Staunton, August 8 – Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s call for building several new cities in Siberia and the talk it has sparked about shifting the capital of the country from Moscow to one of them will not by itself end the hyper-centralization of the Russian state. It may in fact increase it.
Artur Tushin, a Russian commentator who has long condemned this feature of Russian statehood, says that everyone should remember two things. On the one hand, the Russian empire began with the shift of the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg; and its end can happen only if the new capital arises for different reasons than a decision of the center.
Otherwise, this project like so many others will only be about glorifying the ruler and his team and allowing him and it to rule from a new place but in exactly the same way (region.expert/capital-siberia/).
And on the other, cities must develop naturally as a result of the presence of a population and economic needs. The population of Russia east of the Urals has been declining for decades as people flee to the center, and building new cities there would require a totalitarian economy like the one Stalin used to create new cities in various parts of the USSR.
Is such a totalitarian economy what Shoygu and his supporters in fact want? If not, they won’t succeed; and plans for these cities will prove yet another failed national project, Tushin says.
The regionalist writer says he very much favors moving the capital away from Moscow but not as another imperial project but rather as a means toward the creation of a genuinely federal republic in which the regions will be primary and the center a derivative of their interests and concerns rather than the other way around.
“Today,” Tushin says, “Moscow-centrism is Russia’s dead end. It is impossible to construct a real federation in Russia from Moscow.” Anyone who assumes power there, however committed to federalism and liberalism they may be will become centralist and authoritarian as a result.
Does no one remember what happened with “the chief democrat” Boris Yeltsin after he settled in the Kremlin?
To avoid that, the capital must be moved; but its shift must reflect a coming together of the regions rather than another imperial project from within the walls of the Kremlin. Otherwise, Moscow will continue to grow rich as the rest of the country becomes ever poorer, Tushin argues.
Again and again in Russian history, Moscow has “reproduced the imperial matrix and then boldly announced any number of projects for ‘development from above’” even though its own approach guarantees that it will continue to steal from “the provinces” to achieve a better life for itself.
Summing up, Tushin says it is absolutely necessary to shift the capital of Russia from Moscow to Siberia. But this process must not result in the construction in Siberia of “a new Moscow,’ a new imperial hyper-center, but rather the organization of a space for a real federal republic.”
If that happens, the Moscow Kremlin will remain only as a historical museum, one as interesting but as lacking in current power as the Roman coliseum.