Regionalism is the idea or practice of dividing a country into smaller units for political, economic, social, and cultural purposes. Politically, regionalism is linked to decentralized or federalist governments. Regionalism is both cultural and political, as its political success is linked to the development of a regional culture. From 1759 to the 1860s, Russian regionalism was primarily cultural. After 1861, Siberian regionalism combined cultural with political demands. Under the Soviets, regionalism retreated to a mainly cultural sphere of action. After 1991, regionalism became a major political force.
In the eighteenth century, regional studies arose from the center's interest in geography and from the periphery's traditions of chronicle writing and regional pride. In the Petrine era, Vasily Tatishchev established regional geography in theory and practice by organizing expeditions to explore the regions. During the eighteenth century, medieval chronicles evolved into more secular histories of a town or region. In 1759 Vasily Krestinin founded the first Russian local historical society, the Society for Historical Investigations, in Arkhangelsk. Krestinin's work on Arkhangelsk history merged the statist genre of descriptive geography with the chronicle traditions of the Russian north. Regional journals, such as The Solitary Bumpkin (Uyedinenny Poshekhonets ) (Yaroslavl, 1786–1787) and Irtysh (Tobolsk, 1789–1791), also helped to foster a regional identity. The establishment of provincial newspapers in all European provinces in 1837 furthered the process.
In the 1850s and 1860s, Siberian regionalism (oblastnichestvo ) combined the scholarship of federalist historian Afanasy Shchapov and the political activity of Nikolai Yadrintsev, for which the latter and his group were arrested for separatism and exiled to Arkhangelsk until 1874. Siberian regionalists argued that Siberia was a colony of Moscow and demanded political rights. After 1905, Siberian regionalists were elected to the Duma and discussed the idea of a Siberian regional duma. The provincial statistical committees, established in 1834, the zemstvo (1864), and the provincial scholarly archival commissions (1884) all published widely on regional issues.
After the October Revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks set out to centralize the country. During the civil war, regions such as Siberia and Kaluga proclaimed their independence. By the end of the civil war, however, political regionalism was under attack. The most viable regionalist institution was the sovnarkhozy, or the regional economic councils. In 1932 they were eliminated. Until Gorbachev, there was little room for political regionalism. Moscow appointed regional leaders and, apart from some passive resistance, they were obedient. Culturally, the 1920s were the golden age of regional studies (krayevedenie ), but that ended in 1929 and 1930, when the Academy of Sciences and the Central Bureau of Regional Studies and their regional affiliates were purged. In 1966, the Society for Preservation of Monuments of History and Culture was established, with the right to open provincial branches, which helped to create an institutional base for regional studies.
In 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, the regions began to rise in political power. Legally, there were eighty-nine regions within the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). The RSFSR was unusual in that it was a federation within the larger federation of the Soviet Union. Its administrative divisions can be grouped into two main categories: the mainly non-Russian ethnicallybased republics and the ethnically Russian territorially based regions. In 1990 the "parade of sovereignties" began, as the Union Republics (republics of the Soviet Union) became independent states. The RSFSR declared its sovereignty on June 12, 1990. Boris Yeltsin, who had just been elected chair of the RSFSR's Supreme Soviet, hoped to make Gorbachev's leadership of the Soviet Union redundant by ending the Soviet Union. In August 1990, Yeltsin told the heads of two of the RSFSR's autonomous republics to "take as much sovereignty as you can swallow." In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, despite Gorbachev's efforts to save it with the Union Treaty. The RSFSR's autonomous republics had been about to sign the Union Treaty both as members of the RSFSR and as Union Republics. Later, several of the autonomous republics argued for their sovereignty as independent states. After 1991 there were two rounds of treaties to bind the eighty-nine "subjects" (as all the administrative divisions were termed) together as the Russian Federation. The first was the Federation Treaties, which divided powers between the center and the republics and regions in an often ambiguous manner. The 1993 Russian Constitution superseded the Federation Treaties, setting off the second round of treaties, which often allowed conflicting laws to coexist. Yeltsin's administration was marked by an increase in regionalism, as regional elites gained power while the central state collapsed. Yeltsin signed a series of bilateral treaties with the subjects, ceding central power and producing an ad hoc system of asymmetrical freedom.
Vladimir Putin has made curbing regionalism a main priority of his presidency. One of his primary interests has been to create a single legal space in the Russian Federation by ensuring that the law of the subjects can no longer contradict federal law. To this end, he has created seven super regions superimposed over the other eighty-nine and staffed by presidential appointees. In general, Putin's desire for a strong central state is not easily reconciled with regionalist demands for a more decentralized government.
See also: federation treaties; geography; gorbachev, mikhail sergeyevich; sovnarkhozy; union treaty; yeltsin, boris nikolayevich
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"Regionalism." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/regionalism
"Regionalism." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved January 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/regionalism
"REGIONALISM." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/regionalism-0
"REGIONALISM." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved January 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/regionalism-0