Staunton, January 19 – “The virus of totalitarianism” contained within the 1993 Russian Constitution is now replicating itself in Putin’s reforms in general and his attack on the autonomy of local administrations in particular, Pavel Luzin says. Unfortunately the former have attracted much attention, but the latter almost none.
As a result, the regionalist writer says, few have noticed that Putin’s call for the creation of “a single system of public power” has the effect of unifying power at all levels and depriving local self-administration of autonomy even formally thus restoring the arrangements that existed in the totalitarian Soviet system (http://region.expert/cadavre/).
It is of course the case, Luzin acknowledges, that local administration had in fact far less autonomy than the government proclaimed. The laws governing it did not provide real autonomy to this level of governance, and it was kept on a very short financial leash by the regional and republic heads.
And that pattern was made worse starting in the spring of last year when Moscow ordered the start of a transition from a two-level system of local self-administration (municipal district and settlement) to a single one (with only a municipal or city district.) In fact, the analyst suggests, that set the stage for Putin’s latest moves.
Because of Russian political culture, Russians “are accustomed to underrating local self-administration,” despite the fact that “the political role of this institution is extremely great as it is the foundation of democratic administration.” Even in Soviet times, the authorities declared this to be true but did everything they could to prevent it from becoming a reality.
Now, the Russian powers that be have new reasons for blocking any possibility of real local autonomy. First, even dictatorships need elections to legitimize their rule and so they want to do everything they can to ensure that they completely control elections so that no opposition to them will emerge.
Eliminating elected mayors was one means that the center has used to control the situation, but it can no longer be as sure as it was during the “fat” years that more or less uncontrolled elections to local councils won’t lead to the rise of opposition groups within them and thus to challenges to Moscow. That has already happened in some major cities.
Consequently, the constitutional change that Putin has called for in this realm represents “a prevent strike against the opposition and protest movement.” That is because it means that any demand for autonomy of local administration can be presented now as an appeal for “the overthrow of the constitutional system.”
According to Luzin, “the Russian authorities have had enough of appearing to be usurpers. They want to have the right” to act as they do.
Second, because neither actions like the seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea or enormous national projects have the ability to mobilize Russians as they once did, Moscow wants to make sure that it has the unquestioned loyalty of elites. There are nearly a half million employees at the municipal level, and making them happy will help in that task.
By insisting on a uniform approach, Moscow can ensure that all their salaries can be raised; and that is no trivial matter for such people given that at the municipal level up to now salaries are generally quite low. They will also be given the psychological encouragement to view themselves as part of a single power structure rather than being tied only to localities.
And third, what Putin is doing brings Russia today not only closer to the Soviet model but also to the way business is done in Belarus and in the two Russian statelets on Ukrainian territory, the DNR and the LNR. By destroying local administrative autonomy, Putin makes it easier to consolidate these three units with his Russia. And that too likely is among his purposes.