Staunton, March 10 – Genuine federalism will arise in Russia not from the pursuit of economic development but “from the struggle of citizens for their rights … as members of communities with their own identities” who seek to defend these communities as “political subjects,” Vadim Sidorov says.
That is why the non-Russian republics and those Russian regions with traditions of seeking republic status play the key role, Prague-based Russian federalist Vadim Sidorov says; but also why most predominantly Russian regions welcome the decentralization some in Moscow promise but aren’t interested in real federalism (region.expert/economic_federalism/).
Two types of Russian federalism have arisen among those opposed to the Kremlin’s hyper-centralism, “political federalism which subordinates economics to politics and economic federalism which subordinate politics to economics,” he continues. But he suggests that the latter is not real federalism at all and won’t produce it except perhaps in the very long term.
Those who call for economic federalism present themselves as pragmatists. They typically support the idea that the heads of regions be elected rather than appointed, but “usually their federalism ends with this, since they do not want to hear about foundation on the basis of new republics like the Urals, Far Eastern or so on or4 about any agreements of the regions among themselves as the basis of a new, treaty-based federation.”
“On the contrary,” Sidorov continues, “’for prevent separatism,’ they usually propose operating not on regional but on the local level,” on cities rather than republics as do Aleksey Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, ignoring the fact that such arrangements are completely compatible with centralist rule rather than federalism.
That means, he says, that “the maximum” they allow one to hope for is an evolution of the country in the direction of “socio-economic and demographic preconditions for political changes in the distant future” rather than any shift away from decision-making being almost exclusively confined to Moscow.
It must be kept in mind, Sidorov argues, that “the very creation in Russia of federal forms, first proclaimed by the Constituent Assembly and then, after discussions at the 8th Congress of the RKP(b), reluctantly recognized by the Bolsheviks, occurred as a result of an entirely different logic, not economic, but political, and not evolutionary but radical.”
“The locomotive” behind this process was “the struggle for national self-determination of the peoples of Russia and their awakening as political nations.” The predominantly ethnic Russian regions played only a small role in this process, and until things change, most of them can’t be expected to play more.
Today, the leaders of the struggle for the rights of regions are Bashkortostan, Kalmykia, Ingushetia, Komi, and the Nenets AO and those Russian regions with a memory about their own regional projects and in part ethnic specificity as in the case of Primorsky and Khabarovsk krays … or Arkhangelsk Oblast with the Pomor identity of part of its population.”
The rest of the country, “’Russian Russia’ is alas silent either satisfied with current arrangements or dreaming about ‘the maturation of evolutionary preconditions’” for some change. That has not always been true. It wasn’t, for example, in the 1990s; and that means that under certain conditions, Russian regionalism can lead to federalist demands.
But at least in the short term, calls for economic federalism alone, for the decentralization of economic power and especially economic decentralization to cities rather than regions, won’t lead to federalism but rather will reenforce the existing political order however much it changes the economic one.
Those committed to federalism must understand this and thus recognize that while they agree with many things those who talk about economic federalism suggest, they remain at odds with them about what is most important, the political rights of regions that must be the foundation of any genuine federation, Sidorov concludes.