Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Number of States May Double in 21st Century and Russia May Contribute to that Trend, Moscow Expert Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 8 – The number of states in the world may double over the course of the next century, and the Russian Federation may contribute to their number unless its government and people recognize that genuine federalism is the best defense of the territorial integrity of multi-national states, according to a leading Moscow specialist.
In an interview taken by Yevgeny Shestakov published in “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” Vladimir Ryzhkov, a professor of the Higher School of Economics, argues that former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s suggestion that the regions and republics “take as much sovereignty as they can swallow” saved the country rather than threatened it as many think.
At that time, he points out, the center was failing to organize things, and it was critically important for the regions to take responsible on themselves for the development of the country. But despite all the changes in Russia since Yeltsin made his remarks, his words remain “important even today” (www.rg.ru/2011/02/03/ryjkov-site.html).
That is because the “extraordinary centralization” Vladimir Putin carried out, has left “the regions tied hands and feet.” The regional heads “cannot decide even elementary things” because “in each there are some 50 federal structures which are not subordinate to governors or egional deputies” and which are “too far from Moscow” to be controlled from there.
The threat of the disintegration of the Russian Federation in the 1990s was “very strongly exaggerated,” Ryzhkov says, and was more or less ended by the 1993 Constitution and by the actions of Putin after 1999. But some of the solutions have created new dangers, the Moscow scholar suggests.
As Russians are inclined to forget, “there are a great numer of examples when harsh centralization has led to the disintegration of the state,” he observes, and “on the contrary, decentralization, federalization and the taking into account of national diversity has more often serves to preserve the unity of the state.”
Despite the expectations of many, the number of national movements seeking their own country is increasing, in part at least because there is no “international standard for the creation” of new states.” Instead, sometimes the international community supports them and sometimes it doesn’t.
“But the general trend, if one looks at statistics,” Ryzhkov continues, “is the following: when the United Nations was established in 1945, it had 51 members. Now there are almost 200. That is, we see that the general trend in the world is all the same acquisition of statehood by ever newere and newer national groups and peoples.”
“If this trend continues,” he remarks, then in the 21st century the number of states may double again in the course of the 21st century.” Moreover, if Moscow handles the situation poorly, the Russian Federation itself could contribute to their number, something that would leave the country centered on Moscow much reduced.
Ryzhkov cites the observation of the great British ethnographic theorist Ernest Gellner that “Russia has few chances [to retain its current borders] because it is a large multinational state whose people ever more frequently recognize their national identities,” something Gellner regretted but concluded as true.
Russia has three “models of development,” Ryzhkov suggests, two of which will prove fatal. The first is a Reich, or “the construction of an ethnic Russian multi-national state, a ‘Russia for the Russians.’ This would mean collapse in the course of the country in the course of the [next] five or six years.”
The second scenario is the Byzantine one, and this, Ryzhkov says, is what is “takin place in Russia now,” something he describes as “the latest attempt to build an imperial state with a strong center in Moscow which will govern the borderlands including the national ones with the help either of local cadres or appointed governors.”
This path too is “dangerous: the extraordinary bureaucratization and centralization of administration will step by step create the basis for separatism because the powers assigne dyb Moscow will ever less be positively viewed by the local population” and “dissatisfaction [with them] will automatically mean dissatisfaction with Moscow.”
“This crude bureaucratic imperial path has already led to the country to collapse twice, in 1917 and 1991,” Ryzhkov argues. And it can do so again.
Only federalism and genuine federalism at that can save Russia, Ryzhkov argues, and consequently, Moscow must “return now to the very fruitful model of a federation which is written in our Constitution but not [yet] realized. In that way we will be able to avoid the danger of the collapse of the country.” But that is not just the best way but the only one.

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