Monday, June 1, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russian Regionalists View Moscow as the Enemy

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 1 – Residents in many regions of Russia are increasingly united not by nationality or by their political views but rather by hostility to Moscow and a belief that their territories must “prevail over ‘the center’ and not the other way around,” according to participants in a conference in St. Petersburg.
Last week, the Ingria Club held its annual meeting in that city’s Memorial Center, bringing together in the words of its organizers “people of the most varied nationalities and most varied political views but united by the history of [Ingermanland], its past, present and future (
All of them said that “Ingermanland” – the term they use to designate what Russian officials call the region in and around St. Petersburg – must resume its place “on the map of the world,” either as a member of the European Union, a region within the Russian Federation, or as an independent state.
The main thing, the participants said, was that “the people [of that historical region] should live well and that human rights should be respected” and that the name Ingermanland be back on the map because “St. Petersburg as a center of Leningrad oblast is historically nonsensical.”
One speaker at the meeting, Svetlana Gavrilina, argued that Moscow officials are wrong to denounce regionalists like the Ingermanlanders as “Russophobes,” “fascists” or “extremists” for using the term “Moskali” to designate people from the center. Not only is it a perfectly reasonable word in Belarusian, Ukrainian and Polish, but it is used among residents of Russia.
Regional specialists often employ it, she said, and she reported that in Kaliningrad-Koenigsberg, the non-contiguous part of the Russian Federation, children play war not between Russians and Germans but among Russians, Germans and Moskali. When they do, she said, the children playing Russians and Germans find they get along, but the Moskali fight both.
She suggested there are deeper cultural references as well. In certain dialects of Russian, a “Moskal’” is a soldier, someone from the outside, or even someone who threatens, the last use even information Aleksandr Pushkin’s lines at the beginning of his poem about the gypsies. And she cited the work of Valery Kizilov on the origin of the term.
According to Kizilov’s research, Gavrilina said, “a Moskal’ is an ideological supporter of the ‘Moscow Project,” that is the policy begun in the 14th century by Muscovite princes and putting forth as its highest goal the establishment and the strengthening of a centralized and militaristic state.”
A second speaker at the meeting, Vadim Shtepa, who writes frequently on ethnic and religious questions in the Russian Federation, insisted that the future of the people in the regions of that country depends on the emergence of “regional culturological projects” rather than on the triumph of the Moscow opposition which wants to put itself on top of the same “power vertical.”
In the eyes of both, he suggested, “the basic questions are decided by the Moscow ‘Politburo,’ and the regions (or as they love to say in Moscow, ‘the provinces’) are conceived only as executors. For regionalists, as a result, any difference between ‘the powers that be’ and ‘the opposition’ disappears.”
That helps to explain why Shtepa and a third speaker, Danil Lanin, also said that “regionalists do not fit fell into the old ‘right-left’ ideological model.” Instead, “people of the most varied views” are taking part, united not by a party program but by “the struggle to acquire political subjecthood for their own regions.”
That commonality, however, is something the Ingermanlanders hope to exploit: Participants at this meeting approved an appeal to other regionalist movements and groups elsewhere in the Russian Federation to come to St. Petersburg for a Congress of Regionalists of Russia later this year.

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