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Russia: The Independent Republic Of. . . St. Petersburg?

St. Petersburg, 14 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - In 1991, St. Petersburg elected its first mayor. In 1996, that position was upgraded to governor. Now, two local organizations want to make the post that of president -- of its own, independent country.

An independent St. Petersburg with its own constitution, president, parliament, civil laws and judicial system. Russia's former imperial capital, with its own citizenship laws and passport?

Bezumje? Insanity?

Perhaps, but two groups who are convinced that Russia is denying St. Petersburg its rightful place as a European city are serious.

Last week, Daniel Lanin and his group, the St. Petersburg Movement for Autonomy; and another organization, Independent St. Petersburg, led by former jazz musician Yury Vdovin, held a joint meeting to discuss strategy.

Ruslan Linkov, a member of Independent St. Petersburg and a respected political consultant, who has worked on numerous gubernatorial and parliamentary election campaigns, says independence is the only way if St. Petersburgians want to live normally.

Anna Polyanskaya, another member of Independent St. Petersburg, put it it this way: "St. Petersburg is a European city in an Asian empire." She pointed out, "Estonia, which has one-fourth the population of St. Petersburg and no natural resources, has pursued economic reform and is now stable."

The idea may be crazy, but it's not new. In the early 1990s, when independence fever was sweeping the Soviet Union, the local publication, "Anekdot" asked the question: "What should St. Petersburg do if it becomes an independent country?" One popular answer: "Declare war on Finland and immediately surrender."

In April 1993, 75 percent of St. Petersburg's voters voted in a referendum to make St. Petersburg an autonomous republic within Russia, with a status similar to Tatarstan's. There was no indication that they were joking.