Friday, June 11, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Regionalism Becoming a Greater Threat to Moscow than Nationalism, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 11 – Ethno-nationalism continues to attract more attention from analysts in both Moscow and the West, but according to one Russian analyst, regionalist movements based on territorial identities may prove to be a far greater threat to the future shape of the Russian Federation.
In an essay on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal yesterday, Anton Razmakhnin assesses the various regionalist movements and their varying strength and concludes that as “the regions ever more loudly demand real autonomy,” Russia might “several years from now cease to exist in its current form” (
Such movements, be they in Siberia, Cossack areas, or the Northwestern portion of the country, he suggests, could lead to a change “either in the formal, the structure or the extent of the state,” a prediction that seems likely to prove true given that the continuing ebb and flow of power between the center and the periphery shows no sign of abating.
Consequently, Razmakhnin’s argument represents a useful corrective to the common view that predominantly ethnic Russian regions form the foundation of Moscow’s power rather than represent a challenge to it. But if that is case, it is also true that the Russian analyst’s suggestion requires a corrective as well.
On the one hand, Moscow has a variety of resources to counter regionalist movements ranging from appointing outside leaders and sending in force to buying off key regional elites and playing up foreign threats, all of which it can deploy more easily against Russian areas than non-Russian ones.
And on the other, while they sometimes feed on each other – as in the case of Polish nationalism and the Siberian oblastnichestvo in the 1860s – regionalism often declines when nationalism is on the rise because Russians feel they that the country bearing their name is threatened by non-Russians as the Russian Federation is likely to continue to face.
Razmakhnin says that his specific task in this article was to explore “how strong are the tendencies toward autonomy in the various regions of the country and how the regionalists of Russia see their after ‘a divorce’” if it should come to that and “if the present ‘perestroika 20 years later’ should end the same way as it did in the USSR.”
In many ways, the “Svobodnaya pressa” analyst says, the Far East is both the archetypical and the strongest regionalist movement, even if one does not accept the notion that some of those killed by the Russian militia in recent weeks were in fact “partisans” of this idea (
That conclusion also reflects the strength of the automobile protests and the fact that local militia units were unwilling to deploy against the demonstrators, something that suggests regionalist attitudes are not marginal but rather widespread in the population and found in the bureaucracy as well.
Moreover, as Razmakhnin notes, “residents of the Transbaikal and Far East for a long time already have been calling ‘Russia’ basically the space to the west of the Urals.” In short, “at the level of identity, the east of the country is already prepared to recognize itself as ‘self-standing.’”
Supporting that trend, he continues, is the appearance in recent months of “autonomist symbols” and vocabulary in all political conversations “from the pollution of Baikal to the latest attack on cars with driver’s wheels on the right side.” And such use of language by itself helps to promote a regionalist identity.
Analysts who are part of the Baikal environmental protection movement say that those who have been mobilized by ecological concerns “may pass on to the next tasks, for example, to the preservation and development of national autonomies and to the strengthening of the regions in terms of self-administration” (
That course appears to have been reflected at Mezhdurechensk a month ago, the “Svobodnaya pressa” analyst says, because striking miners, according to certain local sources, added to their economic demands the political demand that their region become “an independent West Siberian Republic” (
Other regionalist movements that Razmakhnin discusses include the Cossacks of the North Caucasus who would like to see established a Cossakia Republic, the ethnic Russians of Stavropol kray, who would like their region to become a republic, Ivangorod ( whose residents want to join Estonia (, Pskov whose residents would like to be part of Europe (, and Karelians who would like to be part of Finland (
According to the “Svobodnaya Pressa” writer, this list is not exhaustive. “In the other regions of Russia among the radically inclined intelligentsia also are being developed autonomy projects, calls for expanded federalism, and sometimes even complete separation from the Russian Federation.”
“Such ideas,” he says, are very much alive in the Urals, the Middle Volga region, and in Kaliningrad, although” he acknowledges that “in all these regions there are as yet not obvious symptoms of a shift from words to action.” But even these discussions, he concludes, are enough to show that the regions are again “an objective factor of Russian life.”

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