Staunton, May 27 – The Kremlin’s decision to disperse the Zemstvo Congress along with its other repressive steps shows that “the Putin regime is in principle unreformable,” Vadim Shtepa says. And because that is so, those who oppose it should be discussing “only projects for the post-Putin future.”
Many of those taking part in the Tenth Free Russia Forum this weekend believe that Russia will remain a centralized state with only one difference. It will have “’a good tsar’” from thewir ranks rather than “’the bad one’” it has now, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says. Regionalists have a more radical vision (region.expert/contours/).
In his theses for the regionalist roundtable to be held at the Forum, Shtepa begins by stressing that regionalists do not start from the assumption the Russia will be a single highly centralized state. At the very least, its component parts will gain real autonomy, and some of them may elect not to remain in the Russian state itself.
Any changes, he continues, will have to begin with the acquisition by the regions of the authority to make their own decisions about themselves and their relations with the center. That will require the democratization of the entire country and the recovery by the regions and republics of the power to elect their own leaders and collect taxes for themselves.
If those things are achieved rapidly, many of them will want to work together because they will only benefit by doing so, Shtepa says. But if the center tries to slow or stop such a development, then at least some of them may decide that they should try to make their way as independent countries.
The Putin regime often suggests in is propaganda that federalism in Russia existsly solely because of the existence of non-Russian republics. But that is a survival of the past when the union and autonomous republics formed half of the population of the USSR at the end. Now, the republics within the Russian Federation have only 18 percent of its total.
The predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays form a much larger portion of the population, and they too must gain the same expanded rights that the republics should get if the country is to be both democratic and federal. As such, regionalists are demanding a more radical reordering of the country for Russians as well as non-Russians.
Russian regionalists also have their own view about ideas pushed by Aleksey Navalny and others about centering Russia around cities rather than regions so as to avoid separatism (svoboda.org/a/31244512.html). Bur such megalopolises in countries where they exist do not provide a counterbalance to centralism; they may even be used to promote it.
Indeed, Shtepa says, “if Russian millionaire cities are transformed into ‘cities for themselves,’ they will become analogues to the megalopolises of ‘the third world’ – Lagos, Karachi, Dacca, Cairo and so on. They will not be political subjects and they will be ‘enlarged’ in every possible way on orders from Moscow.”
Such cities in Russia can play a valuable role if but only if they become “sovereign centers of regional development” for the areas around them rather than operating only for themselves. To that end, they will need Institutes for Regional Development such as existed in some Siberian cities in the 1990s.