Great Migration of the Capitals

Many Russians think about the organization of the Russian state and ask themselves what is to be done so the hopes and expectations of Russians can be fulfilled
Many of us do think that "Carthage delenda est!" (Carthage stands for Moscow in the minds of most people).

Who is to blame for the fact that all money flows to Moscow? Why do people in the provinces dislike Muscovites so much? But at the same time, irrespective of a dislike for the capital, many people desire to live and work there. Why does it happen? An idea has been suggested saying that Moscow must have a new identity.

Redistribution of the authorities now concentrated in Moscow will help rationally distribute financial flows and generate an economic upturn in Russia's federation units; this may also strengthen the country's integrity and lessen bureaucracy. The modern system of telecommunications, use of teleconferences and electronic signatures will be helpful for the interaction of all bodies of authority, irrespective of their location.

Let each district or region of Russia have a capital of its own that will develop independently and raise the economic, social and political infrastructure up to word level. Indeed, though Washington or Berlin are not the largest cities, they successfully carry out capital functions.

It may seem strange that these ideas are shared by some politicians as well. Deputy Valery Galchenko from the People's Party group submitted his project on "redistribution of the central authority bodies among Russia's largest cities" for consideration by the State Duma committee for government structures. What is the main idea of the project?

Galchenko thinks Moscow must remain the central capital of Russia, where the presidential residence and diplomatic missions of foreign countries must be located. St. Petersburg should perform the role of Russia's second capital, a cultural one. According to the project, eight more cities of Russia and one region are to be given the functions of a capital. It is suggested that the government must be moved to the city of Yekaterinburg, the Duma to Nizhny Novgorod, the Federation Council to Novosibirsk, the Central Bank to Krasnoyarsk and the Constitutional Court to Vladivostok.

What is more, it is said that some of the duties currently fulfilled by Moscow must be handed over to the Moscow region. An explanatory note attached to the mass of documents says other bodies of executive authority may be moved to the regions according to their economic specialization. All federation units that acquire new functions may receive additional finance.

Though the idea may seem Utopian, it is still rational in some respects. The project unfortunately does not specify how much redistribution of the capital duties may cost, what will be the budgetary spending on  document circulation and if the cities have buildings to accommodate the bodies of authority coming from Moscow.

It may seem strange that the deputy cited a situation in former Soviet republic Kazakhstan as an example. Galchenko believes Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev moved the capital from the city of Alma-Ata northward to Astana on purpose. In doing so, he wanted to protect the Kazakhstan steppe from Russia's probable expansion. The same principle is suggested to protect Russia's eastern territories by moving the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation there. The idea is right to some extent, but citing Kazakhstan as an example is wrong as President Nazarbayev had quite different motives to move the capital to Astana.

It is inevitable that dispersing bodies of authority will entail a number of problems. What is to happen to the family businesses of government officials having to move to some other place? There are several solutions.

The example of the Golden Horde can be used to give us a mobile capital - let the people's servants (as deputies call themselves) travel from place to place and not stay in one place for too long. This will allow them to understand life in different parts of the country and make the duties of a government official actually difficult and dangerous.

If it is necessary to concentrate all government officials in one place, it is advisable to move the capital from one region to another, one by one. The most problematic region must be chosen first to settle government officials there. Several years of their activities will attract much finance and improve the region's position. When the situation changes for the better, the officials then may move to another location. Those in too poor health to move further may stay in the previous region.  Those most active should move around.

Today, Moscow is actually overburdened with managing functions. But this does not mean that vast sums of money will move elsewhere. That is why Moscow should retain global functions as it is the capital of the state; smaller economic issues must be handed over to the jurisdiction of several Russian cities, thus appointing them capitals of federal districts (the Far Eastern, Siberian and Central Districts, for instance).

Unfortunately, it is perfectly clear even now that the project is doomed to failure. The People's Party group and Galtsev himself realize it. In fact, this populist project is highly likely just a pre-election trick. But the idea is sure to be supported by a group of the electorate which in its turn will help the People's Party overcome the 5 percent barrier for entering the Duma.

Though many experts insist the idea is Utopian, they admit Russia needs  large-scale territorial and administrative reform. The need for territorial and administrative division is felt acutely now as relations between the center and the regions have been strained for a long time.

Igor Pridorogin

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Author`s name Michael Simpson