Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Genuine Federalism in Russia Requires Strong Municipal Governments, Luzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 15 – Many Russians fail to understand that a better division of power between Moscow and the regions by itself wouldn’t be sufficient to create federalism, Pavel Luzin says. Instead, in the absence of strong local governments, it would have the unintended result of creating dozens of little Moscows rather than a system of checks and balances.

            “A federation,” the Perm political analyst continues, “is not ‘an idea which must somehow be brought to life;’ it is only an institutional mechanism which secures the balance and autonomy of the subjects which form the state. And this mechanism cannot hand in a void” (

            It “must operate on the basis of strong local self-administration, have a corresponding economic base in which a market and relative economic equality of the subjects exist,” Luzin argues. But “in Russia today, there is neither a market economy, although there are elements of it, local administration or real status for the regions.”

            To move from where Russia is now to where it should be as a genuine federation, requires the strengthening of the regions relative to Moscow but the weakening of regional governments relative to the municipalities. Otherwise the regional governments will simply be like Moscows.

            Only if each case of local self-administration “and each individual citizen” has the status of a subject of politics and not just an object is there a chance for the regions to acquire a genuine status of subjectness within a federation, and only if the economic situation improves at all three levels of statehood is that going to be possible.

            Moscow could live with a number of little Moscows. After all both would be operating on the same principles. But “the Russian authorities feel very well from whence comes the true threat to them,” from a growth in the sense of subjecthood by municipalities and individuals. Hence its thuggish attack on Municipal Russia.

            The only way for Russia to move in the direction of true federalism, Luzin continues, is through the expansion of horizonal social ties and local political initiatives. Only if those take off can there be any hope that Russia will experience democratization and decentralization anytime soon.

            Shifting power from Moscow to the regions is a necessary condition for the establishment of Russian federalism; but all must recognize, the Perm analyst concludes, that it is very far from a sufficient one – and that the Moscow opponents of real federalism understand that and act accordingly.

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