Staunton, July 21 – Mikhail Degtaryev, a Duma deputy from the Liberal Democratic Republic of Russia (LDPR), is preparing legislation to replace the current administrative-territorial division of the Russian Federation in regions, territories and republics with the tsarist-era one of provinces (guberniya) and districts (uezd), an action he says would restore “historical justice” and end “the illogical arrangements” in Russia’s federal subjects now.
According to an article in Izvestiya July 21, Degtaryev’s proposal would also replace the current names of the republics and regions with those derived from the “historic names of their administrative centers.” Thus, the Moscow paper said, Leningrad Region would become St. Petersburg Province (guberniya).
Some Duma deputies told the paper that such changes would do “more harm than good,” but others welcomed them. Aleksandr Ageyev, the deputy chairman of the Russian legislature’s constitutional law committee, said that “it isn’t necessary to change anything” and that such “populist” proposals are dead on arrival.
But others, like Valentin Lebedev of Just Russia, said that he saw a great deal of utility in such steps because the current mixture of “Soviet and traditionally Russian toponyms” is absurd. Consequently, he said, he supports “the initiative of the return of guberniyas” and the other parts of Degtaryev’s proposal.
In recent months, the Duma has passed a variety of constitutionally questionable but populist inspired measures. In fact, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR has been the source of some of the most offensive and even absurd in this regard. And it is far from clear whether this measure will move forward let alone be approved.
Regardless of whether it does or not, however, it is important to recognize that this proposal is not simply about logic or names as Degtaryev and Izvestiya say. It is about power and especially the status of those non-Russian nations which have republics inside the borders of the Russian Federation.
Since his first term, Vladimir Putin has sought to downgrade them by stripping them of special powers and even the titles of president and by attempting to amalgamate them with neighboring and predominantly ethnic Russian regions. While he has enjoyed some success in the former, the Kremlin leader has been largely unsuccessful in the latter.
Putin has managed to combine most but not all of the so-called matryoshka republics, those which are surrounded by ethnic Russian territories, into the latter, but his plan to fold in larger non-Russian federation subjects into predominantly Russian ones has been stymied. In some areas, activists are even pushing to reverse what Putin has done.
Non-Russian groups across the country are thus certain to view the Degtaryev proposal as yet another attack on them, as an effort to end any special state status for non-Russian nation, even if the Duma does not approve this step now. As a result, this latest populist measure because it affects the non-Russians may have exactly the opposite effect its authors intend.