Staunton, October 1 – When Vladimir Putin abolished the regional affairs ministry and transferred responsibility for nationality policy to the ministry of culture, he reassigned 40 officials from the one to the other. But now, the Russian Federation culture ministry says it needs 30 more and a deputy minister to oversee them.
These numbers highlight Moscow’s inattention to one of the Russian Federation’s biggest problems, but the situation is even worse than they suggest: According to a report in Nazaccent.ru, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky may not get even the additions he seeks.
On October 1, Medinsky made his request at a meeting of the presidium of the Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations. He said he had the support of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, but so far there has been no agreement on either an increase in the number of staffers working on this subject or a deputy minister to oversee them.
Instead, there was clear opposition from the Kremlin. Magomedsalam Magomedov, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration, noted that the culture ministry would not be responsible for many of the issues in this area that the regional affairs ministry had been and thus presumably would not need as large a staff, let alone a larger one.
The minister told the group that when the department responsible for nationality issues was in the now-disbanded regional affairs ministry, it had ten percent of the ministry’s staff positions but handled “30 percent of the flow of documents.” To deal with the situation, he said, the culture ministry needs “no fewer than 70 people.”
In other comments, Medinsky signaled that he will follow the Kremlin’s line very closely indeed. He said that his department will put “the stress on the harmonious combination of the interests of all the native peoples of Russia with account being taken for the development of the [ethnic] Russian people.”
Today, Vadim Shtepa, perhaps Russia’s leading authority on regional issues, also commented on the consequences of the demise of the regional affairs ministry for regional and ethnic issues.
“On the one hand,” he says, the regional affairs ministry was “not especially effective” and did not improve the level of development of any region in the country over its ten years of existence. “But on the other,” its demise especially given the appearance of regional development ministries for the Far East, the North Caucasus and Crimea raises the question of “how will Moscow deal with all the other regions?”
Of course, Shtepa continues, it should be “obvious” that all ministries should be involved in such problems and policies “because Russia consists of regions, and if this is forgotten, then the federal bureaucrats will turn out to be in some other dimension than the country” in which they and the population lives.
Handing this task to the culture ministry is not a solution, he says, because “the life and problems of numerically small indigenous peoples are not exhausted by folkloric exhibitions.” Instead, what Moscow needs to do is to follow what “practically every European country” has done and create “an entire network of agencies for regional development.”
At the very least, Moscow needs to help the regions “brand” themselves so that they can attract more tourists and investment, and Russian officials at the center must recognize that “local branding is a powerful instrument of integration.” Without it, “regions become culturally similar, lose interest in one another, and gradually are alienated from one another.”
Unfortunately, there seems to be little appreciation of that in Moscow, Shtepa says. Instead, “the current Russian authorities are not interested in the contemporary development of their own territories.” Rather, “as is typical of empires, [Moscow] is concerned only with adding new ones” to the areas under its control.