Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Meltdown of the Russian Federation in the Early 1990s: Nationalist Myth-Building and the Urals Republic Project

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Meltdown of the Russian Federation in the Early 1990s: Nationalist Myth-Building and the Urals Republic Project

Article excerpt

Abstract: In the early 1990s after the collapse of the USSR, the new Russian state faced strong nationalist claims for sovereignty and increased autonomy from the side of regional elites. These nationalist challenges at the sub-national level were seriously considered by many experts to be a potential cause for the further breakup of Russia into a number of new independent states. The nationalist movements in ethnic republics like Chechnya, Tatarstan and Sakha-Yakutia, and their contribution to possible scenario of the disintegration of the Russian Federation, have been researched frequently in postSoviet-studies literature. However, the examination of the impact of nationalistic ideas in ethnically Russian regions (oblasts) at the beginning of the 1990s has not received the same level of attention from political scientists. The Sverdlovsk oblast is a case study for this research. In the early 1990s, the creation of the Urals republic began in this region. This paper argues that the Sverdlovsk oblast's claims for increased autonomy included elements of myth-construction within a sub-state nationalist ideology. The first section of this paper briefly contextualizes the events that occurred during the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s that led to the growth of strong sub-nationalist movements in post-Communist Russia. The second section gives details of the Urals republic project, launched in the Sverdlovsk oblast in 1993, and defines the presence of nationalist mythmaking elements in this regional movement. In the conclusion of the paper, I evaluate the impact of the project on the development of federalism and democracy in post-Soviet Russia, and discuss whether its centrifugal tendencies could reemerge in present Russia.

Keywords: federalism, nationalism, post-Soviet Russia, Sverdlovsk oblast, Urals republic

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and until the end of the 1990s, there existed a point of view among a number of political scientists that the Russian Federation, as a new state, would not survive for long, and that--as had happened with the USSR--Russia could break into a number of new sovereign nations or be regularly faced with the threat of succession-based crises. (1) These expectations of the Russian meltdown were not merely the product of some Russophobes' speculations, but had a set of objective reasons based on the problems of nation-building that became vividly present during the development of Russian statehood in the 1990s. The analytical glance cast upon 1990s Russia gives us ideas about a number of key factors that challenged the country's territorial integrity throughout its democratic transition, specfically under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. These factors are, indeed, highly debated as generally disputable in the analysis of 1990s Russia. (2) However, among the most central factors that could have led to the breakup of Russia was the flourishing of various sub-state nationalist projects in the different parts of the country. (3)

The phenomenon of sub-state nationalist movements emerged simultaneously with the democratic transition in the end of Perestroika; in many ways, it determined the political and socioeconomic development of the Russian statehood in the early 1990s. The most noted and popular examples of sub-state nationalist movements are represented in the academic literature by the case studies of ethnic republics like Tatarstan (4), Chechnya, (5) and Sakha-Yakutia. (6) The research interest in the above-mentioned constituent entities seems absolutely expected, as the nationalist projects in these ethnic republics took the most intense form. Moreover, the nationalistic aspiration in Chechnya received additional analytic attention due to the escalation of violent armed conflict between the central government and Chechen nationalists. (7)

The regions populated by ethnic Russians (oblasts and krais) have also been the subjects of scholarly interest. …

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