Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Bashkir Leader Decries Moscow’s ‘Instrumental’ Approach to Federalism

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 25 – In a speech that either represents his swansong or lays down a new agenda for the leaders of the regions and republics of the Russian Federation, Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov has denounced Moscow’s “instrumentalist” approach to federalism, an approach which violates both the Russian Constitution and the center’s promises to the people.
Last weekend, Rakhimov, 75, who is on the short list of many analysts of regional officials likely to be dismissed in the near future, delivered a major speech at an Ufa conference on the 90th anniversary of the formation of his republic attacking Moscow’s approach to federalism (
Moscow analysts have been discussing his remarks solely in terms of what his speech portend for Rakhimov’s future and for that of other senior regional leaders like Moscow’s Yury Luzhkov and Tatarstan’s Mintimir Shaimiyev ( and
But regardless of what happens next and whether Rakhimov remains in office, the Bashkortostan leader’s words merit attention for the perspective they provide on the history of federalism in the Russian Empire, the USSR, and the Russian Federation and for their defense of this form of government against those continue to work to subvert it.
As Russian officials are increasingly inclined do, the Bashkortostan leader began with a citation to the words of President Dmitry Medvedev, although they may not be the words that the Kremlin leader would be most pleased to have reference made. Medvedev, Rakhimov noted, has said that Moscow’s approach to federalism “to a large extent has developed by trial and error.”
Then, Rakhimov provided a definition of federalism with which many in Moscow in the past and now would not agree. “The essence of federalism,” he said, “is above all a culture of compromises between the central powers that be and the regions, between large and less numerous peoples and also between regions and republics.”
It is, he continued, “a horizontal arrangement of the state with a careful accounting of the social-economic and cultural-spiritual interests of the republics, oblasts and peoples.” And “if in this interrelationship, harmony is achieved, then the result is an all-around strengthening of the state, both as a whole and in its component parts.
But if the reverse is true, Rakhimov warned, then either excessive centralization with all power concentrated in Moscow or excessive regionalization “will lead to a weakening of the state and will not benefit the regions themselves,” however much some in the regions may believe otherwise.
Prior to 1917, Rakhimov noted, “almost all all-Russian parties, from the monarchists and Kadets on the one end to the Bolshevik leaders on the other spoke out, as is well known against a federal construction of Russia.” But the Bashkir leader continued, “the strength of national liberation movements forced a revision of their views.”
“If the liberal leaders did not go further than conversations and discussions [on this],” Rakhimov continued, “the Bolsheviks took up the idea of the federal construction of Russia in the final analysis as an instrument of attracting to their side the non-Russian peoples,” especially since the anti-Bolshevik movement remained opposed to concessions to these groups.
“But in this ‘instrumentalist’ approach [of the Bolsheviks] was concealed a major shortcoming which played out in the further fate of the USSR. They, like certain political figures and ideologues in the federal center even now do not want to understand and accept federalism as a value in and of itself and an absolute necessity” for the country.
However, the Bashkir leader said, given their instrumentalism in this area, the Bolsheviks made and then broke many of their “promises and undertakings” and became “supporters of the centralization of power and the transfer of all factories and land into the hands of the state,” thereby deceiving “the hopes of the people.”
Unfortunately, that pattern continues to this day, he said, with Moscow routinely violating the constitution and refusing to recognize the rights of the federal units in various spheres. And in the elaboration of new laws, the Russian Duma does not consider more than one in 14 of the proposals of the regions.
“Unfortunately,” too, Rakhimov pointed out, “on a majority of these questions, including cadres issues, the central ministries and administrations in recent years have devoted little attention to the prerogatives of the subjects of the federation despite the fact that the Constitution” directs them to do precisely that.
Moreover, “the number and staffs of federal structures in the localities are too large,” as a result of which there is “a great deal of unnecessary duplication and distrust. As if the republic is somehow involved in affairs far from Russian interests.” And there is as yet no budgetary federalism of the kind the Constitution mandates.
Nowhere are these problems between the center and the regions and republics greater than in issues involving education, Rakhimov pointed out. Bashkortostan, like many other republics, has increased the number of schools in native languages and the amount of educational programs devoted to local subjects.
That is all permitted, even required by the Constitution, but recently Moscow has cut back the number of hours in the educational program controlled locally, something which strikes at the heart of the non-Russians because “language is the chief means of preserving national traditions, culture and morality.” Indeed, “without a language, there is no people.”
The regional component in education must be restored, Rakhimov said, and this must happen by federal law, or both the country as a whole and its individual republics and regions will suffer, something he concluded everyone interested “in the strengthening of the might of our federal state” would oppose.

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