RFE/RL Russian Federation Report: excerpts

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RFE/RL Russian Federation Report: excerpts 

RFE/RL Russian Federation Report
Vol. 3, No. 25, 17 September 2001
A Survey of Developments in the Regions Outside Moscow Prepared by the
Staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


outside Russia and Russian citizens attending a forum on the Russian
Far East in Vladivostok have called on the State Duma to declare the
region a "high-risk" territory, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 September.
Participants in the forum declared that the region's demographic
problems are particularly pressing, as more than 600,000 people have
left the region and the death rate is double that of the birth rate,
"Kommersant-Daily" reported. According to the daily, demographic
pressure from China is being felt all the more strongly, since around
150 million people live in that country's northeast provinces compared
with just 6 million Russians on the Far Eastern territory. Currently
there are tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants in the Far East, but
"obviously the Chinese will become more and more numerous." The daily
continued, "Therefore in the distant future, Russia without any war
can lose its eastern regions." JAC
other attacks on foreign students at other regional universities (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2001), "Obshchaya gazeta" No. 36 reported
that no less than eight of 33 Chinese students sent to study at Orel
State University have decided to go home following racially motivated
attacks. A leader of the Chinese students told the weekly of two
attacks against the students within a week, one by men in white and
red masks outside the students' dormitory. Viktor Livtsov, head of the
oblast's committee for youth affairs, believes that local skinheads
who deal "aggressively" with outsiders are behind the attacks. JAC


speaker of Tatarstan's legislative assembly, told RIA-Novosti on 10
September that a Constitutional Commission for drafting a new version
of the republic's fundamental law will be formed at the legislature's
next session, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Mukhametshin
acknowledged that "correcting the constitution is a major issue on
Tatarstan's political agenda." He added that the article saying
Tatarstan is a sovereign state "associated with the Russian
Federation" will be dropped. JAC
by Paul Goble

Russian Federation Affairs, National and Migration Policies Minister
Aleksandr Blokhin said at the beginning of this month that it makes no
sense to have one sovereign state within another - a statement that is
contradicted by the experience of other federal countries around the
world but that threatens popular sovereignty in Russia itself.

Speaking in Ufa on 2 September, Blokhin said that Bashkortostan, a
republic in the Middle Volga region, has no sovereignty because the
location of one sovereign state within another is "nonsense," RFE/RL's
Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. Only the Russian Federation is
sovereign, Blokhin said, not any of its constituent parts.

Blokhin's remarks appear to reflect part of Moscow's drive under
President Vladimir Putin to restore central government control over
the far-flung regions and republics of the Russian Federation. But
there are three reasons why his comments are both problematic and
threaten the very notion of popular sovereignty that lies at the basis
of a democratic society.

First of all, the sovereignty declarations of the republics within
Russia adopted a decade ago as the Soviet Union was disintegrating
have played a key role in helping to manage the devolution of power
from the hypercentralized Soviet state. Moreover, as Bashkortostan's
"Kyzyl tang" newspaper reported last week, these declarations, and
especially the one by neighboring Tatarstan, helped the republics to
affirm popular sovereignty and thus promoted federalism.

Had the republics not issued such declarations of sovereignty, the
paper suggested, there would have been only two choices in the last
decade: either the continuation of control from Moscow or a drive
toward independence by the republics. These declarations, the paper
continued, in effect prevented both, a contribution Blokhin ignores.

Second, Blokhin's assertion that there cannot be one sovereign state
within another simply does not square with international practice. In
most federal systems, including most prominently that of the United
States, both the individual member states and the country as a whole
are sovereign. Thus, the state of Virginia describes itself as a
sovereign commonwealth, and the United States of America is also a
sovereign nation.

That is possible because the sovereignty referred to at both the state
and federal level refers to popular sovereignty, the rule of the
people as expressed through their democratically elected
representatives. In the U.S., there is a continuing tug of war between
the powers of Washington and the powers of the state government, but
no one on either side of the divide challenges the existence of what
Russians might call matryoshka-doll-like federalism.

Indeed, over the last decade there has been a revival of discussions
of American federalism that identifies these shared sovereignties as
being at the core of the nature of the American republic. Precisely
because the states are sovereign, they can take actions that are not
simply copies of central government plans. That not only allows for
more variety and experimentation, but it serves as a check on the
power of the central government.

And third, Blokhin's comments in the Bashkortostan capital call
attention to a tendency in contemporary Russian political thought that
may constitute one of the most serious obstacles to the development of
liberal democracy in that country. For Blokhin and for those who share
his approach, sovereignty is less about popular rule than about the
power of the state, an entity which stands above and beyond the
society over which it rules. Such a conception of political life has a
long history in Europe and Russia itself, but because it minimizes the
role of the people in governing themselves, this conceptualization of
sovereignty can represent a potentially serious threat to the
prospects for democracy.

If the state rather than the people is the sovereign, as Blokhin
maintains, then the state can swallow up the society rather than serve
as the expression of the will of the people. And in that event,
comments like Blokhin's in a Middle Volga republic two weeks ago may
be the harbinger of something far more troubling than the simple
cancellation of the sovereignty declarations adopted by Russia's
republics a decade ago.
Copyright (c) 2001. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.
"RFE/RL Russian Federation Report" is prepared by Julie A. Corwin
(JAC) on the basis of a variety of sources, including reporting by
"RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. Regular
contributors are Liz Fuller (LF), and Paul Goble (PG). It is
distributed every Wednesday.
Direct comments to Julie A. Corwin at corwinj@rferl.org. For
information on subscriptions or reprints, see:

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