Staunton, December 14 – A country or group of countries which declares itself to be a federation but does not give that term real content is at risk of falling apart, while one that does not only will retain all its parts but become an attractive model for people around the world, according to Vadim Shtepa.
In an article in Izvestiya yesterday, Shtepa, one of Russia’s leading regionalist commentators, makes a general argument that almost all of his readers are likely to read as an Aesopian language critique of what is happening in Russia now and what should be changed there.
The regionalist commentator approaches these issues in a roundabout way. He says that current talk about Russia’s need to make “a geopolitical choice” between Europe and China carries with it the unspoken implication that Russia cannot be a self-standing player on the international scene in its own right.
But, he continues, “any country or bloc of states, is strong not only on the basis of its economy or military. The main thing which in the final analysis makes the other forms of power possible is a definite civilizational project which makes a country attractive and influential around the world.”
The United States in the 18th and 19th century wasn’t a super power, but its system attracted “millions of active immigrants from the entire world,” allowing it to become one. In the 20th century, the USSR tried to present an “alternative” world project. It was partially successful in attracting “sympathy” but lost out because of its “conservative” and “imperial” elements.
Russia is currently searching for such a civilizational project, and that project “could become federalism” which is embodied “in the name of post-Soviet Russia” and its constitution. If this principle is “filled with new content,” Shtepa says, that could make Russia “competitive” internationally.
Since the beginning of 2014 alone, there have been moves in Scotland, Catalonia and Hong Kong toward “self-administration and self-determination,” moves that would not have occurred “if Great Britain, Spain and china were federations.” Were that the case, Shtepa says, “many issues could be resolved without radical slogans about independence.”
Federalism carries with it another advantage: it means that it is a mistake to call the Scots and Catalonian activists “’separatists’” because within the political whole of the European Union, from which neither wants to separate, both groups want simply to be part of the EU as full members rather than indirectly.
The two “look like ‘separatists’ only in a former, ‘pre-EU’ political optic, from the position of the capitals of former empires (London, Madrid, Paris and so on),” Shtepa argues. The EU’s federal structure thus looks especially attractive to portions of their countries at least at present.
But there is a danger that the EU, “with its growing bureaucratic centralization,” may not long “correspond to its historical federalist charters,” and that it turn could lead to its demise because “if some federation suddenly de facto ceases to embody that principle, then it by itself will provoke inter-ethnic splits.”
“That was the sad historical lesson of Yugoslavia,” the regionalist commentator says, adding that “today similar processes are being observed in Ukraine,” a country that wants to join Europe but also insists on the kind of unitary statehood that EU membership makes almost impossible.
“Demands from the outside on any country concerning the change of its government organization all the same look incorrect,” he continues. It is “much more effective” for any country that wants such changes to become itself “a vital and immediate example,” as Russia could do for Ukraine.
According to Shtepa, “the constitutional arrangement of our country as a federation now merits fundamental renewal,” including the restoration of elections for local and regional offices, the development of region to region contacts, and economic decentralization of the country as a whole.
If that happens, the commentator concludes, “not only will Russia’s regions become a clear example for the Ukrainians, but the Russian Federation as a whole would then have the kind of global civilizational project that would make it a center of attraction for other countries as well.