Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Kadyrov Decree Likely to Spur, Not Check Anti-Russian Chechen Nationalism

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 17 – In his first decree as president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov has approved a concept paper for the nationality policy of his republic that not only is fundamentally different from all other such documents in the Russian Federation but one seen likely to trigger a new growth of anti-Russian nationalism there.
At the very least, Sergei Markedonov, one of Moscow’s most thoughtful commentators on ethnic issues in the northern Caucasus, suggests, it will promote a distorted understanding among Chechens of their own recent history and make it difficult if not impossible for ethnic Russians to return there anytime soon.
In an articled entitled “The 100 Days of Ramzan Kadyrov” posted online yesterday, Markedonov notes that both the Russian Federation and many of its constituent elements have adopted concept papers on nationality policy over the last decade (http://www.apn.ru/publications/print16900.htm).
But virtually all of them have contained commitments to the friendship of all the ethnic groups on a given territory, couched controversial issues of the past and present in often artfully ambiguous language, and carefully balanced commitments to primordial ties and constructed identities.
The Chechen document, under discussion since 2003, that Kadyrov has now approved, however, is completely different: It is explicit where other such documents are vague, thus making tension more likely, and it contains a version of recent history that few but the most rabid of Chechen nationalists would find convincing.
In the first second of this concept paper, one entitled “The Culture Specifics of the Chechen Ethnos,” the paper defines as its subject the Chechen nation and not the “multi-national people of Chechnya. It thus casts doubt on the standing of all other groups, both the small number of non-Chechens left and the many more who departed in the 1990s.
Moreover, in focusing on the Chechens as an ethnic group, the paper stresses the conflicts they have had with other groups rather than any possibility of cooperation with them. “In their struggle with conquerors,” it says, “the Chechens have often been driven to the brink of extinction,” even though they have never occupied the lands of others.
Such “ethno-centrism,” Markedonov continues, “essentially simplifies the picture of the past and introduces a set of preferences as to who was a victim [the Chechens] and who was a butcher [a term that appears to extent to all those including the tsars, the Soviets and post-Soviet Russians].”
No one denies that outsiders in both the distant and recent past bear enormous responsibility for the tragedies the Chechen people have faced, the Moscow analyst says, but no one except someone blind to the facts can accept as this paper does that some Chechens are at least partially to blame as well.
But it is the second part of this paper that may have even more negative consequences. Entitled “The Ethnopolitical Situation in the Chechen Republic,” this section describes the enormous destruction that Chechnya has suffered since 1991 but fails to discuss “the de-russification and mono-ethnicization” of its population.

Whatever else Moscow and the Russian forces may have wanted over the last 15 years, Markedonov argues, they were not interested in promoting either of these outcomes. Indeed, most observers would say, these developments can be described as a the product of “ethnic cleansing” promoted by “Chechen ethno-nationalism.’’
In addition, the concept paper devotes a great deal of attention to ‘’Chechenophobia’’ in the Russian media and public life, but it does not discuss any of the causes of this form of xenophobia, at least some of which are to be blamed on the actions of some Chechens.
Given this perspective and the likelihood that it will inform Kadyrov’s policies, Markedonov concludes, ‘’it would be naïve’’ to expect that Russians will return in large numbers to Chechnya or that Chechnya under Kadyrov will promote ‘’the rapid integration of Chechnya into the all-Russian social space.’’
At the very least, the Moscow analyst says, predictions of such outcomes are ‘’premature.’’

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