Staunton, Aug. 31 – Oleg Bondarenko, the director of the Progressive Politics Foundation, on his return from a visit to Siberia says that “the further one is from Moscow, the more freedom one feels,” a conclusion that challenges the widespread assumption that just the reverse is the case.
In an article for Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Bondarenko draws five conclusions on the basis of his trip that support this view (ng.ru/kartblansh/2023-08-31/3_8815_kb.html):
· First, in Siberia, “political competition is alive. Democratic traditions among the Siberians are strong.” There are numerous opposition figures, and even the election commissions are freer than in the capitals.
· Second, the people are “brave, up to date, and principled” – in contrast to the people in the capitals who have none of these qualities.
· Third, “Siberia remains a reserve of political competition and therefore a guarantee of the country’s development.
· Fourth, the basic divide is not between donor regions and recipient ones but between officials who look only to Moscow and businesses and politicians who look to their own areas and think long term.
· And fifth, environmental issues are increasingly dominating the political agenda in the region.
“With each passing year,” Bondarenko says, “the budget for development will only decrease and thus the importance of public-private partnerships will grow. Initiative will pass into the hands of the regions … and the role of the federal center will objectively begin to decline, as local competition increases.”
The Moscow writer doesn’t mention yet another factor which all those who passed through the events of the late 1980s and 1991 will certainly recall: The union republics of the USSR grew in power precisely because they had elections that mattered while the president of the Soviet Union refused to subject himself to any real poll.