Monday, August 18, 2014

Autonomy Activism Spreads from Siberia to Krasnodar, Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg on Day of Action as Kremlin Cracks Down

Kaliningrad autonomists displaying Prussian flags in defiance of Moscow
Is Russia experiencing a second wave of anti-Moscow uprisings, after the initial, post-Communist uprisings that ended so bloodily in the Chechen Wars?

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).
The Novosibirsk mayoral office had denied the marchers a permit, “in order,” supposedly, “to ensure the inviolability of the constitutional order, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian Federation.”  The planned march had been officially called the “March for the Inviolability of the Constitutional Order,” in order to call attention to the fact that autonomy is guaranteed in the Russian constitution.  But the authorities seem so ingrained in their doublethink that they weren’t even embarrassed by the contradiction.  Authorities also banned a planned march by a radical Communist fringe group called the National–Bolshevik Platform, which also advocates looser federalism and was trying to piggy-back its other ideological causes onto the original autonomy movement.  The Kremlin also threatened to ban the B.B.C., which had broken the story on the Siberian movement a few weeks ago.

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.

Yekaterinburg, 1918
Also planned for August 17th was a march in Krasnodar, capital of Krasnodar Krai, between the Black Sea and the North Caucasus.  Using the same federalist slogan Siberian activists use—“Stop Feeding Moscow!”—the Krasnodar autonomists are calling for the reestablishment of a Kuban Republic.  Historical resonances abound here as well.  During the Russian Civil War that followed the 1917 revolution, Cossacks loyal to the Mensheviks—the “White” army opposed to the “Red” Bolsheviks—established several short-lived republics in southwestern Russia, including the Don Republic, the Terek Republic, and, in an area roughly corresponding to today’s Krasnodar Krai, the Kuban People’s Republic.  And Krasnodar Krai includes the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, which hosted this year’s Winter Olympics and was the focus of so much anger from the region’s native Circassians (discussed at the time in this blog in articles here, here, here, and here).

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.)
It is not known if Cossacks are involved in the current movement there, but a year ago, during the inception of Ukraine’s Euro-Maidan movement that led to the current Russian–Ukrainian war (let’s just stop beating around the bush and call it that, okay?), Kuban Cossacks in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, called for the annexation of the area they (the Cossacks) were still calling the Kuban Republic.  Mostly, this was a rhetorical move in response to the suggestion by the neo-fascist Russian nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky that Russia annex up to a third of Ukraine’s territory (a policy which was crazy then but which Putin is now apparently pursuing).  In any case, at least some westward-leaning Cossacks clearly regard the Kuban, a.k.a. Krasnodar, region as their homeland.

The coat-of-arms of the Kuban People’s Republic.
(Is this just the greatest coat-of-arms ever?  I think it might be.)
Meanwhile, in Kaliningrad Oblast, an exclave wedged between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea and cut off from the rest of Russia, there are stirrings of autonomy as well.  This territory was part of Germany’s region of Pomerania, before it was given to Russia after the Second World War—and renamed for Mikhail Kalinin, a Bolshevik politician.  Though the oblast is now overwhelmingly ethnic-Russian—Germans were relocated from there at war’s end—there has been a steady stream of Volga Germans (ethnic kin of the Sverdlovsk governor Eduard Rossel, referred to above) settling there since the fall of Communism.  Kaliningraders tend to prefer their capital’s former name, Königsberg, and over 60% of them have foreign passports.  Many of them feel more Western European than Russian, and they like to wave Prussian flags.  A popular affectionate name for this wedge of land is Yantarny Krai (Янтарный край), or the Amber Country.  Vladimir Titov, a Moscow-based expert, calls Kaliningrad “the single place in Russia where at present regionalism as a political direction has real prospects.”

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.”

[You can read more about Siberia, Kaliningrad, Sverdlovsk, and many other sovereignty and independence movements both famous and obscure in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

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.
Related articles from this blog:

“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)

1 comment:

  1. " current Russian–Ukrainian war (let’s just stop beating around the bush and call it that, okay?)"

    -For us that do not base our views on fox news that would be hard. If Russia and Ukraine were at war, it would be over in 2 weeks.


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