Staunton, January 9 – “Regionalism has meaning and value only if it occurs within a country with a developed democracy,” Igor Yakovenko says. In that event, it “enriches the life of the individual and makes it better. But if democracy is absent, regionalism makes the life of the individual worse and less free.”
As the experience of Russia in the 1990s demonstrated, the Moscow commentator says, regionalism without democracy gives rise to “a regime of local dictatorships which in an absolute majority of cases are even worse than the ‘big’ imperial dictatorship’” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5A53D47382A89).
As for Russia today in which democracy is absent, Yakovenko says, “few normal people would agree to replace the Putin regime with that of [Chechnya’s] Kadyrov or [Kemerovo’s] Tuleyev or the autocracy of [Moscow mayor] Sobyanin.” And that must dictate the attitude of those who recognize that relative to democracy, regionalism is a secondary value.
Once Russians recognize this, he continues, they will recognize that they must work together to destroy the current dictatorship. Once they have “destroyed this prison by their common efforts, they will then be able to decide whether to build a common home or disperse into separate apartments.”
Yakovenko’s reflections arise from a debate he has been having with Vadim Shtepa, the editor of the After Empire portal over whether Moscow must return Crimea to Ukraine or allow it to become a Crimean Tatar republic, a question that Yakovenko suggests raises “the main question of regionalism: who is ‘the people’ which has the right to self-determination?”
Their discussion has been “quite useful” because they share so many views and values. They are both supporters of democracy, human rights, and European values. They both reject “the imperial policy of Putin and “consider the occupation of Crimea a crime.” Where they diverge is how they would solve this problem and how they would promote democracy.
For Shtepa, Yakovenko says, “returning Crimea to the jurisdiction of Crimea would be an act of imperial policy.” But that is not the case, the Moscow commentator says. It is a question of simple respect for international law. Russia’s actions violated that law and thus must be recognized as null and void and then be reversed.
According to Yakovenko, his disagreements with Shtepa “arise from a different understanding of the nature of democracy and of regionalism as one of its manifestations. For himself but not apparently for Shtepa, regionalism is secondary to democracy and is internally inconsistent because it is not always clear who is “the people” with specific rights.
In fact, he continues, “the word ‘people’ contains within itself an explosive contradiction.” In 2014, in the name of the people, Putin seized Ukraine’s Crimea. Now some want the Crimean Tatars who number only 250,000 to seize power over the two million other people living on that peninsula. Neither has the right to do so, Yakovenko says.
The rights of all must be considered, and that makes it difficult to decide who is the people with the right of self-determination. In March 1991, for example, the citizens of the USSR voted overwhelmingly for the preservation of the Soviet Union. But by the end of that year, the Soviet Union was dead because “there was no Soviet people.”
“And now in Putin’s Russia, there is no [non-ethnic] Russian people. Of those who came out of the USSR, only the peoples of the Baltic countries became peoples in the full sense of this word thus acquiring the status of subject. The people of Ukraine has struggled for a long time to reach that status and fully acquired it only by uniting against Russian aggression.”
Thus, one must acknowledge that there is “no ‘people of Crimea’ in Putin’s Russia. There is (now!) a people of Ukraine and a state of Ukraine, the territorial integrity of which has been violated in a criminal way,” Yakovenko says. “There are residents of Crimea whose rights at present are being violated. They have become the chief victim of the Putin occupation.”
And it is their rights that are of the greatest concern. “Everything else, the state, the nation, the people, is secondary and derivative from the individual and his rights and freedoms.” Consequently, the first task is to struggle for democracy against dictatorship rather than anything else.