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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Consolidation in Russia: Federalism and Democracy at Risk

United Russia, the party led by Prime Minister Putin, decided in August, 2010 not to submit the name of the governor of Kaliningrad, Georgy V. Boos, for reappointment. The decision appeared to put pressure on governors to do more to ensure the satisfaction of those they govern, or to at least keep a lid on dissent. Governors had been popularly elected in Russia until a 2004 decree by Mr. Putin, then Russia’s president, that gave the president responsibility for appointing them. In that decree, the president is to select governors from a list of candidates drawn up by the governing party. Critics have said that the practice has made governors beholden to the Kremlin and insensitive to the popular sentiments. This can be problematic on two grounds.

In an empire-scale polity the size of Russia, which is inherently diverse,  insensitivity to popular sentiments can create pressure that could cause the federation to eventually explode. Being geographically separted from the rest of Russia and comparable to a small country, Kaliningrad is undoubtedly in a position to have expectations arise from its people concerning some extend of self-governance. As Russia treats its constituent republics like a republic’s provinces, the people in the republics are likely to take offense and demand more in terms of self-governance more in line with that of the EU’s states.

Secondly, the appointment power evinces a democracy deficit. The inability to elect governors was one of the central grievances when 10,000 people protested in Kaliningrad in January, 2010 to call for Mr. Boos’s ouster. Konstantin Doroshok, the head of the Kaliningrad branch of the opposition group, Spravedlivost, said of United Russia’s decision to deny the governor a second terms, “On the other hand, it is important to understand that the people have not been given the most important thing: the real opportunity to independently elect governors.” To the extent that the protest was over the constitutional change rather than Georgy Boos in particular, United Russia may have taken the wind out the Baltic sails without having to directly address the raison d’etre of the complaint. Even so, the pressure for more self-governance is likely to intensify in Russia’s republics. In excessively consolidating, Russia may go the way of the USSR.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/world/europe/17russia.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=russia&st=cse