‘Struggle for Democracy in Russia Today is Struggle by Regions for Their Rights,’ Krasheninnikov Says
Staunton, February 11 – The participation of so many people in the Navalny protests far beyond Moscow’s ring road is attracting new attention to regional identities because it was those and the desire for regions to be able to pursue their own interests rather than just take orders from Moscow that animated many of the demonstrators, Yevgeny Senshin says.
The Novaya gazeta journalist says bluntly: “One of the key motives behind the protest in the region was fighting against Moscow and demanding independent local administration, the just distribution of budgetary funds and the weakening of ‘the power vertical’ (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/02/11/89164-rossiya-no-ne-moskoviya).
Such regionalist impulses and identities are especially strong in the Urals, Senshin suggests on the basis of his conversations with experts on that region. Yekaterinburg political scientist Dmitry Moskvin, for example, says that “a sense of Uralsness is an undoubted fact” and reflects strivings for the right of the people to control their own lives rather than be run by others.
In addition, the scholar argues, the people of the Urals are both less committed to the Russian Orthodoxy church and otherwise emanating from Moscow and more tolerant of other faiths and those who practice them.
Fyodor Krasheninnikov, a commentator who has written a book entitled After Russia, says that there is no question that the Urals population has its own identity, although he admits that it is not a single thing but a combination of the values of the indigenes and those of the arrivals from elsewhere that draws on more general opposition to Moscow.
Indeed, he argues that the struggle for democracy in Russia today is above all animated by the fight by people in the regions to have control over their own lives rather than remain under Moscow’s orders. And in that struggle, Krasheninnikov argues, the regions not only are going to become more important as sources of identity but will eventually win out.
Others, like Tatyana Kruglova, a professor at the Urals Federal University, are uncertain about either of those contentions. She argues that it is a mistake to become an environmental determinist and that regionalism, like nationalism, will arise when intellectuals emerge who articulate an agenda do. Some have in the Urals but relatively few, she says.
But Krasheninnikov and others like him are not backing down. “Not a single democratic state can be monolithic,” he says. Today, Russia is run from a single center, with a single notion of what makes a Russian, and is more concerned about relations with Kyiv than with its own Finno-Ugric peoples.
Moskvin agrees. He says that “in the Urals are concentrated academic and scientific centers and a powerful cultural infrastructure. And this means that enlightened and active people live here. Protests in Yekaterinburg over the last decade are a reactive of this part of society to what is going on.”
“In this sense,” he says, “Yekaterinburg or Perm are mature civic and political centers interior to Moscow and Petersburg only in terms of numbers.” And that is true despite the steps Moscow has taken to geld local governments by imposing outsiders to run the region, something that would have been unthinkable in the days of the Urals Republic in the 1990s.
But despite the center’s approach and its downgrading of the Urals in its all-Russian agenda, activist Anton Bakov says, “the Urals have become a political center,” although the region currently doesn’t have enough money or activists to support that. “But this doesn’t mean that social-political processes with us have stopped.”
“To be a person of the Urals today,” Moskvin concludes, “is to be a new mountaineer,” a reference to the North Caucasus. “People of the Urals are free people with a strong character. The potential of these qualities is great, and they must be developed.”