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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, 17861787) and Irtysh (Tobolsk, 17891791), 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


Evtuhov, Catherine. (1998). "Voices from the Provinces: Living and Writing in Nizhnii Novgorod, 18701905." Journal of Popular Culture 34 (4):3348.

Gel'man, Vladimir. (1999). "Regime Transition, Uncertainty, and Prospects for Democratisation: The Politics of Russia's Regions in a Comparative Perspective." Europe-Asia Studies 51:939956.

Herd, Graeme P., and Aldis, Anne, eds. (2003). Russian Regions and Regionalism: Strength through Weakness. London: Routledge Curzon.

Nikitin, N. P. (1966). "A History of Economic Geography in Pre-Revolutionary Russia." Soviet Geography: Review and Translation 7 (9):337.

Von Mohrenschildt, Dimitri. (1981). Toward a United States of Russia: Plans and Projects of Federal Reconstruction of Russia in the Nineteenth Century. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Susan Smith-Peter

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Regionalism can be defined as a sense of place that distinguishes it from other areas within a country. Typically, residents of the region often feel they are not getting their fair share of government revenues, power, or respect. Regionalism is a problem in virtually all countries of Latin America, and is based on perceived climatic, geographical, and ethnic differences, as well as historical factors. In particular, the division of Spanish and Portuguese colonies into separate nation-states followed logics that lumped together disparate regions that had little in common.

Examples abound. The residents of Brazil's northeast, which is located in the tropics and contains more descendants from Africa, felt disconnected from the more temperate center-south of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Indeed, in Pernambuco and in four other provinces an independence movement emerged in 1824 as the Confederation of the Equator, but it was crushed by the central government. Likewise, during the Revolução Farroupilha (1836–1845), centered in Brazil's far south, leaders demanded independence, but in the end lost to imperial troops. Because these movements were unsuccessful, they are now termed regional revolts.

Regionalism led to the breakup of many Spanish American states. In 1823 Central America declared independence after the first Mexican Empire broke up. The Central American Federation itself disintegrated in 1838, and as a result, the countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica emerged. Guatemala held off further disintegration in the late 1830s by annexing the state of Los Altos (in present-day western Guatemala), though Los Altos revolted several times in the 1840s. Similarly, Gran Colombia, founded by Simón Bolívar in 1819, separated into the republics of Ecuador, Venezuela, and New Granada (today's Colombia) in 1830. A regional revolt in Texas led to the establishment of a new country in 1836 and annexation into the United States in 1845. The Dominican Republic separated itself from Haiti in 1844. The last successful regional revolt that led to the establishment of a new country was the separation of Panama from Colombia in 1903 under U.S. auspices.

Regional sentiments existed and continue to exist in many other countries as well. In Bolivia, the population of the eastern lowland Santa Cruz department saw themselves as different from the highlanders of La Paz and Sucre. The cruceños were virtually ignored during the nineteenth century. In 1876 the cruceño Andrés Ibañez revolted and tried to force the government to accept a federalist regime that gave more autonomy to Santa Cruz. Bolivian troops suffocated the movement, and Ibañez was executed in 1876. Massive migration from the highlands to Santa Cruz has transformed the ethnic composition of the city, but even today Santa Cruz, which provides about 30 percent of Bolivia's GNP, continues to press for greater autonomy from the central government.

Likewise, in Venezuela the city of Maracaibo (the capital of Zulia state) was long isolated from the rest of the country because it was located on the other side of Lake Maracaibo; indeed, it had much easier communication with adjacent Colombia. Regional sentiment was strong because the Zulianos felt that they contributed an inordinate amount to the country's wealth without receiving their fair share of tax revenue. In the nineteenth century this was because of Maracaibo's role as earner of customs duties for coffee exports, and in the twentieth century because of their petroleum fields.

In many countries, negative stereotypes of inhabitants of certain regions persist. People from the Brazilian northeast often feel discriminated against by those in the south because of their darker skin color. In Peru, people from the capital city of Lima look down on the heavily indigenous people from the southern Andean highlands. In Argentina, citizens of Buenos Aires feel superior to the often poor migrants from the northern interior, insulting them as cabecitas negras ("little black heads").

The strong sense of regionalism in many countries of Latin America attests to the tenuousness of nation-states and the artificiality of many boundaries. Regionalism has both negative and positive consequences. In the postcolonial period it led to revolts and the division of states into smaller units. However, regional pride can also be a positive force, providing incentives for regions to compete, and leading to greater development.

See alsoIndigenous Peoples; Migration and Migrations; Nationhood and the Imagination; Race and Ethnicity.


Bushnell, David, and Neill Macaulay. The Emergence of Latin America in the Nineteenth Century. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Cardozo Galué, Germán. Historia zuliana: Economía, política, y vida intelectual en el siglo XIX. Maracaibo, Venezuela: Universidad del Zulia, 1998.

Love, Joseph L. Rio Grande do Sul and Brazilian Regionalism, 1882–1930. Stanford, CA: Stanford University. Press, 1971.

Palacios, Marco. La Unidad nacional en América Latina: Del regionalismo a la nacionalidad. México: El Colegio de México, 1983.

                                        Erick Langer

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REGIONALISM. A term in LINGUISTICS for a WORD or other usage belonging to a region, either of the world or a country. An Americanism is a regionalism of English in world terms, while a Kentuckyism or New Yorkism is a regionalism in US terms. See ISM. Compare LOCALISM.