When work on this book was coming to an end, the first cracks began to emerge in the Russian political structure. A routine switch of government leaders in autumn 2011 was not received by the public with all the generosity of spirit which the state had apparently expected. Rather unusual events began unfolding – events which would have seemed unimaginable a few years earlier. The slow awakening of democratic institutions forcibly sedated by the state could not leave Russian federalism unchanged. The ill-favoured word “federalism” returned to the political vocabulary, and now even the heads of the government aren’t afraid of using it: they have suddenly remembered they are running a rather complex political organisation, called a federation.
It is inevitable for Russian federalism to emerge from its current stasis, however long and difficult this process might be. Accordingly, the important challenge for political science is to predict how this awakening of federalism will take place and how it might benefit the nation. Such a prognosis is impossible, however, without first determining the politico-legal conditions of Russian Federalism and how it is connected with the defunct federal body known as the USSR. The nature of this connection, which has long been underestimated, allows us to understand why the Soviet experience of federation-building has not given a single example of a successful federation, despite the apparent relevance of this model in a nationally, culturally and religiously diverse context.
Moreover, the negative outcome of the federalist experiment in Russia likens our experience to the legacy of other “failed” federations, founded in a spirit of optimism last century, before foundering and ultimately crumbling. This is the case in many former colonies, where the foundations of government autonomy were laid by departing European governors. The political elite, much like Russia’s political leaders, inherited a federal model, which they were forced to then manage the best they could. Their total inability to appreciate the delicate complexities of the federalist machine – and often grotesque incompetence in running it – creates tantalising possibilities for comparing the failures in federation-building in the post-colonial and post-Soviet world.
This modest work of five chapters continues the discussion of my previous two books about federalism. In the first chapter I attempt to compare federalist theory and practice in the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation (the results of this comparison falling not always in favour of the latter). As I imagine, Soviet Federalism in certain ways was even more modern than its analogue under Putin, while the Russian Federation appears to have acquired more of the negative than positive aspects of the Soviet baggage.
Needless to say, the Soviet past has influenced not only Russia but also the whole post-Soviet space. The federalist model of government has not managed to take root in a single country that has emerged from the ruins of the Communist empire, although in many cases this model seemed to offer seemingly effective methods of solving ethnic conflict. The reasons for this are explained in the second chapter.
In the maelstrom of creating new nations after the fall of the USSR, the new-born elite recognised only consolidated and concentrated government power and completely rejected any kind of shared sovereignty. The numerous failures of federations in Asia and Africa can be explained by a similar tendency, which allowed me to conduct a comparative study with several analogues of the same model pursued by Third-World countries. Thus the third chapter is devoted to the comparison of two types of authoritarian federalism, realised in Russia and Malaysia; I hypothesise that the Malaysian version is in many ways more advanced and sophisticated than the Russian. Comparisons continue in the fourth chapter, where the object of study is the African federations – both past and present. It becomes clear that much experience (mostly negative) can be gleaned from Africa, and much of it can be useful in enriching Russian federal practise. Here I attempt to reconstruct the consequences of its ineluctable awakening, coming, eventually, to some rather bleak conclusions.
That being said, this book is quite optimistic in argument and spirit. It should, at the very least, enliven the discussion of the complex phenomenon of federal government, as this field has previously been dominated by legal specialists and avoided by political scientists. In my opinion, political examination of Russia as a federation is a hugely promising field, capable of raising many unusual and interesting issues. What’s more, international specialists in the field of political science write about Russian federalism in much greater depth than their Russian counterparts. It is of particular importance to correct this balance in such trying times for the Russian federation as these, when the seemingly indestructible power structure has begun to show its first signs of weakness.