Staunton, August 4 – Moscow’s adoption of ‘imperial federalism’ as a strategy to extend its power over neighboring countries is sparking a variety of demands within the Russian Federation for moves toward making that country a genuine and not only a nominal federal system, according to Vadim Shtepa.
In an article on Rufabula.com, Shtepa, one of Russia’s leading federalist writers, surveys what is becoming an ever richer and more diverse set of actions within the Russian Federation with regard to the possibility of changing center-periphery relations.
The power of federalist ideas in the population is shown by the way in which the Siberian March was transformed from being an “artistic action” into something more political, the unintended result of Moscow’s efforts to link it with what the Russian authorities are themselves promoting in Eastern Ukraine, the federalist says.
Siberian regionalists, from the 19th century to the present, Shtepa says, are not separatists but rather against the European portion of Russia taking so much from Siberia and giving “practically nothing” back. But “from an imperialist point of view,” even raising that issue looks like and is treated as if it were separatism.
“The stereotype that the unity of the country is maintained only by the centralization of all resources and that all other models of state arrangements threaten ‘disintegration’ have turned out to be even stronger now than they were in the century before last,” Shtepa continues, as Moscow’s reaction to the Siberian March shows.
In doing this, Moscow is falling into the trap of ‘the Streisand effect’ in which “efforts to prevent information from being disseminated have the unintended effect of leading to its broader dissemination.”
Shtepa says that he agrees with commentator Leonid Volkov that the Russian Federation is “a fiction” and “a farce,” something Moscow supports abroad but is very much opposed at home. That problem has its origins, he says, in the 1992 Federation Treaty which was not among federal units but between Moscow and each of them.
According to Shtepa, “the Siberians are returning the meaning of federalism to its original ones” because “genuine federalism has a regionalist nature, that is, it is based on regional civic self-administration.” It is not ethnic. Siberians are mostly ethnic Russians “but in their worldview, they are extremely far from Russian nationalism, which today most often has a unitary-centralist character.”
Shtepa criticizes the current writer for referring to Karelian republicans as “nationalists,” in a Window on Eurasia. He said such references elicited “ironic smiles” among the followers of that trend. The Karelian republicans are seeking not an ethnic state but a regional unit within the Russian Federation. The same thing, he continues, is true among the Ingermanlanders and Koenigsbergers.
Shtepa does not deny that nationalism can affect regionalist movements. At the same time, he argues that those like historian Daniil Kotsyubinsky, who say that “an empire in principle cannot be a federation and therefore is condemned only to disintegration” are wrong. Empires can evolve in many ways, as Germany, for example, has.
But more important than examples of such evolution is what he calls “the unconstructive” nature of suggestions that the Russian imperial state can only disintegrate. From “a purely psychological point of view,” that will not help the regionalists win support; and it will give Moscow an excuse to crack down on them.
Shtepa says that in the current environment, the ideas expressed in the Manifesto of the Congress of Federalists are once again extremely relevant. Those were developed jointly by various regional movements on the basis of the upsurge of civic activism in 2011-2012 and can guide the Siberians and others as well.
Failure by such movements to avoid separatist slogans would be “a major mistake,” he says, because “among various Russian oblasts and republics are a multitude of human and economic ties. Why disrupt them?” Instead, what has to happen is to make them “’horizontal’ and ‘equal’” instead of all being subordinate and “’vertical.’”
“The Siberian March is an enlivening of full-fledged Russian federalism based on the mutual interested inter-regional links. The imperial defenders who are prohibited it are in fact violating the federal bases of the Constitution and themselves much answer before an independent court,” Shtepa concludes.