Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Russian Federalism Must be a ‘Continuously Renewed’ Agreement, Zhilkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 5 – Ernst Renan famously observed that a nation is one continuous daily referendum. Vladimir Zhilkin, the chief ideologist of the Federative Party, says that Russian federalism cannot be established once and for all but must be an agreement “continuously renewed” by negotiations among its component parts.

            Many assume that federalism or indeed any other system can be established full blown in one fell swoop, but in fact, even more than other political arrangements, federalism presupposes continuing conversations and negotiations between the center and the subjects and among the subjects as well, the Tambov activist says (region.expert/zhilkin-interview/).

            Interviewed by Vadim Shtepa, the editor of the Region.Expert portal, Zhilkin makes a number of other points that expand on the views of his party’s head, Oleg Khomutinnikov, made in the course of earlier conversations and posts (region.expert/fedparty/ and facebook.com/olegkhomutinnikov/posts/2502428473363979).

            Asked why the Russian Federation has not proved to be a federal system in any meaningful sense, Zhilkin says that “it is possible that the cause is to be found in ‘the birth trauma’ of young Russia.” Separatist moves in the union republics and the autonomous ones within the RSFSR left most officials fearful of any decentralization.

            Moreover, one must not forget that “all the leaders of post-Soviet Russia were direct bearers of the Soviet imperial mentality.” They didn’t have any other kind to draw on. The Communists were still strong, and the democrats feared that any concessions to the regions would help the KPRF to restore the Soviet system.

            They thus were inclined to support the authoritarianism of Yeltsin and later of Putin as the lesser evil.  And the Russian population, conformist and fearful of more uncontrolled change and even terrorist challenges, went along with little resistance. By the time they could see what that could lead too, it was much harder to change course.

            As far as the future is concerned, Zhilkin continues, Russia’s regions must have elected leaders and much greater control over resources.  They need to have their own sources of income other than transfers back from Moscow.  At the same time, the center and the regions have an obligation to equalize the standard of living across the country.

            Asked how his party could seriously think that the Putin regime would register it, the Tambov activist says that the situation isn’t as bleak for federalist forces as many think. “We see the lack of confidence and weakness of the regime and the civic growth of Russian society.” Thus, the time has come to move toward the creation of a federalist party.

            And finally, asked about the new party’s symbol, a stylized cat in the colors of the Russian flag, Zhilkin says that that is “a strange question” as “the Russian tricolor is our flag” and we are “proud to carry the flag of our country and use  it as part of the symbol of the Federative Party.

            As for the cat, he continues, one must recognize that the cat is one of the most independent animals” as well as being the most widely held and beloved animal in the regions, where it symbolizes “peace, comfort, kindness and love,” exactly the values the new party would like to see spread.

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