Friday, January 8, 2021

Leaders of Extra-Systemic Opposition Fail to View Russia as ‘Multi-National State,’ Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 6 – There are important differences among the leaders of the extra-systemic Russian opposition, but there is one thing they share in common, Kharun Sidorov says. None of them views Russia as “a multi-national state” and is prepared to support all that that entails. 

            Both this lack and the support almost all of them give, in opposition to Vladimir Putin, to decentralization and an end to repression, the Prague-based Russian commentator says, it is perhaps not surprising that many have overlooked the critical differences among the extra-systemic leaders (

            To make his point, he compares the views of Aleksey Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky about federalism and the role of nations and national identity in the Russia of future they hope to lead. For many non-Russians, both are an improvement on Putin; but they represent fundamentally different views on these critical issues.

            Both leaders want to decentralize, but both are more ready to do that to cities than to republics and regions, fearing that giving more power to those could lead to the rise of secessionist feelings, exactly the same fear that stands behind Putin’s authoritarian and centralist approach.

            Navalny does say that regions should have more power than they do now and he insists that Russia must be “a federal country.”  But at the same time, he is very critical of the republics’ actions in the 1990s when they tried to take as much power for themselves as they could. For Navalny, the proper loci for decentralization are the municipalities which presumably wouldn’t.

            But it is on the role of ethnicity in such a state that the two opposition figures diverge in the most significant way. Navalny has the reputation of being a Russian nationalist, although he denies that he is; but his vision “represent s something more acceptable for the native peoples of Russia.”

            Khodorkovsky openly calls for “transforming Russia into a nation state,” although he understands nation in a political rather than ethnic way. Navalny, in contrast, is far more willing to recognize non-Russian nations and the desire of them and of Russians to identify ethnically rather than in the deracinated and “Soviet people”-style non-ethnic Russians.

            More than Khodorkovsky, Navalny stresses that the non-Russians should be able to choose to use their own language. He is even open to the quota system for appointing officials on an ethnic basis in Daghestan, although he is generally opposed to that approach lest if freeze relations or overstate ethnicity.

            “In contrast to Khodorkovsky,” Sidorov says, “Navalny does not see problems in the national and cultural multiplicity within Russia and has declared his readiness to support national cultures and education, its indigenous peoples, and recognizes that every region has its distinctive features” which should be supported.

            More generally, the commentator says, “both the one and the other are above all economic federalists who on the whole justly consider that to run such an enormous country as Russia in a centralized fashion is economically ineffective.”

            “Both the one and the other speak for the building in Russia of ‘a civic nation,’ uniting its citizens independent of their ethnic membership.” But beyond, they divide significantly with Khodorkovsky’s vision resembling that of France while Navalny’s that of the Anglo-Saxon countries.

What is disturbing in this, Sidorov continues, is that neither of them and none of the other leading opposition figures speak for Russia as “a multi-national state,” one that is based on the nations who form it. Neither of them appears to recognize that this Soviet term reflected the fact that the Soviet system was deeply influenced by ethnicity in the way it was constructed.

The Prague commentator says that those who want to defend the rights of the national republics including self-determination, must not only see how different the opposition is from the Putin regime but also how much variety there is within the opposition rather than assuming they are all of a piece as far as federalism and nationality is concerned.

            Only by recognizing those differences can they hope to make the right choice as to whom to support and even more can they have a chance to influence the debate about what the future of Russia and their nations will be. 

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