Saturday, August 1, 2020

Focus of Khabarovsk Protests Shifts from Return of Furgal to Demands for Broader Autonomy

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 29 – When the protests in Khabarovsk began, they were almost entirely about the restoration of office of Sergey Furgal, the governor whom Moscow had removed; but now their focus has shifted from that specific concern to the broader one of greater autonomy from the center, Oleg Teploukhov of the URA news agency says.

            He points out that slogans like “I/We are the Far East,” “Khabarovsk will not be silent,” “This is our region,” and “we will defend our land” have displaced those about Furgal and that “one of the most popular attributes of the protest has become the flag of the Khabarovsk kray (

            And he cites the words of KPRF deputy Aleksey Korniyenko, who represents four Far Eastern regions in the Duma, to the effect that this is the culmination of a long-term trend and that voters there want real federalization.  They want their own regions to have “more independence in the taking of decisions.”

            Kirill Cherkasov, an LDPR member who represents Khabarovsk Kray in the Duma, says that the federal center doesn’t understand what is happening in the Far East because it relies on reports by officials in the region who tell Moscow what it wants to hear rather than what the people want.

            Anatoly Makarov, a Moscow political analyst, says that is leading the center to make mistakes and that unless if allows the regions to have more power, what has been taking place in Khabarovsk will occur in other regions as well, with the people and regional economic elites coming together to oppose Moscow.

            Mikhail Karyagin, an analyst at the Moscow Center for Political Conjunction, says that there are people in the central government, including Accounting Chamber head Aleksey Kudrin, who believe in greater federalism and who, along with opposition groups, will point to what is happening in Khabarovsk to advance their arguments.

            But others are skeptical about this. Historian Pavel Danilin says that the Far East may have been independent-minded in the past but now is dependent on Moscow making any protests by their nature local and limited. Karyagin agrees and says that Moscow isn’t going to change in the face of demonstrations.

            Indeed, he suggests, given the current economic crisis, centralization will increase because “the center will concentrate in itself all resources and control them” rather than allowing anyone beyond the ring road to have more.

            But perhaps just as important as the Khabarovsk demonstrations themselves as far as what will happen next are discussions in the central media where some are talking about Russia as “a colonial power in the 21st century” and discussing whether “the decolonization of Russia is approaching?” (

            Forty years ago, Ronald Reagan made the issue of the colonial nature of the USSR central when he described that state as “the evil empire,” although at that time, most people focused only on the ethnic dimension of that reality. However, and especially our time, once people describe a place as an empire, ever more will ask when de-colonization will happen.

            Now, there is growing awareness, thanks to events like the Khabarovsk protests, that the Russian Federation is an empire not just because it has non-Russian republics within it but it has predominantly Russian regions who don’t want their lives to be run by officials in a capital seven or eight time zones away from them.

            The writer of these lines argued that “regionalism is the nationalism of the next revolution” ( and very much believes that the events in Khabarovsk like those earlier in Shiyes are providing evidence of that new but as yet largely unrecognized reality. 

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