Sunday, June 7, 2009

Russia more centralized than in Soviet times

The above article entitled, “Russia Now More Centralized than in Soviet Times, Bashkir President Says” was written by Paul Goble and posted to his web site “Window on Eurasia on June 5, 2009.

I’ll quote a bit from the article and then comment below:

Murtaza Rakhimov, president of Bashkortostan [also called Bashkir] says, according to Goble that “Russia today is ‘a one-party system’ with a level of centralization ‘worse than in Soviet times,’ . . .”

[A observer says other leaders think the same thing: ( ).]

The Bashkortosatan leader’s “. . .most important comments concerned the state of federalism in Russia and the shifting balance of power between Moscow and the regions and republics. According to Rakhimov, Bashkortostan took “only as much power as Boris [Yeltsin] gave and no more.” And now Moscow is taking back too much power. . . and now, because the center appears to have forgotten that the essence of federalism is ‘in compromises between the central powers and the regions,’ there are real problems for the system as a whole.

“. . . he said that the Soviet Union fell apart precisely because Moscow was unwilling to give the regions the necessary amount of authority. Rakhimov said that as for himself, he remains convinced that ‘perhaps,’ if Moscow had done so at the time, ‘the Soviet Union would not have collapsed.’

Rakhimov “. . . said that some Russian officials now unfortunately share the same failing of their Soviet predecessors: ‘they do not want to understand and acknowledge the absolute need for federalism. As a result . . . now everything is imposed from above. The level of centralization is even worse than it was in Soviet times. [Moscow demonstrates] a lack of trust and respect in relation to the localities,’ as when it replaces local cadres in federal offices in the region with ‘people sent from the center.’

“. . . Asked whether . . . slogans like ‘Bashkortostan and Russia, together forever!’ did not somehow imply that Bashkortostan is not part of Russia, Rakhimov replied with blunt language that will outrage many in the Russian capital now. ‘Without Russia, there is no Bashkortostan . . .but it is also the case that without Bashkortostan, Russia does not exist. Russia is a federal state, and we [in Bashkortostan who at the dawn of Soviet times] formed the first Russian autonomy, laid the foundation’ of the country.

“. . . Rakhimov sharply criticized Moscow for relying on the export of oil and gas rather than processed goods and for failing to send the earnings from these sales back to regions like Bashkortostan which are the source of this wealth. . . [Rakhimov] noted that ‘it was possible to live even under Soviet power when everyone said, “As long as there isn’t a war!” But with such an approach,’ Rakhimov said, ‘we will never build a normal civil society and law-based state.’”


Centralized governments have existed far longer than the Liberal Democracies that have only been around since the 18th Century, but a rather strong argument has been made by Francis Fukuyama and others that Liberal Democracies are the most efficient forms of societies and governments. They provide the most stable and lucrative living conditions for the most people and since their economic interests are based upon stability, they are opposed to wars with each other. A corporation that puts another countries corporation out of business may cause a merger, but it won’t cause a war.

Centralized governments are viewed with suspicion by Liberal Democracies because a Centralized Government’s interests may not be compatible with the economic patterns of Liberal Democracies. We can consider the extreme case of Kim il-Sun of North Korea. His government is centralized and secretive. He keeps his activities hidden. Liberal Democracies are not going to trust such a government like his.

A different sort of Centralized Government is to be found in China. It is more enlightened, more conscious of the need to be answerable to its people. It does indeed have its sore subjects such as Tiananmen, and the Independence of Taiwan, but Liberal Democracies and the Chinese Government have learned to do business together. The Chinese economy is now interconnected with Liberal Democratic economies such that if one side (hypothetically) were to start a war with the other, it would almost certainly bring economic disaster upon itself. North Korea does not have that sort of relationship with any Liberal Democracy.

But the Russian Federation does. The Russian Federation is not yet a vibrant Liberal Democracy, but it does depend upon trade with European nations. Disgruntled members of the Federation like Bashkortostan (if we can call it and not just its president disgruntled) could cause (costly) trouble if they are not treated with respect.

As to Rakhimov’s assertion that the Russian government is more centralized than it was in the USSR, let us hope that Rakhimov’s comments were politically motivated and intended to be taken literally – although the disease of stronger centralized government seems to be going around. I think we have a bad case of it here in the US.

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