Staunton, Oct. 8 – Many commentaries today act as if the parade of sovereignties in the non-Russian republics at the end of Soviet times was a one-time act, ignoring two important things – the need for these newly proclaimed republics to set up a variety of institutions they did not have before and the active opposition of local Russians and other Slavs to the declarations.
Kazbek Achmiz, a senior historian at the Adygey Republic’s Institute for Humanitarian Research, provides a useful correction to the oversimplification of this process with a description of what happened in Adygeya in the wake of its declaration of state sovereignty in October 1990 (Vestnik nauki ARIGI 28(52): 79-84, online at natpressru.info/index.php?newsid=12605).
After the Adygeys had decided on the declaration, they faced the challenge of creating a new legislature and managing the process of elections so that the titular nationality, itself a minority in the republic, would have parity or close to parity relations with the non-Adygey population.
This was not an easy thing to decide. The Adygeys were uncertain how large the republic legislature should be and how elections could be set up to ensure that the titular nationality would remain dominant. The Russian Duma subsequently recommended a republic parliament of 100 with election districts drawn so that the Adygey population could ensure itself parity.
That was supported by the Committee of 40, a group of Adygey activists, who believed that without parity the republic would rapidly be transformed into a Russian oblast. And they had good reason for such fears because that is exactly what the Slavs of the region wanted and sought to promote.
What the Slavs did was to insist that elections must be on the basis of a one-man, one-vote basis without any adjustment for ethnicity. Had that approach been adopted, the Adygeys could have hoped for at most about a quarter of the seats; and their republic would have been transformed into an oblast.
Yury Kalmykov, a local official who subsequently became Boris Yeltsin’s justice minister, took the lead promoting as close to parity representation of the Adygs and Slavs as possible. He argued that republics should be able to ensure that the titular nationality would not be overwhelmed structurally in the political system.
The election districts he helped design ensured that the Adygs got 42 seats out of 100, not the absolute parity they sought but a number sufficient to prevent a Slavic takeover of Adygeya. That system remains largely in place, and this is one of the reasons that Adygeya despite being a matryoshka republic surrounded by a predominantly ethnic Russian area still exists.
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