Thursday, August 31, 2023

‘Federalism One of Most Important Tools Putin Uses to Preserve his Personalist Dictatorship,’ Busygina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 29 – “The history of federalism in post-Soviet Russia has been truly dramatic,” Irina Busygina says. It began as a source of pride for the democrats and a showcase for Russian reforms, but today it “has become one of the most important tools working to preserve Putin’s personalist regime.”

            If Russia is to move toward democracy and freedom, the reasons behind this trajectory and what it will have to do to redirect this path must be carefully examined,  the Russian scholar currently at Harvard’s Davis Center says in a new 19-page essay, How to Reform Russian Federalism (in Russian;

            According to Busygina, “at the beginning of the 1990s, the choice of federalism was foreordained by the character of the political process in Russia: the weakness of the national center … and increasingly chaotic decentralization which was pushed by strong ethnic regions, above all Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.”

            “Under these conditions, the prospect of the territorial disintegration of the country along a scenario like the end of the Soviet Union looked completely real.” Russia was able to avoid that: “the country didn’t fall apart.” Moreover, “the reforms of federalism in the 1990s were presented to the West as evidence of the construction of a new democratic Russia.”

            In fact, that was not the case, Busygina continues. And “with the coming to power of President Vladimir Putin the situation changed radically.” He strengthened the federal center and reduced to almost a vanishing point the autonomous powers of the regions and republics. Moreover, he did this with the assistance of some in the regions.

            The Russian scholar argues that “there is still no satisfactory answer as to how Putin managed to break the ‘Yeltsin’ system of federalism so quickly and why the governors who were deputies in the Federation Council at the time themselves voted to lower their political status.” But it happened and federalism in the genuine meaning of the term was gutted.

            As a result, she continues, “the possibility of gradually correcting the distortions of federalism … was lost along with the hopes for the democratization of Russia.” In its place, “a model of authoritarian federalism was constructed, successfully working for the political survival of the incumbent president and strengthening his popularity.

            Those who want to change this situation must recognize that “federalism is a complex system of relationships, agreements, compromises and bargaining.” It isn’t a luxury in large and complex countries, but “a necessity” if they are to be democratic and capable of modernizing in response to change.

            Indeed, Busygina says, “genuine federalism not only allows but requires constant reforms or at least a constant readiness for reforms.” And maintaining such a readiness requires enormous efforts at the heart of which is a commitment to negotiations. “It involves not only the national center and the regions but all of the most important actors in the political system.”

            What Putin has put in its place is a political system which is “stable but not reformable,” and those who want reform must recognizing that. They must “understand that federalism is a subsystem within the framework of the ‘big’ national political system.” If it is instituted, Russia will reform as a democracy; if it isn’t, the country will continue as an authoritarian regime.

            “The destruction of the current model of relations between Moscow and the regions does not necessarily mean that the federal structure now on view will be destroyed.” That may happen in whole or in part, but those who hope for that must see that their task is the larger one of reforming the political system as a whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment