosceptic attitudes often win out.” Regionalists typically accept the values of the larger, “global” unit, while those of older nation states sometimes don’t.
With regard to Russia, many analysts still “treat the protest movements in the republics as ‘nationalist’ rather than ‘regionalist. This is a manifestation of a lack of understanding of the phenomenon of regionalism as such” and a failure to see that the pursuit of self-administration and cultural identity “do not contradict one another but are organically combined.”
Further, Shtepa points out that “supporters of the imperial doctrine of ‘the Russian world’” as well as many of their opponents “are united by the propagandistic myth that the Russians themselves form ‘a single people.’ In reality, despite a common language, Russians rather are a multitude of ‘region-nations,’” to use Daniil Kotsybinsky’s term.
Related to this, “representatives of non-Russian peoples in Russia often and justly speak about the russification of their republics. Howeveer, it is a very serious mistake to suppose that the Russians themselves gain something from this russification. In reality, russification is an instrument of empire, intended for the convenience of rule over ‘the provinces.’”
Instead, the various components of the Russian-speaking community are harmed just as much as the non-Russians, forced to give up their languages and culture to the Moscow standard.
Another common misperception many have is the idea that Russia was a federation before Vladimir Putin began his construction of the authoritarian and centralist power vertical. That isn’t the case, the 1992 Federal Treaty had the center as the key actor who delegated powers to the former colonies, rather than being an agreement among them.
What many see as the worldwide “’restoration of verticals’” and the growth of authoritarian centralism is almost certain to be short-lived because it is far more “rickety” than networked systems. They are flexible and future oriented in a way that authoritarian centralized systems are not even when the latter seek to use the Internet for their own purposes.
Yet another widespread misconception, Shtepa continues, is that irredentism is “’a form of regionalism,’” a view that allows people to equate the annexation of Crimea by Russia with the pursuit of independence by Catalonia and others. In fact, the two are antithetical and the failure to recognize this promotes the double standards the Kremlin routinely displays.
According to Shtepa, “regionalism involves not Russian but post-Russian consciousness, one based on the direct mutual interests of various regions. This is not ‘anti-centrism’ but rather polycentrism, constructed on the basis of the interaction of a multitude of autonomous and sovereign subjects.”
Properly understood, he says, “regionalism is more ‘anti-periphery’ and ‘anti-provincial’ in the sense that inspires all regions to become ‘centers’ of force with equal rights.”
“In today’s Russia,” Shetpa concludes, “it is not accident that there is a cult of the past because the empire recognizes it has not future. But at the same time, in various regionalist movements, a discourse focused on the past is also popular,” with many focusing on their pre-imperial histories.
And sometimes it even seems, he says, that “history has already ended if even ideological opponents are only focused on arguments about the past.”