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On the bases of asymmetry of Russian Federation

  • Rafael Khakimov
From monograph «Federalism in Russia». Kazan. 2001. pp. 212-218.

Rafael Khakimov*


On the bases of asymmetry of Russian Federation


Change of the statehood development paradigm

Russia experiences a turning period in the history. The old structures of management collapse, the values, permanent during the centuries, are washed away and the new purposes of the state are formed.

Russia was built on the ideology of expansion of its territory, and all its previous history passed under a banner of a conquest and annexation of new lands. For the first time this strategic line was violated during the revolution of 1918, when Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and territories of western Ukraine and part of Moldova separated from the Russian empire. Soviet Russia managed to stop process of the state coming unraveled, having proclaimed the creation of the federated state. A key role in this process played the principle of self-determination of nations, which was considered by Bolsheviks as a tactical move aimed at engaging non- Russians on their side. The slogans of "the Red" about national liberation movement of the peoples appeared by more attractive, rather than "the White” banner of “a uniform and indivisible” power. As a result the Union began to be formed, and the territory of the former Russian empire was almost completely restored by 1939.

The post-war expansion of the socialist camp continued the historical expansion of Russia, but this time on the Soviet and socialist basis.

The nature of Soviet Russia as a state has maintained many qualitative characteristics of the Russian empire, despite of the socialist system, and the degree of centralization was brought to a fantastic scale. The Soviet Union, certainly, altered the relations existing in the Russian empire, where the parent state, presented by the central Russia, and provinces, which occupied the place of the colonial or semi-colonial outskirts, sometimes even with their own legislation and features of their internal system, clearly stood out. In the USSR the Union republics became formally equal, but the leading position of the centre, of the Russian language and the concurrence of structures of RSFSR to the central bodies meant actual preservation of the elements of the relations a parent state / province. Despite the adoption of the Constitution of a federative character, in practice the Soviet Union was one of the Unitarian states of the world with rigid authoritarian control system. To put it shortly, the USSR was « Large Russia », continuing empire traditions, but this tine in the socialist environment. Therefore the collapse of the USSR should be considered as the beginning of decomposition of old Russia and the rise “of new Russia “, rather than as disappearance of the particular form of state.

«New Russia» found itself within the boundaries of the epoch before Peter the Great. Reduction of the state territory is a qualitative, but not a quantitative factor. In fact all parameters influencing the large policy had changed. Economic and demographic potential had sharply decreased. The national economy became more wasteful because of the falling off of the south. The climate of the state became more severe, and at the same time the problems of the communications (extension, influence of the tariffs on economy etc.) remained practically same. The position of Russia on the Caspian, Black and Baltic seas was cardinally changed and ceased to be the key one, that affected not only economy, but also foreign policy. But what is most important, the value orientation has also changed: Russia has to pass from ideology of expansion of territory to its arrangement, i.e. to extensive culture of reproduction of economy and public life.

Alongside with all that the old scheme of the relations the parent state / province is being changed to the scheme the centre / entities, that requires the development of new thinking and the different culture of management.

The history of Russia imposes its print on all public processes, including the state structure. The peoples and territories, which have joined Russia, have not disappeared anywhere and have not dissolved. On the contrary), having maintained their culture, language and religion, they today experience a period of revival and openly put forward the demands to the state, which should not only take them into account, but also assist the development of these peoples. At the same time the share of the non- Russian peoples in the general structure of the population of the country is not a determinative, as they live compactly on their historical native land, they are not national minorities, but native born ethnos with the appropriate claims on the control of their own territory. It is one of the main reasons of the asymmetry of Federation in Russia.

The transition to conditions of democracy and market makes us take into consideration the geographical, climatic and economic variety of country on a greater extent than before. The scales of country cease to be advantage of Russia and become the serious disadvantage. Russia now should live in conditions of decreasing resources, worse conditions of the access to the seas, but practically with the same length of its borders, which should be maintained and protected.

The scales of country cause difficulties in the process of creation of the uniform market and flattening of levels of development of various regions. Really, the variety of conditions of existence of regions is that that it is hardly possible to expect the flattening of social development of the subjects. The gap between them will be stimulated by geographical, climatic and economic advantages of separate regions. Krasnodar kray will always be in especially favorable conditions because of subtropical climate and access to the Black sea. The development of North of Russia will be always problematic because of the freezing the huge remedies for « the northern delivery ». The Kaliningrad oblast is constrained to be guided by the Baltic countries and to live in the special mode of the enclave, and Primorye kray is situated in a vast field of the attraction of the Asian countries. It is very difficult to present mechanisms capable to create symmetry of the statuses of the subjects, which are so different due to objective conditions.

Thus, it is possible to single out the following factors calling the asymmetry of Russian Federation: ethnic, geographical, climatic and economic variety of country, that generates discrepancy of interests of the subjects and demand of the appropriate rights for the decision of particular regional problems.


The source of law in Russia

Soviet Russia in the Manifest of the labour and exploited people from 1918 stated about the construction of the federated state and this principle was introduced in the Constitution of country. Irrespective of the actual situation, federative principle was saved in the subsequent basic laws USSR and RSFS purely legally.

The principles of the state structure were not defined in the Manifest on the state sovereignty of Russian Federation accepted in 1990, or else, federation was not founded, but declared. The status of the subjects, the framework of their mutual relation with centre, the procedure of modification in the usual relations and source of law adequate to the nature of the federated state were not defined.

In 1992 the Federative Agreement was offered which potentially could become the constituent instrument, but it was accepted under pressure of the Centre and had a tactical character. As a matter of fact, it was not one agreement, but rather three separate agreements between various types of the entities with centre concerning differentiation of authorities and terms of reference that were signed. Not having signed the Federative Agreement, Chechnya and Tatarstan have created precedent of armed conflict and declaring independence, on the one hand, and the transition to signing the bilateral contracts – on the other.

The Federative Agreement contained the internal contraventions, there was no clearness in distribution of powers, furthermore there was no mechanism of realization of the agreed items, and due to all it became a political, rather than a legal document.

Significant event from the point of view of development of the federative nature of Russia became the Constitutional Counsel of 1993, which many people offered to announce as a constitutional Assembly. However, the political opportunists forced to select the form of Counsel with rather motley and not representative list of the participants. Alongside with the entities of federation it included parties and organization of little influence. The procedure of discussion of the various offers was not defined. In the result the delegation of Tatarstan abandoned the Counsel, and many entities of federation remained rather dissatisfied both with procedure, and contents of the draft of the basic Law.

The main shortcomings of the Constitutional Counsel was, that it did not take into account the accepted by then constitutions of republics during the preparation of the draft of the basic Law, that badly corresponded to the declared federative nature of the state. Furthermore, organizers of the Counsel mostly oriented on the strengthening of the presidential power and were carried away by struggle with the parliament and communists.  It was not only the republics that were dissatisfied, but also many areas, which demanded the rights, equal with the republics. Therefore it was not by chance, that during the referendum almost 1/3 subjects voted against the new Constitution. The contraventions between the federal and local legislation, which arose during the subsequent years, became in many respects by the consequence of this partial legitimacy of the Constitution of Russian Federation.

The contractual process between the Centre and entities of federation, which began in 1994, became the original response to the dissatisfaction with the constitutional system and actual management of regions. Gradually it covered about half of entities of Russian Federation. Simultaneously with signing of the agreements a number of the political parties and power structures began the struggle for their denunciation began, that caused the adoption of a number of the laws regulating the relations between the Centre and the regions.

Thus, the following serve as a legal basis of the federative system of Russia: the federative Agreement, which exists nominally as the document, the Constitution of Russian Federation, the constitution of republics, which do not always coincides with the Russian Basic law, bilateral contracts and, at last, separate laws of Russian Federation regulating these or those questions of the relations between the Centre and the regions.

The development of the federative relations in Russia is rather the result of struggle of republics and some regions (first of all donors) with the Centre for their rights, than the consequence of some balanced policy. For the elite of Russia the federalism till now remains a constrained concession, rather than a result of a conscious choice.

The accepted documents and, first of all, the Constitution of Russian Federation have defined the different status of the entities: republics as states with their constitutions, oblasts, krays and two cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg) as administrative territories and autonomous regions which are included in the composition of other entities. The separate agreements (for example, with Tatarstan, Bashkortostan) have aggravated this inequality, thereby having fixed the asymmetry of federation.

The Constitution of Russian Federation rather vaguely states the nature of Russia. In the Russian empire everything was done on behalf of the monarch, in the USSR — on behalf of the worker and peasants, in updated democratic Russia the subject of law is not completely explicit. The references on certain « Russian people » do not suit republics concerned with vulnerability of the rights of non- Russian peoples, thesis about « the multinational people », which is frequently said by the rulers of country and is written down in the preamble of the Constitution, has remained the pure declaration.

Today there is a sharp discussion around the problem of the sovereignty of republics. The representatives of the federal centre insist on indivisibility of the sovereignty of Russia, in spite of the fact that the republics are recognized as the states, and in a number of the bilateral contracts their sovereignty is written down directly. As to the republics, they solemnly mark anniversaries from the date of adoption of the Manifests about the state sovereignty, believing, that the federated state is built on the principle « of the divided sovereignty ». At the same time the republics understand sovereignty as possession of all completeness of power within the framework of their own competency, that does not threaten the integrity of Russia.

The political culture of Russia is such that the power was built according to the personality of the first person – a monarch, a general secretary of CPSU, a President of the country. This culture does not tolerate separation of authority; it aspires to its maximum completeness that is why it cannot apprehend the theory of the divided sovereignty.

This dispute on the possibility of the divided sovereignty could be named insignificant for the state structure of Russia, if it were not one principle question.  This discussion defines the source. Whether it is the Russian people, whose declaration of intent is defined by the principle of the mechanical majority, or else, by Russian population constituting 83 %, or it is also the opinion of other peoples, which should be taken into consideration, irrespective of their number.

The legislation and in the even greater degree the practice do not answer interests of non- Russian peoples. Representative and the executive boards are constituted as if Russia were ethnically homogeneous. But indigenous peoples (the Tatars, the Bashkirs, the Yakuts etc.) clearly have proclaimed their claims on the role of state-forming ethnos. Moreover, they strengthen their republics, or else, they self-determine (within the framework of Russia), proceeding from their own interests.

Formally there are purely "Russian" entities of Federation, which have their own interests and features of development. There was even a known attempt of self-determination of the Ural republic. Among these entities the most active are the regions - donors. But from the legal point of view they did not announce the sovereignty, and their status is defined not as a result of self-determination, but "from above". Their population formally cannot be considered as the source of law, however the real influence of oblasts and krays will grow in accordance with growth of their economic independence. And it becomes the additional factor causing the asymmetry of the Federation.

The integrity of the state will be provided under the condition of consideration of all variety of interests of Russia, both in the ethnic, and the regional aspect. In conditions of democracy the non-controversial federation can be built only with consideration of the two constituents: (1) peoples of Russia, mainly presented by the republics and partly by national-cultural autonomies; (2) territorial (mainly ethnically Russian) formations.


The tendencies of evolution of statehood of Russia

Russia is on the transitory state from the centralized state, bearing the remnants of empire to democratic federation in structures and consciousness. There are less and less resources in Russia for a return to the Unitarian state. It was not by chance that V.Putin in his annual Address to the Federal Council said: “ The really strong state is also a strong Federation».

The reforms begun by V.Putin, to a certain extent bring back the unitarian thinking and unitary structures, they are directed on equalization of all entities in their rights. But, first, reforms are rather inconsistent, as, for example, in the case with the districts, which have appeared possessing not clear status and blurred functions. Secondly, the productivity of reforms is doubtful from the point of view of improvement of the manageability of the country. They rather introduce a mess, than create stability. There is interference of the Centre not only in the sphere of joint authorities, but also into the competency of the entities. There are bulky structures with local branches, which quite often are parallel to local authorities. The federal districts become a superfluous part in power structures.

It is not difficult to predict, that the process will go objectively in the direction of more strict distribution of powers between the Centre and entities. It would be expedient for the Centre to reserve not maximum, but optimum number of functions, first of all, defence, protection of borders, customs, financial system and foreign policy. Other functions can without serious consequences be transmitted to the entities of federation. And common federal interests can be realized through adoption of the federal programs, in which the interested entities will participate with the appropriate financial ensuring.

Most likely, the dispute on competency of the Centre and entities will last rather long and at the end of this way there will be just some entities, which will insist on their sovereignty. It will be the republics with original culture, history and strong religious and other traditions, i.e. Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, republics of Northern Caucasus, Saha (Yakutia) and others. Other entities depending on the conjuncture will hesitate between opinion of the Centre and the most active entities. All this will not weaken, but strengthen the asymmetry of Russia.

* Rafael Khakimov  – Director of the Institute of History of Academy of Sciences of Tatarstan, State Counselor on Political Questions of President of Tatarstan

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