Staunton, February 11 – Many leaders in both Soviet and post-Soviet times recognized that the Leninist national-territorial division of the country created many problems and even represented what some have called “a delayed action mine” under the continued existence of either the USSR or the Russian Federation.
And both then and now, some of them have wanted to do away with republics in the name of saving the country, but writing in Nazaccent.ru today, Elizaveta Karmanova point out that they have not been able to do so because neither of the conditions that might allow for such a change has been present (nazaccent.ru/content/14785-plan-edinstva.html).
The journalist who specializes on ethnic issues argues that “any cardinal transformations in the territorial division of the country are possible only in two situations” – the total collapse of the state and the need to reconstitute it from square one or “when the country is unusually strong and stable in all respects” and can take such a step consciously and with “the support of the overwhelming majority of the population.”
“Thank God,” she says, Russia is not living through “anything like the catastrophic cataclysms comparable with the revolutions of 1917.” But at the same time, while the country is more consolidated than at any time since 1991, “it would be an exaggeration to say that the economic situation in our state is perfectly fine” or that Russians consider this a task of first importance.”
Consequently, Karmanova argues, “discussion of issues of the transformation of the administrative division of Russia” should be, if Russians are wise, “put off until better times” -- or at least times when “at a minimum” things are “more prosperous than now.”
To make her point about how difficult any changes would be and how conditions have to be just right for them to be attempted, she recalls the 2006 memoir of Arkady Volsky, who served as an economic advisor to Soviet leader Yury Andropov who had “an idee fixe” about the need to “liquidate” the non-Russian republics (kommersant.ru/doc/704123).
In his article, Volsky said that Andropov had told him that “let’s end the national divison of the country” and asked him to come up with a Soviet Union whose territorial divisions would be based not on ethnicity but on the basis of population and economics alone. In short, the economic advisor wrote, Andropov asked him to “draw a new map of the USSR.”
Volsky says that he and his staff came up with 15 different scenarios, but Andropov “didn’t like any of them.” Then he went back, consulted with others, and reduced them to three, none of which allowed any role for ethnicity. What Andropov might have done is unclear, but he took to his bed and soon died.
Had that not happened, Andropov might have been able to have his way, and, in Volsky’s words, “the secretaries of the Central Committees who later became heads of independent states would have stormily applauded the wise decision of the party” and history might have been very different.
By the time Andropov’s successor Mikhail Gorbachev suggested dividing the USSR into 50 states, it was too late. Things had gone too far. And his suggestion has exactly the opposite effect he hoped for: It contributed to the demise of the USSR, another case when incautious talk about suppressing republics can become a greater threat than allowing them to continue to exist.