Vienna, April 10 – The flight of ethnic Russians from the non-Russian republics of the North Caucasus, a trend that began before the end of the Soviet period and accelerated in the 1990s, now constitutes by itself a threat to Moscow’s control of the region, according to a leading specialist on ethnic affairs.
In an article prepared for the “Caucasus Times,” Sergei Markedonov of the Moscow Institute of Political and Military Analysis, not only provides a statistical portrait of this development but also discusses both the reasons behind it and its likely consequences (http://www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=12365).
In the 1989-2002 intercensal period, only in Adygeia did the number of Russians remain relatively constant, falling only slightly from 447,000 to 445,000, but even there, the ethnic Russian share of the population declined significantly because of the higher growth rate and slower departure of the Adygeis.
Elsewhere, declines in the share of ethnic Russians in the republic populations over this period were much greater: In North Ossetia, the percentage of Russians fell from 29.9 percent to 23.4 percent; and in Karachai-Cherkessia., it fell from a plurality of 42 percent to the number two nationality with 33.6 percent.
In Daghestan, the percentage of ethnic Russians in the population fell from 10 percent in 1989 to five percent in 2002. In Ingushetiya, their percentage fell by a factor of 6.5 times. And in neighboring Chechnya, the number of ethnic Russians fell even more dramatically.
In 1991, Markedonov says, there were something over 200,000 ethnic Russians living in the Chechen capital of Grozniy. Now, their number is only about 500, “not counting” of course both Russian officials and Russian military personnel sent in from beyond the borders of Chechnya.
The Moscow analyst outlines the reasons for what he calls “the de-Russication” of the North Caucasus. Prior to 1991, Russians left the North Caucasus because of what he calls “the nationalization” of the republic elites, population pressure exerted by groups returning from deportation, and the ethnic aspects of “early capitalist” development.
Those trends have been well-documented in the past and they help to explain why the ethnic Russian communities in the North Caucasus despite some efforts by Cossack groups in 1991 were never able, despite their numbers and compact settlement, to set up what might be called “a second Transdniestria” in the Caucasus.
The five additional reasons for Russian flight since 1991, however, have received less attention, with most commentators simply pointing to violence in Chechnya or the desire of ethnic Russians to return to their ethnic homelands elsewhere in the Russian Federation.
First among these, the Moscow specialist on ethnicity in the Caucasus, was the failure of the “Russian movement” in the North Caucasus to find either strategic or tactical allies capable and willing to support them as an ethnic community.
Second, Markedonov continues, members of this ethnic Russian movement turned out to be incapable of using the language of human rights to advance their cause, something Russians elsewhere were more able to do.
Third, the Russians of the North Caucasus were unable to adjust to a situation where Moscow would not automatically support them as the “advance post” of Russian power in the region.
Fourth, Markedonov continues, the ethnic Russians in this region were largely cut out of the division of property as privatization proceeded. Because ethnic relations in the North Caucasus have typically found expression in struggles over property, this Russian loss left them with little reason to remain.
And fifth, the ethnic Russian communities in the North Caucasus did not receive much support from those who might have become their leaders. Instead, such potential leaders cut deals either with the increasingly powerful non-Russians or with Moscow, again freezing the ethnic Russian communities out.
Taken together, these factors have lead to a dramatic Russian flight, one that hurts both them and Moscow’s interests, on the one hand, and in some respects at least, the non-Russians as well. The ethnic Russians who have departed, he notes, were often among the most highly trained part of the population. .
In addition, the ethnic Russians were far less involved in the clan and extended family relationships and could in the past serve as arbiters among them. And finally, their departure removes from the scene “the cement” that had helped Moscow to control one of the most ethnically divided and fractious parts of the Russian Federation.
In principle, the Moscow analyst said, it should be possible to slow or even reverse ethnic Russian flight from the North Caucasus, but that will not happen he continues until “regional apartheid (the Caucasus for the Caucasians, the Kuban for the Cossacks and Moscow for the Muscovites)’ is overcome.”
Until then, and until the Russian state becomes something more than “an enormous bureaucratic marketplace,” everyone will have to forget “about the rights of man and citizen – be they of an ethnic Russian in Grozniy or an ethnic Chechen in Moscow.”