Friday, December 30, 2022

Genuine Federalism in Russia Must Rest on Ten Principles, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – In a nine-page policy paper for Reforum, Vadim Shtepa, a prominent Russian regioalist and the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal lists the ten principles on which “a reset” of federalism in the Russian Federation must take place if that system is to live up to its name.

            Shtepa points out that the current debate about whether Russia will or won’t disintegrate is taking place almost entirely from the point of view of the center rather than that of the regions. As a result, it ignores the positive goals and aspirations of the latter and focuses only on what the center will retain or lose (

            At the same time, the regionalist says that “the phenomenon of Muscovite hyper-centralism in both Soviet and post-Soviet times has inevitably led not to the development of federalism but to the rebirth of an imperial model of the metropolitan center and its colonies.” That means that what Russia needs is not some revival of federalism but its “reset.”

            To achieve that, Shtepa continues, the country must follow ten basic principles, each of which he discusses in some detail:

            First, the federation must be voluntary. Those who do not want to join must be allowed to leave and go their own way.

            Second, it must be symmetrical -- that is, all of its subjects must have equal status rather than as now some having more than others.

            Third, the country must undergo “de-Muscovization” – that is, the country requires a political capital that is separate from its cultural or economic one.

            Fourth, the borders of the component parts of the federation, which Shtepa refers to as republics, must be inviolable and based on mutually agreed to treaties.


            Fifth, the republics must stop being viewed as “subjects” of the center and instead be “states” which decide what to delegate to the center rather than as now, the center deciding what to delegate to its subjects.


            Sixth, human rights must be given priority over any decisions by either the central government or the governments of the states.


            Seventh, the principle of subsidiarity must be the operational basis of the system, an arrangement that will mean that the fewest possible decisions and taxation powers will be transferred to the central government from the states.


            Eighth, each state must have the freedom to decide which federal programs to participate in and to what degree.


            Ninth, the federal center must be blocked from taking any steps that violate these principles of federalism.


            And tenth, the federal treaty in which all this must be agreed to must become a fundamental part of the constitution of the new federation.”


            All this may seem utopian now and the details of each of these principles remain to be worked out, Shtepa concludes; but they represent only way that Russia can remain in one piece and move forward in the future.

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