Friday, November 27, 2020

Regionalist Participants in Free Russia Forum Remain ‘Dissidents among Dissidents,’ Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 24 – A year ago, Vadim Shtepa, editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal, said that at the eighth Vilnius Forum of Free Russia, regionalists and federalists were “dissidents among dissidents,” that is, they found themselves dissenting from those who dissent from Putin’s Russia (

            This year’s meeting, which took place virtually because of the pandemic, showed some improvement, he suggests, but unfortunately, regionalists and federalists remain outside the concerns of most of the others who continue to view a free Russia as a single whole rather than as a composite of various regions which seek their own status (

            “Nevertheless,” Shtepa continues, issues involving decentralization and de-imperialization are no longer viewed as the marginal issues they once were but as ones that must be addressed if any of the other goals of the larger but still centralist “dissident” community are to be achieved.

            During a session devoted to the recent Putin constitutional amendments, Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko “completely justifiably noted the need for ‘the regionalization of the opposition,’” but he used the term “’disintegration’” thus showing that he has not escaped the Moscow-centricity he has often criticized.

            The thing is, Shtepa argues, “the regionalization of the country looks like ‘disintegration’ only from the point of view of a resident of the imperial capital. From the point of view of residents of various regions, this process looks completely different.” It is about “self-administration and self-determination.”

            At the roundtable “the dissidents within the dissidents” had devoted to whether federalism could be reborn in Russia, “the word ‘disintegration’ was almost never mentioned.” Instead, those Moscow denounces as separatists showed that they were focused on expanding inter-regional cooperation from Ingermanland to Khabarovsk.

            During the federalism roundtable, something else became obvious: there needs to be a clearer distinction made between regionalism and federalism. They are closely related but they reflect somewhat different sensibilities and thus have somewhat different consequences. It is important to recognize that.

            “If regionalism arises from the internal specifics of a region, federalism expresses its external interest in treaty relations with its neighbors.” They are thus cooperative, but a focus on one without the other can lead to problems. “For example, regionalism without federalism leads to isolationism,” while federalism without regionalism ignores the diversity of the regions.

            If the Free Russia Forum can integrate that understanding into its programmatic discussions, then there is hope that those who are dissenters within it now will find their place; if it can’t, then there is a possibility that the regionalists and federalists will need their own forum, something that will only impoverish and weaken the current one. 


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