Monday, January 17, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Federal Districts Aren’t Working in Current Form, Daghestani Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 17 – Russia’s system of federal districts, which stand between Moscow and the subjects of the federation, needs to be fundamentally revised if it is to be effective and more than home for politicians who have failed elsewhere or the locus for the further growth of the bureaucracy, according to a Daghestani commentator.
In an article on the first anniversary of the creation of the North Caucasus Federal District, Albert Esedov says that many Daghestanis had great expectations for the new entity all the more so because President Dmitry Medvedev unlike his predecessor Vladimir Putin stressed the economic role of this institution (
And in the past year, there have been “several positive moves forward” – of “at the very least, a number of investment programs and plans have been adopted.” But there have been far more “shortcomings,” and these in turn raise some larger questions about the federal districts and how and even if they should develop in the future.
Among the problem with the North Caucasus Federal District, Esedov says, are the fact that “up until now the permanent address of the residence of the presidential plenipotentiary is not known, [its] organs and structures have not been formed, [its] website has not been launched, and there are no offices” to which the population can come with its problems.
Moreover, and in contrast to the situation in all other federal districts, no one has been talking about “the need to establish a federal university,” even though “by an irony of fate, all the major higher educational institutions of the region have already been united in a Southern Federal University,” except for Daghestani institutions which aren’t included.
But these are technical issues compared to some of the larger problems the existing federal districts present, Esedov says. Some of them don’t correspond to geography. The Southern Federal District, “which initially by the irony of fate was called the North Caucasus” one, for example, includes both subjects adjoining the Caucasus and some adjoining them.
And the North Caucasus Federal District doesn’t include Adygeya but does include Stavropol kray, the latter, Esedov suggests included by Moscow in order to “’correct’ the ‘less than good’ statistics” of the year-old federal district but an arrasngement with which Stavropol officials and residents are not pleased.
This “problem of the lack of correspondence of the borders with federal districts and the structures of regional identity at times,” the Daghestani analyst continues, “makes more difficult the work of the center with regions, by creating the phenomenon of ‘dissatisfied’ regions which resist integration in the framework of the existing federal districts.”
Putin set up the system in order to strengthen “the single system of executive power” by “distributing functions and authority of the organs of state power on three levels: the federal center, the federal districts and the subjects of the Federation.” But, Esedov points out, “this is [only] in theory.”
Moscow has never explained in detail why three-level federalism is necessary or defined in law the status of the federal districts. A major reason for this is that “all this would require constitutional amendments,” a step that the Moscow leadership has so far been quite reluctant to take.
Nor have their been “the necessary amendments” to the constitutions of the federal subjects, and consequently, one still has no reason, the Daghestani expert continues, “to consider the federal district as a link of the new territorial arrangement of the state.”
And Esedov continues, this federal innovation has taken place at a time when Moscow has been talking about amalgamating federal units, many of which have longstanding historical traditions and the destruction of which “in the name of the formal expansion of territory could be a political mistake not subject to correction.”
Because the federal districts have not been codified in law, their operations have depended in every case on “the personal factor,” on the individual in the top position, a pattern that further retards the institutionalization of the Russian political system even while allowing a place for more bureaucracy and for politicians who have failed elsewhere.
Finally, he points out, “there are no analogues in world practice to the three-level system of federalism” that Putin and Medvedev appear to be trying to put in place. Moreover, “the tendencies of development of federalism abroad are directed at the democratization of national political systems under conditions of decentralization and self-development of social systems.”
Such goals, Esedov argues, canb e achieved “only under conditions of systemic de-bureaucratization of the state and the construction of an open civil society,” exactly the opposite direction in which the Russian Federation with its federal districts is currently moving.
One possibility for Russian state development might be the elimination of first the presidents and heads of regions, then the elimination of regional parliaments, and finally the formation of real governments in the federal districts. That would be “logical,” he concludes, but it would certainly spark serious resistance.

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