[Marxism] Russian artist Artyom Loskutov and "federalization"

Thomas Campbell avvakum at gmail.com
Wed Aug 6 22:35:28 MDT 2014

It's ironic that the Kremlin and its supporters are so keen to
"federalize" Ukraine when the same approach, or even just talking
about it, is practically forbidden in Russia itself.


Blocked BBC Interview Highlights Authorities' Insecurities
By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
Aug. 05 2014

In a move that showcased Russia's strained rapport with press freedom
and its fear of any challenge to the country's current composition,
the state media watchdog briefly blocked access to a BBC
Russian-language service interview about an upcoming piece of
unsanctioned performance art that was set to encourage greater
autonomy for Siberia. The next step may be to shut the website down
entirely, according to local media reports.

The Interview

The BBC's Russian-language service published an interview last week
with Novosibirsk activist Artyom Loskutov.

During the interview, Loskutov spoke of plans for an Aug. 17 street
performance, which he referred to as "a march for the federalization
of Siberia."

The farcical performance's handful of organizers planned to call for
the creation of a Siberian republic, or alternatively for its regions
to acquire the same rights as a republic. According to Luskatov, the
planned performance aimed primarily at provoking a public discourse
about perceived inequalities between Russia's regions.

But to the Russian authorities, the performance has been no laughing matter.

Of the Russian news websites that reported the upcoming performance,
14 pulled down their articles following demands from state media
watchdog Roskomnadzor, Izvestia reported Tuesday. On Friday,
Roskomnadzor blocked a page announcing the march on Vkontakte,
Russia's largest social network.

Roskomnadzor asked the BBC's Russian-language service to remove the
interview from its site, owing to the prohibition on inciting "mass
disorder, extremist activities or participation in  public activities
violating the legal order," Izvestia reported.

Acting head of the BBC's Russian-language service, Artyom Liss, wrote
on his blog Sunday that Roskomnadzor announced it had restricted
access to the webpage featuring the interview in accordance with
Russia's anti-extremism legislation.

To appease the agency's concerns, Liss announced that background
information on Loskutov — who is known for his controversial
performance-art activism — had been added as an introduction to the
interview, along with a note on the not-entirely-serious nature of the

Izvestia quoted an unidentified source close to Roskomnadzor as saying
that the agency was contemplating blocking the BBC Russian-language
service's website in the country altogether. The website — and the
interview with Loskutov —  are both accessible in Russia as of the
time of publication.

Russia's restriction on Internet content seen as subversive is not
unprecedented. In March, the Prosecutor General's Office ordered
restrictions on access to such opposition-friendly websites  as
Grani.ru, Kasparov.ru, and the blog of opposition leader Alexei
Navalny, saying they called  for "illegal activity and participation
in mass events held in violation of the established order."

Constitutional Issue

What has offended Russian authorities about the initiative — beyond
the proliferation of information about an unsanctioned public event —
is the unconstitutional nature of the idea of creating a Siberian
republic or changing the status of its regions, according to Dmitry
Zhuravlyov, director of the Moscow-based Institute for Regional

"I can understand the position of these people [organizers of the
march] on a psychological level," Zhuravlyov said. "They want to have
more control over the riches of Siberia, and that is understandable.
But what is unacceptable to Russia is that this whole idea goes
against the Constitution. You cannot change the status of your region
just like that."

Lately, Russian authorities have been particularly wary of talk of
separatism and of modifications to the country's federal structure.
President Vladimir Putin signed legislation last month introducing
prison sentences for violations of Russia's territorial integrity.

But Loskutov's initiative, at least as it was described in the BBC
interview, was not meant to advocate for Siberia's separation from
Russia. Rather, Siberia's standing within the Russian Federation is
what lies at the heart of the matter for Loskutov and a small number
of Siberians.

"Historically, Siberia is everything that lies beyond the Ural
Mountains," Loskutov told The Moscow Times on Tuesday. "But it is not
important which Siberia we are talking about — the historical
territory or the smaller federal district. What is important to us is
the message that there are inequalities between regions in this
country. This is what we want to draw attention to."

Siberia, in the broadest geographical interpretation, contains nearly
all different types of federal subjects found in the country:
republics, territories, regions, autonomous regions and areas.

Regions vs. Republics

The Russian Constitution endows republics, which were historically
defined along ethno-cultural lines, with more rights than regions.
Republics, for example, have the right to proclaim their own state
languages, to be used alongside Russian in local and regional state
institutions. Republics also have their own constitutions and
legislatures, and more latitude in the management of  resources.
Article 5 of the Constitution even refers to republics as "states,"
although they are not considered sovereign.

But revamping the constitution to change the status of Siberia's
regions — a legal procedure both the regions and central government
would have to agree to — would not be an ideal solution to
inequalities between Russia's regions, Zhuravlyov said.

"The regions of Siberia are not divided along ethnic lines [a mere
6,000 Russian citizens identified themselves as "Siberian" in the 2010
census] and there is almost no support for this project," he said.
"They do not need a republic. What really needs to happen is tax
earnings need to be redistributed in order to better cater to regional
needs. This needs to be done for the sake of all regions, not only for

In the 2000's, Russia's tax system underwent drastic changes that
channeled tax revenues from regional budgets into the federal coffers.
Because of these reforms, the federal government  decides which
regions get financial help from Moscow.

A History of Siberian Regionalism

The first movements in favor of Siberia's autonomy, known as Siberian
regionalism, emerged in the 19th century. Despite calls for greater
self-governance, only marginal factions of the Siberian regionalist
movement advocated separation from Russia.

For a brief period in the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution, Siberia
actually became independent from Russia. During that time, regional
assemblies and councils were established.

Failing to garner popular support, these formations were absorbed by
Soviet authorities in 1921, which tamed Siberia's former aspirations
of self-governance.

During Boris Yeltsin's presidency in the 1990s, tensions between
Siberian regions and the central government emerged, with advocacy
groups sprouting up to lobby for the regions' cause.

Territorial-administrative regions such as Sakha-Yakutia declared
their status as republics while coalitions like the Association of
Siberian Towns and the Siberian Agreement, whose signatories vowed to
cooperate in agricultural and industrial production, materialized.

These groups did not advocate for Siberia's separation from Russia but
rather for increased autonomy from Moscow.

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