Staunton, August 2 – On August 1, the Russian government forced Slon.ru to remove an interview with a leader of the Siberian regionalist movement only to have it appear on other sites almost instantly.
On the one hand, the ban reflects Moscow’s nervousness about the announcement of plans by Siberian regionalists to hold “a march for the federalization of Siberia” in Novosibirsk on August 17th, a demonstration that organizers say will take place under slogans calling for Siberia to “stop feeding Moscow” and to “create a Siberian Republic” within Russia.
And on the other, the failure of the ban to work as planned shows the difficulties Moscow faces in trying to restrict such information online. There are always other sites people can place their news on, and Internet users are far less likely to be discouraged from finding them than are those who rely on newspapers or television alone. Indeed, a ban may only heighten interest.
The article Moscow sought to block and that is nonetheless available consists of an interview with Artyom Loskutov, a longtime advocate of Siberian identity and regionalism and one of the organizers of the August 17 demonstration. Reading his words one can see why the Russian authorities are worried.
Loskutov makes it clear that the events in Eastern Ukraine have had “a great influence” on autonomy ideas and projects within Russia. Indeed, he says, those events have changed the climate inside the country. And as a result, he warned that “a new wave is coming” not only in Siberia but in Russia as a whole.
Moreover, he stressed that the Siberian movement is highly decentralized “as befits a movement” committed to the decentralization of the country. He insisted that his movement is “not about separatism; it’s in full compliance with the law” because “we are talking about creating a new region within Russia.”
And he said that Siberia is not the only region within Russia that needs greater autonomy. “Everyone deserves it,” Loskutov said. “Our constitution provides for independence of the regions; the law just has to be implemented. We must have as much autonomy as possible. It’s stupid to live in Siberia according to laws pushed from St. Petersburg.”
Under current conditions, he said, “Siberia gives away her resources and gets piles of dumb laws in return.”
Siberian regionalism, the sense that Siberia is “a colony” and that that arrangement “isn’t right,” has existed for more than a century, Loskutov continued. He said it has gone through “several waves” and is now “very popular among ordinary people. Everyone understands Siberia is feeding the country by supply oil and gas but Siberia isn’t the main beneficiary.”
That is “obvious,” even if politicians “never mention it openly,” but “no one can argue with that,” Loskutov concluded.