Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Power-Sharing or Ethnic Domination? Ethnic Representation in the Republics of Russia in the Late 2000s - Early 2010s

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Power-Sharing or Ethnic Domination? Ethnic Representation in the Republics of Russia in the Late 2000s - Early 2010s

Article excerpt

Following the parade of sovereignties, 21 republics, 10 autonomous districts and an autonomous region were established as forms of territorial self-governance of their 'titular nation(alitie)s' alongside regular ('non-ethnic') federation units in the early 1990s (Zamyatin, 2016: 25-27). 'Titular' ethnic elites became dominant in the leadership of many republics. The recentralization of the 2000s reduced the republics' autonomy and by the 2010s resulted in the demise of federalism. Did 'titular' elites still remain dominant in the republics? To shed light on the access of elites to power in ethnic republics of Russia in the late 2000s - early 2010s, this study aims at quantitatively assessing the level of ethnic representation in the republics' top officialdom.

The period of the late 2000s - early 2010s is interesting for study, because substitution of the last Yeltsin-era heavy-weight heads of republics with the new ones in 2010 had its impact also on power distribution in republics without significantly disturbing the equilibrium in ethnic representation. Since autumn 2015, several heads of republics were arrested during the anticorruption campaign or otherwise sacked and substituted for 'outsiders', which might have marked a new era in regional ethnopolitics, when the role of ethnicity as a consideration in appointments diminished. In this study, the ruling groups that are under exploration are those that occupied formal positions in the 2007/2011-2011/2015 electoral cycle: the precise years vary among the republics.

What patterns of ethnic representation emerged in the republics? In the first part, the paper will present the data of a comparative study of ethnic representation across republics. Hanna Pitkin identified among the dimensions of political representation descriptive and substantive representation (Pitkin, 1967). This study assesses ethnic representation operationalized as a 'descriptive representation', when the ethnic identity of public officials and politicians is taken as an indicator of representation that substitutes their standing for the group interests. The assessment of substantial representation, when the representatives also act in relation to particular interests of an ethnic group, is not taken in the scope of this study, inter alia, because the analysis does not focus on the outcomes of the political process, such as passing legislation on ethnic issues.

In focus of the analysis is the contrast between the shares of the titular and the Russian populations and their representation in the parliaments and governments of the republics. I will use the combination of positional and biographical approaches of the elite theory to study the information on ethnic background of elected deputies and government officials attainable in open sources and available expert reports. An unavoidable shortcoming of the option of studying descriptive representation is that only a probabilistic argument can be made, because the representatives may act only out of their own interests, as portrayed in instrumentalist accounts. Further, given the context-specific character of ethnic allegiances, there is a danger of essentializing ethnicity by overstating the deepness of ethnic cleavages and divisions among the elites and in the populations.

For many ethnic groups in Russia, social cohesion is enhanced by the processes of assimilation that make ethnic identities less salient and the issue of ethnic representation less relevant. Ethnic issues were central to the political agenda only in some republics and often only at the time of major events, such as the adoption of their constitutions, but also then ethnic elites rarely acted as a consolidated force. More often, regional elites competed and reached a coalition of the second-order sub-elite groups or even 'clans', where ethnicity was one among the binding principles (Salagaev and Sergeev, 2013). Usually the divide between 'titular' and 'Russian' segments of regional elites had less political salience than their belonging to the 'party of power' united under the regional leader. …

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