By Paul Goble
The latest call to move the Russian capital from Moscow to east of the Urals (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/08/krupnov-proposes-shifting-capital-to.html) has sparked discussion even though most say the idea isn’t new and won’t ever be realized (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/08/history-suggests-cheaper-ways-to-get.html).
But the most important aspect of this discussion is not about a possible move to Irkutsk or Novosibirsk or someplace else but about the fateful role that a Russian capital wherever it might be inevitably plays for the country as a whole and in particular for the region in which it is situated.
Siberian historian Yury Chernyshev notes that proposals to shift the Russian capital from Moscow to a city in Siberia have become a commonplace, something used for PR purposes or to distract attention from real problems. “None of the current ‘elite’ of course, will voluntarily move to Siberia,” so these ideas are going nowhere (regnum.ru/news/polit/2312215.html).
At the same time, there is a real problem that lies behind such talk, he continues: “All Russia now is divided between Moscow and not-Moscow,” the result of Kremlin actions that have made federalism meaningless and that have sucked the best and the brightest out of the regions to the center, while allowing them to give orders and demand reports from the subjects.
As a result, Chernyshev says, there has been an even greater bureaucratization of the state apparatus than there was in the Soviet nomenklatura, and this in turn has frozen the development of the country and especially weakened its eastern regions where it is most difficult for people to survive.”
Vladislav Inozemtsev, a Moscow economist and commentator provides some additional discussion on what he calls “the dangers of de-Muscovization,” a process that he suggests ignores what the real problems of Russian administration now are and what needs to be done to correct them rather than just moving the capital city (snob.ru/selected/entry/128172).
Everyone should recognize that “the concentration of resources in the places most favorable for life is a natural worldwide tendency and [that] the chance for resettling millions of people in the tundra or the desert has disappeared since GULAG times,” Inozemtsev continues. The question people should be asking is very different.
How can Russia create conditions in which there are dozens of such cities which “could become “’anchors’ for people who don’t want to live in villages” and who would be quite content to live in a mid-sized city if it had all the features of modern life and a modicum of financial and political power.
Such a situation, of course, could arise “only under conditions of financial and political decentralization, the improvement of standards of living in the regions, and the weakening of the attractiveness not of Moscow as the capital but of the capital as such, wherever it might be located.”
That “will not be decided by transferring capital functions or changing the headquarters of state corporations,” he says. What is needed is that “business, intellectual centers, and mass media arise in the provinces rather than being ‘imposed’ there from the center. The most important condition for this is a rejection of vozhdizm, ‘the ‘tsarist’ tradition of our rule.”
“Moving the capital will not solve the problems of federalism.” What has to happen is htat the regions need to receive “or better” demand the right to oppose Moscow, to elect governors and mayors without the center having any say, and to manage their finances with a far greater accent on regional priorities.”
In short, “the basis of a real ‘de-Muscovization’ must be a new Federative treaty, in which the capital would not be a subject – a good example is Washington, which fulfills the functions of a capital but does not have any representation in the Congress of the United States,” Inozemtsev continues.
“If Russia were to become a genuine federation, one created from below rather than imposed from above,” then all relations between the center and the periphery and the meaning of the center would change, and the issue of where the capital should be would become something of secondary interest.
Inozemtsev explores a number of other reasons why simply moving the capital will do nothing to solve Russia’s problems. Among these is his observation that shifting the capital to Siberia “would neutralized the reformist potential of Siberia by killing in the cardle any attempts at decolonization of the still existing empire.”
Moreover, such a shift would lead to a new emphasis on raw materials rather than high tech as the basis of the economy and make Russia more Asian and less European. People should remember that “greater democracy or respect for law never has come to Russia from the East” and wouldn’t this time around.
Moscow for all its problems is like a large diamond, “one of the main glories of Russia.” Dividing it up or shifting its function to somewhere else would be like breaking it into pieces. Much would be lost and the resulting multiplicity would be worth far less than the single gem. The task, he says, is to create a setting for Moscow by building a federation from below.