Monday, April 23, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Will Krasnodar’s Xenophobic Policies Now Spread to Other Russian Regions?

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 23 – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s extraordinary appointment of sitting Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev and the latter’s nearly unanimous confirmation by the local legislature -- which is dominated by the pro-Kremlin “United Russia” Party -- could lead officials elsewhere to follow his openly xenophobic approach.
Tkachev, who has been governor since 2000 and whose second term was not due to expire until March 2009, earlier this month asked Putin to appoint him now as a mark of special favor. Putin did so on April 19 and today the regional assembly approved his appointment by a vote of 59 to one.
That course of events inevitably will be studied by others especially since Tkachev has attracted attention more attention in the past not only for his failed effort to seize Tuzla Island from Ukraine but also for statements and actions which, as RIA Novosti reported today, “some commentators” view as openly “racist.”
In perhaps the most widely quoted of his infamous remarks, Tkachev said in March 2002 “one can define a legal or an illegal immigrant simply by family name alone. Names ending in ‘ian,’ ‘dze,’ ‘shvili,’ or ‘ogli’ are illegal, just as their bearers are” (“Novaya gazeta,” July 11-14, 2002, cited in
Despite such remarks – and Tkachev has regularly repeated and acted on them in the past – at least some commentators saw Tkachev as almost an “improvement” over his predecessor. The man he succeeded, Nikolai Kondratenko, was a notorious anti-Semite; Tkachev, in contrast, has directed his bile at Armenians, Turks and Kurds.
Because of Putin’s appointment of Tkachev, because his kray is the third most populous federation subject, and because it abuts the Caucasus tinderbox, Sergei Markedonov has examined Tkachev’s approach as a possible model of where other Russian regions may be heading (
The Moscow specialist on ethnic politics in the north Caucasus notes that “the ethno-political development of the so-called ‘Russian regions’ of the North Caucasus (Krasnodar and Stavropol krays, and Rostov oblast) in contrast to the situation in the national republics of the Russia South have attracted little attention.”
On the one hand, this reflects the Moscow stereotype that the non-Russian areas are a threat while the Russian regions are allies. And on the other, it is the product of unwillingness in Moscow to take seriously the many ways in which developments in Russian regions could undermine the declared policies of the center.
According to Markedonov, this is particularly unfortunate in the case of Tkachev’s Krasnodar kray. There, “ethno-defensive nationalism has become official, liberalism has been declared an anti-state and anti-Russian phenomenon, and traditionalist values -- communalism, collectivism, and anti-progressivism -- have been broadly communicated.”
All of that represents a problem for Moscow where people now forget that “the doctrine of ‘constructive resistance to Moscow’ was born not in Dudayev’s Grozniy and not in Shaimiyev’s Kazan. Its author was” Nikolai Denisov, a deputy governor in Krasnodar kray under Kondratenko.
“Resistance to liberalization and modernization coming from the Kremlin,” Markedonov writes, “became the most important component of the ‘Kuban idea.’” And it led officials there to behave in ways that resulted in “the first officially realized ethnic cleansing” of the post-1991 era – the expulsion to the U.S. of the Meskhetian Turks.
This “model of Russian anti-liberal traditionalism,” the Moscow specialist continues, is something against which the federal authorities have up to now “not found the political will to assess in a principled away and to oppose xenophobia and traditionalism.” Indeed, by backing Tkachev, Putin has now appeared to bless it.
As a result, there is a very real threat that “the Kuban experience will be disseminated more broadly and deeper, and could over time conquer all of Russia.” Should that happen, Markedonov implies, Russia almost certainly would lose any chance for ethnic peace and political modernization.

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