By Paul Goble
Over the past several years, Vladimir Putin has successfully moved to limit the freedom of action of regions and republics; but to date, he and his regime have done far less to rein in the municipalities within each of these federal subjects, government bodies that are often more independent-minded than their regional heads.
Because the leaders of the municipalities are not appointed by and thus beholden to Moscow – in sharp contrast to the Kremlin-appointed federal subject heads – they often reflect local views more accurately and within their competence often are able to block central and regional initiatives.
Nowhere is this power of the municipalities greater than in the field of education, and so it is not surprising that in Moscow’s drive to imposes the tightest possible central control, Education Minister Olga Vasilyeva is taking the lead, transferring control of schools and school programs from the municipalities to the federal subjects.
She began this process a year ago with a pilot program in 17 regions but now wants to extend it across the entire Russian Federation. And she is insisting that the shift be made within a year or two, apparently fearful, Ramazan Alpaut says, that shifting ethnic balance in the country will make it more difficult to do so after that time (idelreal.org/a/28985510.html).
According to the Radio Svoboda commentator, “the federal authorities are hastening to finally ‘solve the nationality question’ while ethnic Russians still form an absolute majority in the country because if the proportions change, this will make such a process much more difficult.”
“However strange it may sound,” Alpaut continues, “the remnant of freedom of the subjects are preserved [more] among the municipalities [than among the regions]. For example, in Daghestan, the heads of districts are influential centers of fore which can sabotage the decisions of regional heads. The latter as a rule in Russia are executors of Moscow’s will.”
That is especially the case, the commentator says, “in a number of republics where there are no longer direct elections” for the top job. And all this means that Moscow has taken it centralization drive to a new level and that resistance to that move is likely to come below the radar screen of many outside this or that region.