Friday, June 11, 2021

Russian Federalists Must Promote Consensus on Power Sharing in Which All will Win, Luzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 9 – Russian federalists have focused on how a new federative treaty might be drafted, Pavel Luzin says; but they should be focusing on promoting a consensus among the Russian population on power-sharing arrangements that would allow all except the most convinced centralizers to win.

            The Perm political analyst says that in politics, even when there is an agreement on goals, serious obstacles arise on the path to achieving them,  and that in Russia, federalists talk so much about the provisions of a new federative treaty that they forget that such a document would quickly be subverted unless Russian opinion is transformed (

            Russian federalists, Luzin continues, often say that their goals could be achieved if the country were to adopt a new federative treaty in place of the one that was concluded in 1992 and that such a treaty would equalize the status of oblasts, krays, and republics and be the product of discussions by representatives of the people rather than Kremlin-appointed officials.

            What could go wrong if officials from existing federal subjects were to convene and draft a new federative treaty can easily be seen if one considers what happened with the 1992 document. That set of agreements arose in a specific context and with participants who were anything but in a good position to insist on genuine power sharing.

            The idea of having a federative treaty grew out of discussions about the annulling of the 1922 all-union treaty and the call by Mikhail Gorbachev for a new union treaty. The collapse of the USSR happened in part because of that, and representatives of the regions and republics of Russia had less democratic legitimacy than even Boris Yeltsin did. He was elected; they weren’t.

            “In other words,” Luzin argues, “the federative treaty arose in large measure out of the ideological-political process of Perestroika and the inertia of actions, goals and appeals of society and particular people of that era … What happened happened and one must not try to step into one and the same river twice.”

            Reforming the current document or organizing a roundtable between the center and the regions is unlikely to achieve the goal of genuine federalism, the Perm analyst says. That leaves a third scenario, revolution, which by its very nature will involve far more and come unexpectedly.

            Given that, he says, Russian federalists need to focus on encouraging the formation of a country-wide consensus about why power sharing between the center and the regions should be shifted away from the former toward the latter so that in such a revolutionary time, there will be the possibility of reaching a new agreement by one mechanism or another.

            Luzin’s argument with its long-term approach and call for talking not about the final end but rather about the formation of a new consensus in Russia about who should do what and why is likely to strike some as utopian or others as quietist. But it represents an important step forward for a movement that has often focused only on its goals and not on how to reach them.

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