|Kaliningrad autonomists displaying Prussian flags in defiance of Moscow|
As reported earlier this month in this blog, bohemian ethnic-Russian activists in Siberia were planning a march for greater autonomy (not independence) for August 17th. The day arrived yesterday, but, according to Western media, authorities quickly shut down a protest of about 40 people in Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city and Siberia’s notional capital. At least nine people were arrested, including an organizer, Konstantin Yeremenko, and some alleged to be resisting arrest. Another organizer, Alexei Baranov, found a severed sheep’s head left on the doorstep of his home in Novosibirsk on the day of the march. In Siberia’s second-largest city, Omsk, police closed a central square before any demonstration could begin.
|One activist wearing a “Stop Feeding Moscow!” t-shirt|
was hauled off by police (as posted on Twitter).
Siberia is merely those parts of Russia which are in Asia, i.e. east of the Ural Mountains. It is not a political entity in its own right, but the new wave of activists is calling for a Republic of Siberia within the Russian Federation. The federation’s 83 constituent parts (85 if you accept this year’s annexation of Crimea) include 22 republics, most named for a particular ethnic minority. They have varying degrees of autonomy, but mostly very little.
But the regional-autonomy idea is spreading to other ethnic-Russian regions—making this, incidentally, a fairly separate phenomenon from the mostly ethnic and sectarian movements for autonomy and independence such as those in the North Caucasus, Tatarstan, or even those large parts of Siberia away from the cities, where tribal cultures predominate.
A similar march was also being planned for the same weekend in Yekaterinburg, capital of Sverdlovsk Oblast (province). That choice of location is highly symbolic. Yekaterinburg was named for Empress Catherine, wife of Peter the Great, but was called Sverdlovsk during the Communist era, named for Yakov Sverdlov, a Russian Jewish Bolshevik party leader. In 1918, Yekaterinburg was where Czar Nicholas’s family was cornered and executed by Bolsheviks amid the Russian Revolution. And in 1993, two years after the Soviet Union imploded, the ethnic-German governor of Sverdlovsk Oblast (the oblast kept its Soviet name, while the city reverted to its imperial label) declared it an autonomous Urals Republic in federation with Russia itself. Neighboring oblasts considered joining too, such as the vast Tyumen Oblast, which stretches from the Kazakhstan desert to the Arctic Ocean and is over a half-million square miles. But President Boris Yeltsin, a Sverdlovsk Oblast native, shut the self-declared republic down after ten days. Three other oblasts—Tomsk, Irkutsk, and Amur—also attempted, and failed, to set up republics around the same time. Feliks Rivkin, one of the current Sverdlovsk autonomist leaders, says that he is merely trying to get the Kremlin to live up to provisions for autonomy in the federal constitution—a document which has been put through the shredder since Vladimir Putin took office.
|Locations of Cossack republics and other short-lived entities|
during the Russian Civil War. (The approximate area of the
Terek Republic is shown in green and white stripes.)
|The coat-of-arms of the Kuban People’s Republic.|
(Is this just the greatest coat-of-arms ever? I think it might be.)
It has been difficult to find news on how things played out on the day of action in Kaliningrad, Krasnodar, and Yekaterinburg. In all three cities, marches and demonstrations were banned but organizers said they would go ahead and march anyway. I will be keeping readers informed of further developments.
|Kaliningrad’s occasionally pro-independence and thus banned Baltic Republican Party|
uses a Russian tricolor overlaid with the emblem of NATO—heresy in Putin’s Russia—
for their proposed “Baltic Republic.”
Thanks to Jeff Groton for alerting me to some of the sources used for this article.
|Cossacks patrolling the Winter Olympics this year in Sochi,|
to be part of a proposed revived Kuban Republic.
“Meanwhile, at the Other End of the Empire ... Putin Scrambles to Squash Siberian Autonomy Movement” (Aug. 2014)
“Kremlin Hand behind Alaska Annexation Petition on White House Website?” (April 2014)
“‘Separatism’ Added to List of Things Russians Aren’t Allowed to Talk about” (Nov. 2013)
“Putin Wants to Revive Stalin’s Old ‘Jewish Region’ in Siberia; Israel Not Amused” (Aug. 2013)
“Will Siberia Become the 51st State—or Maybe 51 through 77?” (Jan. 2012)