Staunton, October 19 – Soviet rulers engaged in all kinds of ethnic engineering with regard to non-Russian peoples, drawing borders in such a way that an ethnic group might be a minority on a particular territorial entity or be locked together with another ethnic group allowing Moscow to use a divide-and-rule strategy against them.
But they also used a related kind of ethnic engineering in Russian areas, dividing up historical or aspirational regions into smaller oblasts and krays, thus limiting the ability of these regions to challenge the center. These divisions now are playing an even greater role in restricting regionalist movements than are non-Russian territories in blocking nationalist ones.
The reason is simple, Siberian regionalist Aleksey Manannikov says. In non-Russian republics, the media, including the official media, focuses on ethnic issues often unique to that territory thus supporting often unwittingly but effectively republic identities; but in mostly ethnic Russian areas, the coverage and thus impact of the media are very different.
There, the former Duma member and Senator from Novosibirsk says, the media focus on news from the oblast and kray and on reporting from Moscow but ignore almost completely news about the broader region such as Siberia in which these territorial units exist. Thus, they do nothing to promote regional identity and much to undermine it.
Manannikov tells Vadim Shtepa of the Region.Expert portal that this is one of the most important reasons why Russians in Russian oblasts and krays talk only about their own area or about Russia as a whole and why as a result, regionalism has had a far more difficult time than has nationalism in non-Russian areas. (region.expert/siberia-manannikov/).
Over the last century and a half, the regionalist says, Siberians have been talked about the idea of an independent Siberia. “The idea of Siberian sovereignty has never died.” Twice, in 1918 and then in the early 1990s, it was an idea that appeared ready to capture the masses and become a real political force.
But in the 19th century, the expansion of Russian railroads allowed the tsarist authorities to maintain control over their colony in Siberia, thus crushing the hopes of the oblastniki who believed that they could achieve independence from European Russia much as the American states had from Great Britain.
Soviet rulers continued their campaign to ensure central control over Siberia, not just by changing the mix of the population but also by dividing up regions there, “each of which was oriented toward bureaucratic interaction with the metropolitan center and had only weak horizontal links with others” in Siberia.
These territorial divisions prevented the Siberian regionalists from having success, Manannikov says. And what successes the Siberians had were the result of glasnost and the ability of regionalists to promote a common information space. That was the force behind the rise of the Siberian Agreement in the 1990s.
Not surprisingly, he argues, “the empire’s revenge began with the so-called ‘doctrine of information security,” Putin declared in May 2000. That led to the destruction of almost all media outlets not tied to the state either in Moscow or in government-defined territories, including predominantly Russian ones, elsewhere.
“The all-Siberian press by the middle of the first decade of this century practically disappeared. What remained was only the imperial information space and regional information units which combined local news with imperial propaganda.” Putin then followed that up by prohibiting regional parties.
According to Manannikov, “the current reincarnation of the empire, whose leaders have studied the two period of disintegration of the last century, have eliminated form the media space and administrative practice all that is living which arose during Perestroika and tightened the imperial screws tighter than in Soviet times.”
As a result, even though an awareness of Siberia’s uniqueness remains, “it is more dead than alive,” he says. “Even the so-called ‘opposition’ in Siberia thinks and acts in line with the imperial agenda.” Tragically, “the average Novosibirsk oppositionist associates himself more with the empire than those who are struggling fr independence and sovereignty.”
The situation in fact is now the reverse of what it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians didn’t wait for guidance from Moscow and assume that Moscow’s issues should be theirs. Instead, they acted on their own, and people in Moscow looked to them instead.
“Colonies seeking liberation do not ask advice from the metropolitan center,” Manannnikov says. “Even from Professor Solovey.” And they do not allow themselves to be frightened by propaganda suggesting that they must stay part of the empire or be occupied by China or must be proud of what their ancestors did to save the empire in the past.
The situation in the non-Russian republics like Buryatia and Tuva is somewhat better: they have a national media and thus a national agenda is discussed at least in part. But there too the situation is far from good: the shaman from Sakha felt he had to go to Moscow to oust Putin “rather than call on the help of the spirits to help get [his republic] out of the evil empire.”