Staunton, VA, September 13, 2016 – Russian opposition figures who took part in recent discussions in Tallinn and Vilnius said many “just words” about how totally predictable the upcoming elections in Russia will be, Vadim Shtepa says. But they were also totally predictable in focusing “almost exclusively” on Moscow and how Muscovites will react.
Participants in the Tallinn meeting did not mention the 7 gubernatorial or 39 regional parliament elections at all, the Karelian regionalist who now lives in Estonia says; and in Vilnius, these issues were discussed only in side panel in a smaller room than the venues for Muscovite concerns.
“In this,” Shtepa says, “the powers that be and the opposition surprisingly resemble one another.” And like the powers that be, the opposition figures when pressed about regional issues are dismissive saying that this is something to be discussed only in the future. Other “more important” issues need to be addressed first, they insist.
“The Russian opposition just like the powers that be does not want to think in federalist categories. Instead of ‘regions,’ it gladly uses the little imperial word ‘provinces.’” And both describe politicians from outside Moscow as “provincials.” No doubt, Shtepa says, a Barack Obama in Russia would be dismissed as a provincial for his Hawaiian birth.
But Russian opposition figures view Russia differently: “they dream of entering the medieval fortress [of the Kremlin] on a white horse and perhaps make it ‘more liberal. But the Kremlin-centric form of their thought is beyond question.” And that means there is no chance for real federalism as a political program from the current opposition.
Shtepa gives the following example: “Not one opposition party is speaking out against the hypercentralism of the Russian economy,” and even opposition figures like Gari Kasparov who has called for a reset of Russia via a constituent assembly does not mention the word federalism once in his programmatic document.
The only way this is going to change, the regionalist suggests, is when the opposition faces up to the real reasons behind its inevitable losses. Those are not just the result of Moscow’s pressure; they are also the result of their own neglect of everything and everyone in Russia that is not within the ring road.
The opposition needs to focus on what is going on in the regions and republics and to rework their programs to include sections on “’regionalization.’” One first step they could take, Shtepa says, is to demand that Russian law be changed to allow for the organization of regional political parties. That is what Europe does; it is what Russia needs to do.