Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Regionalism in Russia to Be Successful Must Rest on Universal Democratic Principles, Luzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Lenin was prepared to make concessions to ethnic groups lest they continue to fight against his project to build a universal communist state, but he was not committed to the kind of universal democratic principles which would have allowed ethnic Russian or multi-ethnic areas to be regional governments, Pavel Luzin says.

            That reality and the importance of such principles as personal rights and freedoms, private property and entrepreneurial freedom are highlighted in a new book on the Far Eastern Republic, a short-lived buffer state between Soviet Russia and the Japanese intervention in the early 1920s, the Russian regionalist says (

            That book, originally published in English and now in Russian, is Ivan Sablin’s The Far Eastern Republic from Idea to Liquidation (Moscow, 1920). (For a summary of the book and a discussion of the FER in Russia today, see

            The book’s fundamental strength, Luzin says, is its demonstration that “the FER was much more multifaceted than it often appears now and that elements of it reflect things outside the specific political situation in which the Far Eastern Republic was created” and the reasons for its failure.

            In the century since the FER existed, the Far East in Russia “has not become less distinctive and the people living there are different not only from citizens of the central and southern part of Russia but also from the people of the Urals and the Siberians,” Luzin continues, a reflected in academic and political discussions about “Pacific Russia” (

            Sablin shows how the FER reflected the ideas of Siberian regionalism (oblastnichestvo) and also how it came to its “inglorious end” because of “the competition of local nationalisms, which made the consolidation of the republic or other state formation in the Far East simply impossible” given Moscow’s centralist attitudes.

            “In reality, the Leninist reading of the right of nations to self-determination allowed for the handing over of statehood on an ethnic basis,” but it made no provision for a territory without a dominant nationality. And at the same time, “the opponents of the Bolsheviks were unable to present a clear alternative” because many of them were Russian centralists too.

            Unfortunately, Luzin continues, the situation is not much different today. Moscow remains centralist as do many Russians in the regions, and neither group is committed to the kind of universalist principles which would allow a genuine regional government to arise.  Even those who talk about a Pacific Russia do so in the context of asking how much Moscow will give it.

            Only when people move beyond that paradigm, as the people of Khabarovsk are doing now, is there a real possibility of creating regional governments worthy of the name. The FER remains important as a clear sign of what is needed in that regard if any region is to succeed, Luzin concludes. 

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