Russia's "Ethnic Revival": The Separatist Activism of Regional Leaders in a Postcommunist Order

Since 1990 Russia has experienced an unexpected "ethnic revival." Varying widely in geography, culture, economic development, and institutional history, the country's thirty-two ethnic regions offer a chance to weigh the evidence for alternative theories of separatist activism. This paper examines statistically why some--such as Chechnya and Tatarstan--have come to epitomize demands for greater independence, while others--such as Mordovia or Chukotka--have remained largely quiescent. It finds that, while a Muslim religious tradition predisposed a region's leaders to press greater separatist demands, such primordial factors were filtered through a rational calculus of the region's relative bargaining power in negotiations with the center and of the leader's own organizational interests. Contrary to some leading theories, the most developed, resource-rich, and high-income groups and regions were more separatist than more economically backward ones.