Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Regionalism ‘Only Path to Democracy in Russia,’ Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 10 – The development of regionalism, according to a Yekaterinburg expert, is “the only path to democracy in Russia,” an observation that challenges both the powers that be and the opposition in Moscow but one that reflects renewed interest in that idea not only in the Urals region but in other parts of the country as well.
In an interview given to the National Democratic Alliance, Fedor Krasheninnikov, director of the Yekaterinburg Institute of Development and Modernization of Social Ties, argues that the “main task” Russians have now is to “return to the democracy” which “Putin’s authoritarianism” has undermined (
But coming up with ideas and a strategy is hard to do at the national level because the powers that be are generally able to prevent the kind of country-wide communication that genuine political parties and other movements require for success. And that means that regionally-based groups have a special role to play.
Thus, the Urals regional expert and activist continues, “regionalism in Russia is certainly the only path to a multi-party system and democracy because the very idea that in such an enormous country, people from the Pacific ocean to the Baltic Sea could unit around any concrete things is an absurdity.”
Attempting to come up with a program for such an enormous space, he continues, leads to a collection of “general phrases” rather than a statement of real interests. “For the majority of people,”Krasheninnikov says, “the interests of their region is the maximum for which they are prepared really to live with.”
When people start talking about “’the fate of the Motherland’ and such like,” that is “already in the realm of mythology – that is, a contemporary individual perhaps is ready at one point to repeat the slogans he has heard somewhere, but emotionally he is far from attached to them.”
For most Russians, “in reality, the Kurile islands or the day to day life of Daghestan is to put it mildly a matter of indifference. And this is not so bad if people love their district and their town and seek for it a better life [because] this is the only path of getting the entire country out of the dead end it finds itself in now.”
Consequently, regionalism should be supportered rather than opposed in the name of “’the united and indivisible’” country. The reason for that is obvious: “small states are completely able to find a place for themselves in the world economy and guarantee their citizens a worthy level of life.”
Living well and happily and having health children for whom there are good life chances are, Krasheninnikov continues, “far more important [to the people] than [all talk by their leaders about] some sort of incomprehensible geopolitical ambitions of an enormous, poor and angry country.”
Asked about the relationship of democracy and “civilized nationalism,” Krasheninnikov said that for himself “as for every Russian intellectual, this is a complicated and to a great extent personal issue.” But now he said he was convinced that “the idea of enlightened European liberal nationalism through occupy its place among the basic ideas of society.”
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “for long years, nationalism in our country was part of the imperial chauvinist complex of ideas” and closely linked to authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Today, Russian nationalism must break from that, from “great power chauvinism, from dislike of Europe and the United States, and from obscurantism and clericalism.”
Regions like the Greater Urals, he says, can play a big role in that. People in that region he said ar “more severe and concrete” than people elsewhere. They do not love beautiful words nad value people for their deeds.” Many of its residents trace their ancestry back to exiles and they are skeptical about the state and want to do things on their own.
Such attitudes can in and of themselves be a bulwark against the centralizing views of both the powers that be in Moscow and opposition parties there who often are just as hostile to the regions as are those they oppose at the center. And these attitudes can be a basis for shifting away from the imperialism of so many in Moscow.
Urals people, Krasheninnikov continues, cannot understand “the hysteria around the Caucasus” or “round Ukraine and the Baltic states.” For them, “the Mediterranean shores of Turkey are much closer than Crimea, Abkhazia and other former all-union resorts. And by the way, in the referendum about the preservation of the USSR in 1991,” they voted against.
After the Soviet Union disintegrated, the people of the region pushed for the formation of a Urals Republic not as many think as the first step toward independence from Russia but rather as a means of ensuring that Russia would not remain hypercentralized and thus not become a flourishing democracy.
Now, Krasheninnikov, when people see how their rights are being ignored by Moscow,
the idea of a Urals Republic “is experiencing a certain renaissance.” But unfortunately, the
achievements of Uraltsy in the early 1990s have been lost and the challenges they face now are greater (,
What is at stake, he concludes, is not just the fate of the Urals but that of Russia as a whole. “We have already seen how twice the zombies of empire have risen from the grave – after 1917 Lenin and Stalin revivedit, and after 1991, Yeltsin and Putin did. One must not allow it to happen a third time.”

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