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Number 4(8), autumn, 2003
Number 8 of the journal Kazan Federalist (in english)
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Who needs federalism in Russia and why

  • Leokadia Drobizheva
Once the federal subjects realized the unproductiveness of the further disintegration of the Russian state in the 1990s, they reacted quite reasonably to the process of creating a unified legislative space initiated by the presidential administration. The high approval rating of the Russian president makes higher statesmen think that now it is a good time to fully centralize the country. The presidents unrealizable desire to have a unitary state in Russia and the preparation of the law On Distribution of Authorities between the Center and Federal Subjects witness that as well: one of the laws initiators, V.N. Lysenko, even said that this law will turn Russia into a unitary state.

Leokadia Drobizheva*

Who needs federalism in Russia and why


Once the federal subjects realized the unproductiveness of the further disintegration of the Russian state in the 1990s, they reacted quite reasonably to the process of creating a unified legislative space initiated by the presidential administration. The high approval rating of the Russian president makes higher statesmen think that now it is a good time to fully centralize the country. The presidents unrealizable desire to have a unitary state in Russia and the preparation of the law On Distribution of Authorities between the Center and Federal Subjects witness that as well: one of the laws initiators, V.N. Lysenko, even said that this law will turn Russia into a unitary state.[1]

Thus, they want to strengthen Russia through further centralization of the state. Politicians and academics have different opinions. Some consider this to be a reaction toward the division of territories and extreme regionalism of the past decade; others see it as a continuation of the traditional historical path of Russia, the country always having been ruled by the domination of the state. Yet another group is afraid of further centralization leading to authoritarianism.

The sociological view of the problem differs from politicians tasks. According to Iu. A. Levada, political sight is limited by the frames of a certain, desired or planned, operation... Politics measures the success and the price of the operation when it puts the plot next to the nearest result The task of a sociologist is to find out how certain events or actions will influence the life of the society and public consciousness and what their potential indirect consequences, losses[2] and advantages could be.

In this regard it is important to realize that the reformation of the federal relationship since 2000 has already begun under conditions other than those of political nationalism, the danger of secession and territorial separatism. Except for the Chechen Republic and some other regions bordering to it, the state was already out of danger. The field of problems changed. The relationship between the center and the subjects of the federation was no longer principal; rather, the integration of various interrelated professional and social local bodies which exercise ethnic and territorial solidarity, under the conditions of a market economy and the development institutions of democracy and a society based on the rule of law had become the primary concern.

It is considered that under globalization in those societies which define themselves as modern, ethnicity becomes obliterated or less important as a more archaic type of relationship. However, the globalization processes as such have their own peculiarities in different states and social environments.

A distinguishing process of modern social life becomes glocalization, which means the process of adapting various kinds of global economic experience to local situations and is used to describe the restructuring of the social sphere.[3] But do Russian political leaders recognize it as essential for the country?

V.V. Putin, in a speech made on August, 25, 2003, before representatives from Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan who had gathered to discuss the problem of creating a single economic space, argued for the necessity of this step due to inevitable globalization processes.[4] Experts presume that under the conditions of globalization, territories differ not only in the degree of development according to an imaginary modernization scale, but also in their unique patterns of combining participation in global trends with traditions and social foundations of local culture.[5]

The constructed world of local solidarities is accompanied with an openness to world information and financial flows, and that is why its openness, clarity, and predictability are implied, being typical of democratic civil society.

All multi-ethnic democracies that exist now in the world are federal. The six democracies which have a high index of language and ethnic variety and are considered to be stable are all federal states.[6]

Alfred Stepan, examining issues of democracy and state structure in modern polyethnic countries, shows that they allow various kinds of language, culture and legislative power that is, an asymmetry of their subjects, in order to maintain the unity of their multinational systems (except for Switzerland).[7] This asymmetry takes different forms, and states in transitional forms can also exist. For example, some unitary states exercise federal relations with particular territories: Denmark had such relations with Greenland and Finland with the Aland Islands.

Federal relations are necessary first of all for the center to ensure economic[8] and security objectives. Attaining these objectives is impossible without taking into account the social and cultural variety of the countrys population.

Viewing the situation in the republics, we can most often notice little- compared social practices against the background of common processes. Let us examine just one example. In terms of an important criterion of modernization the standard of education (defined by the number of professionals with higher education) the Yakuts who live in towns have been for more than 10 years outrunning the Russians. But the majority of Yakuts live in the countryside, where the level of peoples participation in modern activities is quite low, especially under the conditions of high dispersion over the territory which exist.

In Tatarstan, the situation is just the opposite. Russians and Tatars had education of almost the same level and, especially importantly, in the late 1980s, there was little difference between them with regard to branch employment, including intellectuals working in industrial and artistic and creative fields. Contrastingly, in Sakha (Yakutia) or Bashkortostan, the rate of intellectuals employed in industries was more than four times different among Russian population and local nations.[9] So this was the same process of modernization, but much variety existed both in quantity and particularly in quality.

In the international literature, trends in research which allow us to judge the readiness of workers from different cultures for modern types of production exist. One of them focuses on the study of modernization processes in different cultures. As is well known, the most prominent in this regard was a project by the American sociologist A. Inkeles in which changes in the social sphere, culture and psychology of the population in Europe, Asia, America and Africa were compared, and characteristic features of modern and traditional types were distinguished.[10]

Another trend dealt more with studying the social and psychological traits of workers from different cultures to facilitate interaction by sharing administrative and productive culture. The author of the most outstanding research in this field is G. Hofstede.[11]

Let us next consider the initiative of the Harvard Academy of World and Regions Research, a large international project on the interpretation of cultural factors in the economic and political development of the countries of the world supervised by Lawrence Harrison. This study intended to ascertain the influence of culture on economic and political development and ways in which the transformation of cultural barriers hindered progress.[12]

Progress is defined as movement towards economic development and the improvement of living standards, social and economic equality and political democracy. Cultural factors include values, aims, beliefs, orientation and views predominating in a society.

These topical research tasks were, of course, interesting for those participating in our project as well. We took them into account while considering examples of already-formed or forming ethnic equalities and inequalities. As the reader may have noticed, in all the chapters, we tried to determine the actually-functioning indicators of the processes which were interesting to us.

To summarize both the international and our own national experience, O.I. Shkaratan and V.V. Karacharovskii have singled out the cultural components of ethnic groups (mainly related to traditional culture), which more or less influence labor activity in modern production, on the degree and structure of its effectiveness (that is on the quality of products, readiness for innovations, stability and employee turnover, satisfaction with labor, etc.)[13]. They include: 1) the system of common cultural values; 2) traditional values and norms of labor and the structure of labor motives; 3) a hierarchic model of prestigious professions and participation in professional occupations; 4) the nature of professional, status and education claims; 5) the distribution of functions among various sex, age and other categories which is traditional for the given culture.

We have considered the distribution of the above-named elements of culture in studied ethnic groups in terms of their influence on the sense of equality and inequality in those groups.

As for the issue of common life values, in previous projects, including the one carried out in 1997-1998 which was dedicated to ethnic and administrative scope (within the framework of F. Barts conception), we determined that a similar system of family, income and labor values was characteristic of Russians, Yakuts and Tatars. They differed only slightly,[14] and this result is repeated in present research: over 80% of Russians, Tatars, Yakuts and almost the same number of Bashkirs name family as a basic value; over 70% value economic prosperity; and near 60% mention good work.

A more subtle variability of culture traditions can be seen in motives for labor activity and professional orientation. This is shown in the chapters dedicated to the strategy and types of economic motivation. Our material proves that along with the Protestant ethics described by M. Weber, there are some other historical forms which support capitalism (see M. Kastels[15]).

Contrary to our expectations, we did not discover any serious differences in achievement orientation of different ethnic groups in the same local conditions (urban and rural). In Section II, Chapter 3, a special analysis is made by I.M. Kuznetsov which shows that in urban areas, the difference in the rate of those oriented at achieving more (the range of answers: to earn a lot of money, even if they do not have enough guarantees for the future, to have a business, even at ones own risk) between Russians (traditional Orthodox ethics) and Tatars (traditional Islamic ethics) was statistically insignificant (24% by Russians, 27% by Tatars). The same situation exists in Sakha (Yakutia), where Russians make contacts with Yakuts, whose level of religion is not high and is partially connected with shamanism. Here the rate of those oriented at achievement was practically the same (22% and 27% respectively).

Differences were observed in terms of regions. In Sakha, the above-named rate was 15%; in Tatarstan, Orenburg region, and Bashkortostan, it reached 24-27%, which is primarily related to the urbanization level of the region and the type of villagers settlements that is, with regional differences in the ability of becoming involved in the market economy.

Research has revealed that in equal urban conditions Yakuts, just as Russians, are not only oriented towards achievement in labor but are very much interested in the continuation of market reforms as well (60% of Yakuts and 43% of Russians). They also count on themselves and show self-reliance (they more often agree with the statement I have enough abilities and skills to realize my plans.)

Consequently, the readiness for innovation during the period of reform among the titular ethnicities of the various republics is by no means less than among Russians. This is true both of Russians who live in long-occupied territories (Tatastan, Orenburg region, Bashkortostan) and those who live in recently settled regions, usually by the most mobile categories of the population (Sakha, or Yakutia).

What variants of interaction can occur under such conditions? One is growing competition among ethnic groups. This is possible only if the groups concerned have a common sphere of professional interests, for example trade, oil or the diamond business. Another is a mutual interest in each other, in cases in which ethnic groups interact in different but interrelated spheres of activity.

However, the situation in regions is different in particular spheres of activity. For instance, in Tatarstan the oil, petrochemical and engineering industries involve both Russians and Tatars. And both nations are concerned with the development of these industries.

In Sakha, the situation varies slightly. In particular industries (diamond and oil production, for instance), Russians prevail. But they compete with the Yakuts in trade and dominate in technical sciences, whereas the Yakuts dominate in the humanities.

Thus, these examples show that both differentiation and integration in various regions are possible on different bases. Either integration is predominating on the basis of shared interest in the development of regional industries, and in this case the sense of inequality even if being latent is not accentuated, or ethnic groups interests localize in different industries, but their development is regarded as mutually necessary. In the latter case, integration can also take place, and it actually does on the basis of the so-called attraction of differences (as can be seen in the examples of modern Sakha (Yakutia) and Bashkortostan), but inequalities are seen as more critical.

If the first variant of intergroup integration can remain in a complicated and even conflictual social and political context (as in the example of Tatarstan in 1992-1993), the second can lead to serious friction and possibly even open conflicts unless there is a more or less stable social and political basis. The situation is ambiguous because this basis can be associated not only with freedom and order but also with authoritarian power.

World information flows (financial flows are barely noticeable in the regions under study) level out in some respects (i.e., the general improvement of education), but at the same time, they increase the diversity of territories and thus the variants of ethnic interaction.

It is this diversity which allows the central government to take into account different models of federal state structure.

Of course, the subjects of the federation first of all republics also desire federal relations. This is true because they are not only concerned with participating in the management of land and resources but also with their moral and psychological state. In the course of our research on issues of ethnic and national identity in 1993-1996 and on ethnic boundaries (not territorial boundaries but those formed in an individuals consciousness) in 1997-1998, and also on the inequalities problems in 1999-2000 and 2002, the dominant part of the population of the titular ethnicity in Tatarstan, Sakha (Yakutia) and Bashkortostan which gives its name to the republic, and no less than half of the Russian population believed that land and natural resources should be in charge of the republics or joint command together with the Russian Federation.[16] A natural interest among the territories populations in managing the resources was observed both in republics and regions (this question was asked in Orenburg and Magadan regions in 1997).

The republican elite who fought for the republics sovereignty and region and territory leaders who were entering into agreements with the federal Center could rely on mass public opinion. It was regional governments which enjoyed though to a variable extent the greater (no less than half as much) confidence of the population. Some changes in the entire country occurred only in 2002-2003. But in the republics examined, the regional authorities won more confidence from the population than from the federal center. But the rate of confidence in the federal center has increased slightly since 2000.

Confidence is one of the most important psychological factors. In terms of the integrity and integration of the state, this is not only a condition of the stability and the favorable social and psychological state of the population but also a factor facilitating the development of economic initiatives and investments. For strategic purposes, the center and the regions are mutually interested in trusting each other under normal (non-confrontational) conditions. Unfortunately, uncertainty, even in the observance of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and signed treaties and agreements, was the consequence of the preceding decade. One of the ways of restoring the necessary confidence is understanding the other.

As a sociologist working in the ethnic and social spheres in the regions, I would like to emphasize the importance of taking into account such a significant social and psychological factor as respect in the federal structure of the state. In the course of representational polls in 1999, 2000, 2002, we obtained regular information on this factor, which is critical to a feeling of equality among people. We regard it as an essential feature and sometimes the principle element of ethnic identity. The only more important factor is educational opportunities. Respect is even more important for a feeling of equality than the opportunity to get a job, irrespective of nationality, and to purchase property. It is worth mentioning also that indices of different ethnic groups are close, and they are similar under identical social and cultural conditions (urbanicity, age, and education). It can be stated, not without reason, that the attitude to preserving republics and the stability of the federal state is connected not only with the actual economic and political interests of the elite and public opinion for a little bit better life due to it but also with the feeling of compensative ethnic and national self-respect for regional self-consciousness of all living in the subjects of federation. Regional self-consciousness still contains (as is seen from more in-depth interviews) the memory of humiliating trips to Moscow for sausages and the idea of unfair distribution of material welfare between the center and provinces, the concept of the necessity to ask for and to achieve something. This is why federalism is necessary for the subjects of the federation, both for material and psychological purposes.

In conclusion, it should be noted that from the political and psychological point of view, the population of Russia needs consolidation not only on the threshold of presidential elections but also because of recent processes of disintegration. Unfortunately, consolidation has often been achieved at the expense of mobilizing against an external or internal enemy. Such an image was owned by the USA, Islamists, and ChechensBut as a rule, fears and phobias failed to be constructive as positive influences. And all the more, it is not constructive to make hostile those institutions on home territory which are not considered to be so by most of the population and which are capable of changing in favor of the integration of the state. I do not approve much of impressive conceptions such as strong center strong regions or vice versa, but it is quite obvious that a perception of them going together is positive.

* Leokadia Mikhailovna Drobizheva, Doctor of Science (history), director of Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

[1] V.N Lysenkos speech at the meeting of Politia in February. The project of law states that regions completely lose control over their land and mineral resources which goes against the Constitution of the Russian Federation and international laws.

[2] Levada Iu. Uroki atipichnoi situatsii: politika sotsiologicheskogo analiza // Monitoring obshchestvennogo mnenia: ekonomicheskie i sotsialnye peremeny. 2003. 3, #9.

[3] Robertson R. Glocalizations: Time-Space and HomogeneityHeterogeneity // Global Modernities / Ed. by M.. Featherstone, S. Lash, R. Robertson. L.: Sage, 1995. P. 2829.

[4] The appearance was broadcasted in the TV programme Vremia, Channel 1, on August, 25, 2003.

[5] Sogomonov A. Iu. Glokalnost // Globalnost postsovetskogo obshestva. M., 2001. P. 67.

[6] Stepan A. Federalism and Democracy: Beyond the US Model. Journal of Democracy. Vol. 10. N 4 October. 1999. P. 20.

[7] Ibid. P. 2930.

[8] This problem is viewed in special books including Khomenko V., Kuliagina N. Osnovy organizatii mezhbudzhetnikh otnoshenii mezhdu tsentrom i regionami // Kazanskii federalist. 2002. #3; Vardomskii L. Regionalnye aspekty rynochnoi transformatsii v Rossii i stranakh tsentralnoi Evropy // Kazankii federalist. 2002. #4.

[9] For exact data see: Sotsialinoe neravenstvo etnicheskikh grupp: Predstavlenia i realnost. / Otv. Red. Drobizheva L.M. M., 2002. Section 1, Chapter 2.

[10] Inkeles A., Smith D.M. Becoming Modern: Individual Change in Six Developing Countries. 3rd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982; Inkeles A. National Differences in Individual Modernity // Comparative Studies in Sociology. Vol. 1. JAL Press, Inc., 1978.

[11] Hofstede G. Culture's Consequences: Intern Differences in Work-Related Values. L.: Sage, Beverly Hills. 1980.

[12] Kultura imeet znachenie. M., 2002, P. 11.

[13] Shkaratan O.I., Karacharovskii V.V. Russkaia trudovaia i upravlencheskaia kultura // Mir Rossii. 2002. # 1. P.9.

[14] Sotsialnaia i kulturnaia distantsii. Opyt mnogonatsionalnoi Rossii / Avt. proekta i otv. red. L.M. Drobizheva. M., 1998.

[15] Kastels M. Informatsionnaia epokha. Ekonomika, obshestvo i kultura. M., 2000. P. 194.

[16] Drobizheva L.M. Sotsialnye problemy mezhnatsionlnih otnoshenii v postsovetskoi Rossii. M., 2003. P. 201-202.

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