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Russian Federalism: Political, Legal, and Ethnolingual Aspects—A View from the Republic of Bashkortostan

  • Ildus G. Ilishev (a1)


Problems of building a new democratic Russia based on federative principles and the region's long-refractory “national question,” forming a knotty tangle of complicated issues, have steadily remained in the political limelight. In a number of regions worldwide dramatic changes have occurred, related in one way or the other to the processes of national-territorial self-determination. As a result of this, the Eurasian political landscape has been marked by the emergence of some twenty newly independent states. Suffice it to say that the Soviet Union, a preponderant superpower feared by all, collapsed; and in Europe the Federative Republic of Yugoslavia ceased to exist, bringing on a long-term national conflict threatening not only regional but even global security. In East Central Europe binational Czechoslovakia split up into two independent nation states. Elsewhere, even in the absence of militarized national conflict, political processes have dramatically intensified. In Asia, for example, the multinational Chinese Republic with its Tibetan and Uighur problems, and ethnically heterogeneous India with its population speaking more than 400 languages and dialects have long attracted public attention as sources of potential instability in the region. The “Sikh issue” alone, for instance, continues to pose a threat to India. Even the North American continent, a peaceful region in terms of its political and ethnic stability, is confronted with similar problems. The integrity of Canada is still in question with the franco-lingual province of Quebec striving for independence.



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1. Research for this article was supported by a grant from the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, Washington.

2. E.g. see Presniakov, A. S., The Formation of the Great Russian State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970; original Russian edn 1918); Daniels, R., Russia: The Roots of Confrontation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), pp. 3034.

3. For the details see Donelly, Alton S., The Russian Conquest of Bashkiria, 1552–1740: A Case-Study in Imperialism (London: Yale University Press, 1968).

4. Vitevskii, V. N., I.I. Nepliuev I Orenburgskii Krai (Kazan, 1897), p. 118.

5. Dubrovin, N., Pugachev i ego soobschniki (St Petersburg, 1884), Vol. 1, p. 253.

6. On this topic see Pipes, R., ed., The Rusian Intelligentsia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961).

7. Decembrists—a group of Russian military nobility who made an abortive attempt at revolt against the Tsar in December 1825. For detailed background on the Decembrist revolt see Zetlin, M., The Decembrists (New York: International University Press, 1958; original Russian edn 1933); The Decembrist Movement (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1937).

8. Vernadsky, G., A History of Russia , 4th edn (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), p. 208.

9. Venturi, F., Roots of Revolution: A History of the Populist and Socialist Movements in Nineteenth Century Russia (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1960), p. 702.

10. For Europeans, confederal arrangements represented the original form of federalism, going back to the leagues of Greek cities in ancient times. There were such confederations as: the Holy Roman Empire, the medieval city leagues of Germany, Belgium, and Italy, the United Provinces of The Netherlands, the Helvetic Confederation, the German Confederation established on the ruins of the Holy Roman Empire.

11. For further details see de Salis, J. Rodolph, Switzerland and Europe: Essays and Reflections , trans. Henderson, A. and Henderson, E. (Mobile University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1971).

12. Initially, the Bolshevik regime, desirous of preserving as much of the old empire as possible, reluctantly turned to a federal structure to accommodate the various nationalities seeking independence but later on minimized the reality of federalism by extending the dominant role of the highly centralized Communist Party throughout the USSR.

13. Bremmer, I. and Taras, R., eds, New States, New Politics: Building the Post-Soviet Nations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 157.

14. In March 1992, one Tatar deputy submitted a proposal calling for the establishment of a Bashkir-Tatar Confederation. According to this proposal, the Confederation would subsequently join the CIS as an independent state. The Parliaments of both republics rejected the proposed union, citing its provocative potential. See Drubisheza, Leokadia et al., Ethnic Conflict in the Post-Soviet World: Case Studies and Analysis (Armonk, NY and London: M. E. Sharpe, 1996), p. 205.

15. The phrase was borrowed from Daniel S. Treisman, “The Separatist Activism of Regional Leaders in a Postcommunist Order,” World Politics, Vol. 49, No. 2, 1997, pp. 258259. Hereto my forecast is that this tendency will intensify with President Yeltsin's second term of office expiring.

16. Early in 1998 there were just six subjects in the Russian federation which were not dependent on the federal government for subsidies and finances.

17. Tadevosian, E., “Rossiiskii federalizm i sovremennyi natsional'no-gosudarstvennyi nigilism,” in Gosudarstvo i Pravo , Vol. 10 (Moscow: Institut Gosudarstva I prava Rossiiskoi Akademii nauk, 1996, p. 14.

18. There is no constitutional provision providing for the federal government to sign peace treaties with its constituent republics, which in effect would imply that, potentially, it might wage wars with them. But in consequence of political realities it had to sign a peace pact with the Chechen Republic.

19. Daniel Treisman provides some very symptomatic evidence to this effect: the deputy governor of the Tambov Oblast, expressing envy of the bargaining power of ethnic republics, joked, “I started to think, should I import Tatars into the oblast to make up 50 percent of the population.” See Treisman, Daniel S., “The Separatist Activism of Regional Leaders in a Postcommunist Order,” World Politics, Vol. 49, No. 2, 1997, p. 247.

20. Vecherniaia Moskva , 6 June 1996.

21. Rossiiskaia Gazeta , 26 September 1996.

22. Vecherniaia Moskva , 6 June 1996.

23. Shlapentokh, V., “Catastrophism on the Eve of 2000. Apocalyptic Ideology between Russia's Past and Future,” Demokratizatsiya, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1997, p. 17.

24. Nezavisimaia Gazeta , 17 May 1997.

25. Rakhimo, Murtaza, “Ob uluschshenie deiatel'nostu organov gosudarstvenoi vlasti v provedenie reform,” Izvestia Bashkortostana , 28 March 1996.

26. Elazar, D., Exploring Federalism (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1987), p. 12.

27. For more information on the Russian government's latest moves see Ilishev, I., “Tightening the Federation: Will Russia's Autonomies Disappear?Analysis of Current Events, Vol. 9, No. 7, 1997, pp. 68.

28. Cohen, A., “After Chechnya: Threats to Russian Democracy and US-Russian Relations,” Democratizatsiya, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1995, p. 403.

Russian Federalism: Political, Legal, and Ethnolingual Aspects—A View from the Republic of Bashkortostan

  • Ildus G. Ilishev (a1)


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