Staunton, July 2 – Yesterday was not only the referendum on Vladimir Putin’s constitutional amendments but also the 27th anniversary of an event, the memory of which looms in many parts of the Russian Federation as a challenge to the hyper-centralized state under his complete control he hopes the new constitution will allow.
In its report on this anniversary, the URA news agency says that “the idea of a Urals Republic was born at a time when Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia, called [for the regions and republics] ‘to take as much sovereignty as you can swallow’” (ura.news/specials/iamural/news/1036280506).
While Yeltsin’s words were directed in the first instance to the non-Russian republics and especially Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, “the slogan was heard by all heads of the subjects of the Russian Federation. And because the country was engaged in writing a constitution, they wanted to stake out a position as well.
Eduard Rossel, then head of the Sverdlovsk Oblast administration, was among them. He wanted “financial equality” for his region. “We do not need sovereignty but we very much need economic and legislative self-standingness.” In this, he was supported by many in the oblast assembly.
On April 25, 1993, a referendum was held in which 67.1 percent of the voters participated and 83.4 percent of those voted in favor of proclaiming a Urals Republic. Anatoly Gayda of the Urals Institute of Philosophy of Law assembled a group of six to draft its constitution.
(Wikipedia mistakenly identifies Anton Bakov as one of the six, but he says he was too young to participate in such an august undertaking.) Bakov did attract attention at the time, however, by pressing for the issuance of the republic’s own currency, the Urals “franc.” But Rossel and others rejected that and everything else that smacked of separatism.
Supporters of the Urals Republic realized that such a declaration would lead Moscow to conclude that they were separatists and wanted to exit the Russian Federation and that the center would crack down hard on them in order to kill such a movement in the cradle. In fact, that is exactly what happened: Moscow, believing rumors rather than reading the constitution, moved to stop the entire enterprise.
The Urals Republic was suppressed, but the popular attitudes that gave rise to it live on. Mikhail Borisov, a former deputy to the Sverdlovsk Oblast council, says that its appearance reflected the fact that for “almost 400 years,” the population there has consisted largely of Old Believers rather than Nikonians and are “accustomed to think independently.”
Few now believe there is much chance for a second Urals Republic anytime soon, but support for greater regional autonomy is growing. And URA says in conclusion, it may be that sometime soon, the local historical museum will speak more about the Urals Republic just as the Paris mayor has organized exhibitions about the May 1968 student revolution there.