Involuted federalism and segmented regionalism

Authored by: Richard Sakwa

Routledge Handbook of Regionalism and Federalism

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415566216
eBook ISBN: 9780203395974
Adobe ISBN: 9781136727627


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In evolutionary theory, involution describes a process whereby a redundant organ fails to develop and ultimately in extreme cases disappears. It also describes the regressive changes associated with old age. In the Russian case, we are describing a political process associated not with maturity, but one in which federalism has failed to develop in classic forms, accompanied by the effective vertical constitutional separation of powers and the retention of legally buttressed autonomy for sub-national units. This involution of federalism, however, has been accompanied by the rampant development of a series of informal practices that I call ‘segmented regionalism’, in which sub-national units sought to arrogate powers and privileges to themselves in a way that repudiated the separation of powers from below accompanied by ad hoc concession negotiated through bilateral deals from above. This type of regionalism was particularly developed in the 1990s, in the wake of the Soviet disintegration and Russia’s emergence as an independent state in December 1991. In the 2000s, the presidency under Vladimir Putin pushed back against segmented regionalism, but in the process pulled the blanket too far the other way and limited the political autonomy of the regions, although technically arguing that their constitutional rights had not been infringed. The first article of the 12 December 1993 constitution declares that ‘The Russian Federation-Russia is a democratic federative rule-of-law state with a republican form of government’, and the second part of the same article declares that ‘The names Russian Federation and Russia are of equal validity’. Thus the principle of federalism is enshrined in the founding document of the state, yet practices represent considerable divergence from these standards. Federal relations in Russia reflect the dualism that is characteristic of the polity as a whole (Sakwa, 2010, 2011). The duality in federal and regional relations provides rich scope for varying interpretations and divergent practices – the hybridity that is at the core of analysis in this volume. What is lacking is a viable and coherent Russian model of federalism.

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