Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Imperialists and Ethnocrats are ‘Two Sides of One Coin,’ Regionalist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 2 – Russia’s regions and republics are often lumped together or spoken of as two aspects of that country’s “asymmetrical federalism,” but Vadim Shtepa argues that “regionalism is the complete opposite of ethnocracy” and that “ethnocrats and imperialist are in fact two sides of one coin.”

            The Karelian regionalist who now lives in exile in Estonia where he edits the AfterEmpire portal points out that “regionalists of course respect the ethnic specificity of every region, but their chief goal is civic self-administration and free elections of the regional powers that be” (facebook.com/vadim.shtepa/posts/1483877431663242).

            To make his point, Shtepa cites the words of Russian imperialist Viktor Alksnis who told some non-Russians: “You want money for a national dance ensemble?’ we’ll give you that.’” As a rule, Shtepa says, ethnocrats are happy enough to take the money and remain and allow the Kremlin to continue to make all the political decisions for them.

            Shtepa’s observation on this point is important for three reasons. First, it is an indication of why in most cases, regionalism is a far greater threat to the Putin system than is ethnocratic nationalism. The former typically contains within it demands for increased popular participation in the political system; the latter often does not.

            Second, this distinction helps to explain why regionalists and ethnocrats, although often lumped together, find it so difficult to cooperate because they are pursuing different agendas, and why Moscow may very well have a vested interest in maintaining the non-Russian republics however much it talks about amalgamation.

            And third, it means that if Moscow puts too much pressure on the non-Russian republics, their leaders may be tempted to take a leaf from the book of the regionalists and seek the open support of their own populations against the center. That is what happened at the end of Gorbachev’s time, and it could happen again. 

            Indeed, that is exactly what Rashit Akhmetov, the editor of Zvezda Povolzhya, says the leadership of Tatarstan may be driven to do if Moscow continues its opposition to the extention of the power-sharing treaty between the Republic of Tatarstan and the Russian Federation (afterempire.info/2017/04/20/minnihanov-2/).

            The risks for Russia if the Kremlin continues its current line must be one of Vladimir Putin’s greatest fears – and that in turn may serve as a powerful constraint on what the Kremlin leader can and will do not only in Tatarstan but elsewhere -- even if that constraint is not current obvious to all concerned.

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