chapter  13
‘Eurasia’, ideology and the political imagination in provincial Russia
ByCaroline Humphrey
Pages 19

If by ‘ideology’ we refer to the manipulation of a system of ideas in the service of dominating political interests, then in Soviet times there was only one ideology in Russia, that of the Communist Party.1 In the last ten years, by contrast, there has been ideological uncertainty at the centre and a burgeoning of new ideologies in the provinces. While the Moscow government has been searching for a new ‘idea’ for Russia,2 many regional leaderships have boldly propounded their own ideologies, including political values, policies, educational programmes, rituals and festivals, and so forth. It is not only the governments of Republics with specific ethnic profiles that have been active, such as Tatars tan, but also those of Russian provinces (oblast) where leaders want to establish a

particular character and policy for their region.3 What differentiates these new ideologies from the Soviet one is that they are not hegemonic even in their own areas (or perhaps, more cautiously, one should say that they are not yet hegemonic). They are designed to appeal to varied constituencies of voters and business interests in contexts where alternatives exist. At the same time, and this is what distinguishes them from the ideologies of independent countries, they are also addressed ‘upwards’ to a single centre, that is, to Moscow. The central government retains enormous financial power over the provinces, especially those which are in debt to it, including most of the Asian regions discussed in this chapter. Such resource-poor provinces simply cannot balance their budgets without substantial annual transfers from Moscow. This situation is inevitably unstable: the impulse towards independence and consolidation of local interests is countered by the periodic need to appear in the guise of loyal subjects (regional leaders personally travel to Moscow to negotiate loans and transfers with ministers). At the same time, the political messages from Moscow have varied wildly over the years, from Yeltsin’s injunction to the provinces in the early 1990s to Take all the power you can’ to Putin’s attempt to establish direct administrative control. Meanwhile, powerful and wealthy ‘oligarchs’ can suddenly transform the face of local politics by concluding some major deal in that territory, or indeed by presenting themselves as local election candidates.4