Sunday, November 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Forces Transforming Nation States Increasingly Threaten Russia, Travin Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 16 – Nation states are increasingly joining together to form supra-national organizations even as they have been forced to recognize the vitality of sub-national regional identities, two trends that call into question the current policies of the Russian government and may ultimately make their realization imposible, according to Dmitry Travin.


            Nation states were originally organized because only they could allow governments to collect the revenue needed to conduct wars and to allow business to operate within their borders without the kinds of regional obstacles that had been characteristic of feudal states, the professor at St. Petersburg’s Humanities University says (


            But since World War II, the nation state has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with fighting wars. Instead, it is focused on promoting the social well-being of its population. And that shift in goals has led to a shift in its relationship not only to neighboring countries but to the regions within its own borders, with some functions “going up” and others “going down.”


            Thus, “when certain Europeans say that they don’t need a nation state in the old form (in the shape of enlightened verticalism), they are demonstrating patriotism. Not in the kvas form, but in the pragmatic one.” In this situation, strengthening the regions leads to a strengthening of the country as a whole.


            This transformation, Travin argues, is not the result of conspiracies as some imagine but rather of “objective causes.”  And as a result, there are now three clear layers in Europe: the EU, the nation state and the regions. “For ordinary people, the national community as before means a lot.” And consequently, while becoming Europeans, they have remained politically part of the nation state even as they have become “socially Bavarians, Lombards or Catalonians.”


            This over-arching trend, the St. Petersburg scholar suggests, has implications for the future of the Russian Federation even if these are not always appreciated or welcomed.  Russia today is in “a somewhat different situation” than Europe. The dominance of Russia “reduces the significance of [supra-national] integration.”


            Indeed, in economic terms, other countries, such as Belarus, may have more interest in it than Russia does because as a result of it, Belarusian firms gain access to a larger market.  Russian firms in contrast gain very little. But with regard to regionalism, Russia’s situation features “serious problems.”


            As everyone knows, Russia is dependent on oil and gas, and these resources are no distributed equally across the country. “Some regions are rich; others are poor.” And as a result, “the overwhelming majority of regions completely depend on the financial support of the center where incomes from the sale [of these resources] are concentrated.”


            If Russia followed the path of European states and “offered the regions real independence in the financial sector,” then Russia “would consist of a small number of fabulously wealthy oblasts alongside a mass of the absolutely impoverished.”  To avoid that outcome, of course, is something that both the center and these poorer regions very much want.


            “In this sense,” Travin writes, the Russian “government represents a kind of unique Kombed, the committee of the poor of the type set up in Russian villages after the revolution to support the poor and expropriate the kulaks.” The poor areas will thus want to hold on to the oil and gas producers for dear life, and the center will want to support them in doing so.


            “But here is the problem,” he continues, “some of these regions are not very attached to Moscow.”  For example, Sakha, a region set to become rich as a result of the development of oil and gas links with china.  China needs Sakha; Sakha needs China, but it is ever less clear that Sakha needs Moscow given that it has been anything but an “effective” manager.


            Moreover, the ethnic structure of Sakha is changing fast.  The indigenous population is growing “significantly” faster than the Russian portion there. Many of the latter are leaving with only the older groups remaining. As a result, Sakha is becoming less Russian and “two decades from now, [it] will become completely Sakhan” in ethnic terms.


            If the Russian Federation is to survive, Travin says, Moscow will have to find ways of blocking the impact of “the dangerous tendencies of the 21st century” in the evolution of nation states, their supra-national attachments, and their regional divisions. His tone suggests that he is anything but optimistic that the Russian government is likely to be able to do so.


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