By Paul Goble
Two segments of the Russian opposition, the typically Moscow-centric Russian liberals, and regional activists from various parts of the country are increasingly paying attention to each other, with the former now less dismissive of the latter as unpolitical marginals and the latter informing the thinking of the former about the need for federalism.
An important measure of this rapprochement is provided by the history of the first five meetings of the Free Russian Forum. In the first three, there was no special penal on regionalism and federalism, but in the last two there has been one; and in the fifth, some 58 cities and 50 regions were represented, far more than in the past (afterempire.info/2018/04/18/tyutrin/).
At the forum’s most recent meeting last week, the panel on regionalism included an impressive array of speakers, including Vadim Shtepa, editor of After Empire, Igor Yakovenko, a Russian commentator, Pavel Mezerin, head of the Free Ingria group, Pavel Ivlyev of Riga and New York, and Vadim Petrov, head of the banned Baltic Republic Party of Koenigsberg. In addition, there was a message from Rafis Kashapov, head of the Free Idel-Ural movement.
Among the many observations these leaders made were the following: Russia must eliminate its presidentialist system (Yakovenko), the Russian Federation is the only portion of the former Soviet space that retains its Soviet-era form (Ivlyev), and the path toward genuine federalism must begin by reversing the 2003 ban on regional parties (Shtepa) (afterempire.info/2018/04/16/5forum/).
On his organization’s portal, FreeIngria.org, Pavel Mezerin, provides an assessment of the way in which the liberal Free Russia Forum has evolved on issues of regionalism and federalism (freeingria.org/2018/04/kolonka-redaktora-svobodnoj-ingrii-po-itogam-5-foruma-svobodnoj-rossii-v-prekrasnoj-rossii-budushhego-ne-budet-prekrasnoj-rossii-budushhego-i-slava-bogu/).
A participant in each of the forums so far, Mezerin says that he has been pleased to see that others taking part in this meeting are slowly but surely shifting their views about federalism and regionalism toward a recognition that “Russia after Putin will not be Russia in manner that it is customarily understood.”
At the first sessions of the forum, people were afraid to say this out loud, but “little by little, ‘liberal imperialism’ and the Moscow-centricity of the organizers and speakers of the Forum were replaced by an understanding that Aleksey Navalny’s idea of ‘a Beautiful Russia of the Future’ with a ‘correct’ president instead of an ‘incorrect’ one is an unrealizable utopia.”
“Beginning with the fourth Forum, the idea of Russia as a parliamentary federation or even confederation became mainstream. And this,” Mezerin says, “is already closer to the truth!” Once Putin is gone, “the territory from Kaliningrad to Chukotka will be not simply a different state; it will be a different geopolitical space in principle.”
“In the Beautiful Russia of the Future there will not be a Beautiful Russia of the Future,” Mezerin continues. “That project has completed its historical mission. And thank God for that!”
The Free Ingria leader said that he had had numerous conversations with others from the St. Petersburg region and while disagreements remain, it is now possible for such discussions to take place. Moreover, there is a growing awareness that the term Ingria, “whether we like it or not is today a matter of politics.”