Staunton, March 24 – Vladimir Putin has said and thus many in Russia and the West are prepared to accept that his proposal for amalgamating Russia’s regions and eliminating the non-Russian republics is necessary for the effective administration of the country, one consistent with contemporary international practice and the interests of the Russian people.
But according to an analysis prepared by Nail Gilmanov, a Tatar commentator, the Russian president’s proposal represents a retrograde step to increase central control over the country’s reigons and one that “ignores world practice, the Russian Constitution, good sense” and the interests of Russian citizens (www.irekle.org/articles/i39.html ).
He makes nine key arguments and provides extensive evidence in support of each:
· First, “almost all the largest states of the world are federations” and “the principles of federalism operate in many unitary states as well.”
· Second, “the subjects of a federation and regions in democratic statesin practice never are joined together.”
· Third, “the territorial division on the basis of nationality exists in one form or another in the majority of multi-national states.”
· Fourth, “plans for changing the structure of Russia are basd on the interests of the authorities and ruling elite and completely contradict the interests of the country and its citizens.
· Fifth, “the federalsstem with subjects of various types and a flexible system of relations with the regions is the only form of state administration acceptable for Russia.”
· Sixth, “at the foundation of federal relations must be the interests of citizens, respect for national feelings, regional and local patriotism and the rights of subjects of the Russian Federation.”
· Seventh, “the imposition of the term ‘[non-ethnic] Russian nation’ will not lead to the unity of the peoples of Russia.”
· Eighth, “real federalism and democracy are the basis for the preservation and successful development of the country.”
· And ninth, “one cannot move forward by idealizing the past and attempting to return to the Russia of the beginning of the 20th century.”
Gilmanov notes that while unitary states are more common than federal ones around the world, seven of the eight largest are federal – China is the exception – and that even it and many other unitary states maintai“This is in the interests of the powers that be but not of the citizenry and the country as a whole,” he suggests.
n one or another kind of autonomy for ethnic minorities. Moreover, he says, in Europe at least, existing regions are “never united or amalgamated;” they arise only by “the division of existing ones.”
“For the Russian authorities,” he continues, “the subjects of the federation and the citizens livingthere are simply territories and population which they are seeking to administer without paying attention to the interests and opinoiins of the latter.” That has led to “more utopian ideas” like amalgamation and grouping the country “around the 20 largest cities.”
These proposals are typically justified by Moscow’s claims that there are too many regions and republics to manage. But international experience suggests this is spurious: France has 96 departments even though it is smaller than Irkutsk oblast, and Japan, to give another example, has 47 prefectures, even though it is smaller than Arkhangelsk oblast.
Amalgamating regions, Gilmanov continues, is “a purely political decision directed at the centralization of administration and controlover the regions by the center and the liquidation o the national republics which will lead to the further decline in the effectiveness of administration.”
Moscow’s current striving to “unify the regions of the Russian Federation, to give them a similar status, title and name for the organs of power also does not confirm to world practice,” Gilmanov says. And “the opinion that a federation based on the nationality principle is weak is not true.”
The reality is “just the reverse,” with “attempts to do away with or limit the autonomy of national regions frequently leading to military conflicts and the collapse of the country,” as in the case of Kosovo, Abkhazia, South Osetia and Karabakh.”
Moreover, Moscow’s current drive “to return to the model of the territorial division of the Russian Empire is an attempt to return to an imperial and colonial system which existed in the world until the middle of the 20th century” but which does not exist now.
Other arguments advanced by Moscow in support of gubernization are equally weak if one examines the evidence. Russia is not nearly as ethnically complicated as Moscow likesto say. Yes, 195 peoples and ethnic groups were enumerated in the 2010 census, but 76 of these were foreigners, 43 others were ethnic groups that are part of larger nations, and “more than 25” were part of the numerically small peoples of North and Siberia.
Thus, “the peoples who have their own national republics and district within the Rsusian Federation form more than 99 percent of the total number of the indigenous non-Russian peoples of Russia, some 20 million in all.”
Nor is it true that the non-Russian republics are leading an attack on the Russian language, Gilmanov says. There too, the situation is just the reverse of what people in Moscow say. Ever more non-Russians are studying Russian in Tatarstan and other non-Russisan republics, and in 2010, 99.4 percent of the books, 99.8 percent of the journals, and 98.3 percent of the newspapers as measured by print run were in Russian.
Thus, “to assert that the national republics are harming the interests of ethnic Russians or even more to talk about the discrimination of the Russian language in them is not serious,” although unfortunately such claims are frequently made and often accepted without close examination.
Today, “the statehood of the republics [of the Russian Federation] is extremely limited and it does not threaten the unity” of the country. Consequently, trying to deprive the indigenous peoples of even formal statehood is equivalent to “depriving [their titular] peoples of the right to exist.”
Gilmanov notes that “a majority of ethnic Russians,” just like the non-Russians, “do not feel themselves to be masters in Russia.” Instead, they are subjects of the authorities who seek to deflect their anger at the center onto “inter-ethnic relations, the republics and their [supposed] powers.”
Such an approach won’t work forever, nor will attempts “to unite the peoples of the Russian Federation into ‘a [non-ethnic] Russian nation’ on the basis of foreign models and primitive patriotism.” Instead, the Tatarstan analyst argues, such efforts “will lead to a diametrically opposite result.”
Putin and his “party of power” believe that their greatest achievement was “te preservation of the unity of Russia” in the early 2000s. “But was there a threat to the disintegration of the country, with the exception ofChechnya?” In fact, no. “Neither then, nor now d there exist the legal, social or other preconditions” for that.
Indeed, “the majority of those whom the authorities consider separatists are seeking only genuine federalismand the observation of their own constitutional rights.” But Moscow’s current line, if it continues unchanged, could fundamentally transform the situation.
“Under conditions of harsh centralization, ineffectiveness and the arbitrary behavior of the authorities,” Gilmanov says, “the numbers of supporters for self-determination is growing not only in the republics but in certain other regions as well,” the direct result of the national and regional policy of the Kremlin and not hostile forces from outside.”
Putin succeededin building his power vertical, in establishing control over the regional leaderships, and in gaining control over the most important parts of the economy, Gilmanov notes, but at he price of “a reduction in the effectiveness of the economy and the system of administration” and the increase in corruption.
The Russian president and those around him “understand this,” but for the time being, “instead of decentralization and the development of federalism, the Kremlin on the contrary is seeking to further strengthen its own power by amalgamation and unification of the regions,” to “win time,” and “get out of the situation with minimal losses for itself.”
But “if the republics will be liquidated in the course of the amalgamation of regions, the authorities will lose their legitimacy in the minds of many peoples of the Russian Federation and they will begin a struggle for independence.” That will be the true “price of the adventure” that the ruling elite has thought up for itself.
That elite, including President Putin, “often accuses the citizens of Russia of legal nihilism,” Gilmanov notes, “but that phenomenon has a more dangerous form – legal nihilism on the part of the authorities themselves.”