Sunday, January 28, 2024

Democratic Federalism Best Way Forward for Russia Because Regions, Republics and Center have More in Common than Many Think, Garmazhapova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 25 -- Aleksandra Garmazhapova, head of the Free Buryatia Foundation, says that it is very easy for both Russians and non-Russians to “play the national card and say that some nations are bad and others good,” but they have more in common than they think and the best way forward toward a better life is democratic federalism.

            The Buryat native, who grew up in St. Petersburg but now lives in exile in the United States, argues that “federalism is connected with democratization as the one without the other is impossible in Russia” (

            When democratic federalism exists, each component may choose via referendum to exit; but most won’t because they will benefit from remaining within the larger country, Garmazhapova says. In any case, that choice and issues about borders should not be dealt with immediately but only after the institutionalization of democratic federalism.

            At present, activists both among the non-Russians and the Russians aren’t focusing on this requirement. “The Russian opposition in exile is often Moscow-centric: its view is the view from the capital” which looks on the regions as if they are not sufficiently developed to be able to make their own choices in a democracy.

            The non-Russians respond in kind, she continues. They see the oppositionists from Moscow as reflecting the imperialism of the current rulers of Russia rather than simply reflecting the views of the people who live in the capital as such. Garmazhapova says she understands this because while she was born in Buryatia, she grew up in St. Petersburg.

            She argues that there is a demand for federalization in historically Russian regions “and not only in national republics,” something that neither tends to recognize in the other but that can serve as an important basis for the promotion of democratic federalism in a future Russian Federation.

            Those within the borders of the today’s Russia “have been really unlucky,” she continues. “But this is not the end. We who are very different nonetheless have many things in common. In fact, Russian citizens have more in common than they have things which set them apart.” It is important for both sides to recognize this and “’not lose heart.’”

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