Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russian Duma Routinely Ignores Proposals from Regions, Opposition Parties

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 15 – The Russian Duma has ignored almost all of the 1351 proposals regional assemblies have sent to it for consideration, a pattern that highlights the one-way nature of Vladimir Putin’s power vertical and that is certain to offend many in the regions and republics who often know local conditions and popular attitudes better than anyone else.
In “Novyye izvestiya” today, Yevgeny Zubchenko reports that an increasing number of regions and municipalities are not bothering to submit proposals because they know that they are likely to have no effect. Of the 53 proposals representatives from Chelyabinsk oblast sent in, for example, the Duma approved one (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-09-15/114398/).
While some of the proposals from the regions are either parochial or silly and most are directed at the resolution “of regional problems arising in the course of the implementation of federal legislation, Duma deputy Valery Gartlung said, almost all of them “have a basis in reality,” although he conceded some are intended to strengthen the regions against the center.
Another Duma deputy, Viktor Ilyukhin, said that there are “very many proposals” from the regions” and that most of them are ignored. “I would say,” he continued, “that we look on them with a definite snobbery, even though [these ideas from the regions] are arising from life itself.”
But however that may be, Gartlung says that the Duma has worked out a regular system that leads to the rejection of legislative proposals from the regions, “if there is no positive conclusion by the government.” Since the federal bureaucracy isn’t interested in pushing something it did not invent, that means most such proposals are referred to committee and die.
Other deputies, including United Russia’s Valery Ryzansky, have a more positive view of the impact of such proposals. While few of them become laws on their own, he suggests, many of them play a role in influencing the legislation that is adopted, especially when the laws the Duma is considering affect regions from which these proposals spring.
Regional legislators are not the only ones being ignored, Gartlung responds. “In the Duma now, there is a pile of laws which have sat there for five or six or even eight years! And this concerns not only regional documents but those introduced by deputies who are not part of the United Russia fraction.”
Aleksandr Kynyev, the head of regional studies at the Foundation for the Development of Information Policy, is more blunt: “Everything which is not introduced by the president or the government goes directly into the trash. The Duma as an independent organ has been reduced to nothing. The opinion of people from the regions does not interest our vertical.”
Moscow political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin agrees: “the power vertical is so constructed that the connection with the regions is simply being lost” or more precisely “it is taking on a one-sided character” in which the center gives orders and the regions and republics are expected to implement them without raising any questions.
Such an arrangement is inherently dangerous. On the one hand, Moscow is losing an important source of ideas on how it should act. But on the other – and this is likely to be far more significant in many places – people in the regions and republics are being given a very clear understanding of just what the center thinks of them and their elected officials.
Under certain conditions and in certain places in the Russian Federation, that combination could prove explosive, possibly leading ever more people to view the regional governments as being on their side, something they do not do at present, and Moscow as the opponent of both.
At the very least, that could exacerbate tensions between Moscow and the regions and republics, and over time, it could even lead to a situation in which some regions or at least some regional leaders might begin to think more seriously about going their own way, thus presenting the center with yet another challenge it almost certainly would prefer to avoid.

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