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

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 Tatarstan4, 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. However, unlike the ethnic republics, oblasts and krais were not considered, by default, as significant research cases for the examination of emerging nationalistic tendencies. The majority of inquiries on Russian oblasts' development in the post-Soviet era are predominantly focused on the issues related to the infancy of the regional political and business elites and their relations with federal authorities; the peculiarities of the formation of electoral and political party systems on the subnational level have also been studied.8 Although the absence of significant research endeavors on subnational nationalism in oblasts could be interpreted as the indication of the nonexistence of this phenomenon, the present paper would like to challenge this common perception. The goal of this article is to highlight some evidence of, and explanation for, the emergence of elements of ethno-nationalism construction in a region with a population that overwhelmingly ethnically self-identified as Russian. For my argumentation, I tackle the case of the Sverdlovsk oblast, which witnessed the creation of the Urals republic project in the early 1990s.

It is necessary to acknowledge that the case of Sverdlovsk oblast-in particular the information related to the regional self-declaration of the Urals republic-received academic coverage in a number of works by authors who specialize in Russian regional development after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Due to its complexity, the topic of the post-Soviet development of Russia from a subnational perspective has been presented via various angles, and the case of the Sverdlovsk oblast is no exception. For instance, Steven Solnick discusses the case of the Sverdlovsk oblast as an example of a Russian ethnic region's response to federal asymmetry during the early Yeltsin era, and generally depicts the nature of bargaining between federal center and regional elites as a crucial factor in shaping post-Soviet Russian statehood. …

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