Friday, July 20, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Young Chechens Now Unwilling to Study in Russian Universities

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 20 – Young Chechens this year are choosing to study in universities in their own republic rather than elsewhere in the Russian Federation, a reversal of the pattern of only a few years ago and one that reflects both the stabilization in Chechnya and rising anti-Chechen attitudes in the Russian Federation.
Bekkhan Khazbulatov, the rector of the Grozniy Pedagogical Institute, said this week “in 2003-2005, youngsters generally sought to enroll in universities elsewhere, but today even those who could study beyond the borders of Chechnya prefer to enroll in Grozniy” (
Vakha Magomayev, the chairman of the admissions commission at Chechen State University, echoed Khabulatov’s comments, He noted that there had been a dramatic increase in the number of young Chechens who want to study in local universities, a situation that had not been true earlier.
Neither official was prepared to offer an explanation in their comments to the Russian news agency RIA Novsti-Yug, but there are two obvious ones. On the one hand, the situation in Grozniy is somewhat more stable than it was in the past and thus makes enrollment there a more attractive option.
And on the other, Chechen students who do enroll in universities elsewhere in the Russian Federation are all but certain to encounter anti-Chechen attitudes among and increasingly even physical attacks by xenophobic individuals and groups within the Russian community.
Interviews conducted by the Kavkaz-Uzel news portal suggest that the latter cause is the more important in the calculations of Chechen students. One said that she was “sufficiently prepared to enroll at any prestige university of the country, but all my friends, who had earlier enrolled in other regions, have encountered problems”
Often, she continued, these problems reflect anti-Chechen attitudes on the part of instructors but even more frequently, they are the product of the negative and “aggressive” approach of representatives of [the Russian Federation’s] law enforcement organs.”
Anyone going to Russian universities, she continued, faces “a difficult test,” one that many young Chechens want to avoid.
The parents of these students may also be playing a role in keeping their children in Grozniy. One youngster said that parents “are concerned about the security of their children – during the last year only within the circle of my friends and relatives occurred several unhappy cases with young people who went to study in Russian cities.”
Some of these students had been attacked on the street, and these attacks “in the best case scenario” had ended with traumas and wounds.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who marks his 100th day in office with celebrations tomorrow, may be pleased by this latest development as may many others who would like to see Chechnya ultimately become an independent country. But for Moscow it represents a very serious danger to Russian control of the entire region.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic Russians fled the violence and poverty of the North Caucasus in large numbers: For example, there were more than 200,000 ethnic Russians in Grozniy in 1991, making it in the words of many a “Russian outpost” but fewer than 500 today (
Nonetheless, many officials in Moscow appear to have comforted themselves with the notion that young North Caucasians were integrating themselves into the Russian community by coming to Russian cities to study and work, a population flow that many felt would limit any separatism in the future (
But now that trend has been reversed, something that makes the argument of Akhmed Zakayev, a former Chechen foreign minister now living in London exile, more significant and for Moscow, more disturbing, than they appeared when he advanced it earlier this year (
In February 2007, Zakayev suggested that he and others in the Chechen national movement 1990s had fought in the first instance not to gain power or even to achieve independence immediately but rather to “begin and complete the de-colonization” of Chechnya and of the entire North Caucasus.
In Chechnya at least, that process “is practically completed.” And what little remains to be done, Zakayev continued, will likely be completed by President Ramzan Kadyrov as he moves to strengthen his own position by strengthening Chechen state power.
As a result, Zakayev said at that time, “two, three or four years will pass and those structures that the authorities [in Grozniy however nominally pro-Moscow they may appear] are creating will strengthen” and thereby “become a factor” in the achievement of “the freedom of Chechnya.”
That is not a prospect many in Moscow are likely to welcome however much Putin relies on Kadyrov, and the news that Chechen students are going home is yet another indication that Zakayev’s observations regarding de-colonization as a step toward ultimate independence are right on target.

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