Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Kondopoga Highlights Risk of Broader ‘Russian-Caucasian War’

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 4 – On the first anniversary of the clashes between ethnic Russians and Chechens in Russia’s north, a Moscow commentator has suggested that Kondopoga has become “a code word” for the danger of countrywide ethnic clashes that were they to break out could lead to the murder-suicide for Russian society.
But precisely because this risk was so quickly recognized both by the government and most members of Russian society, Dmitriy Nersesov writes in a commentary posted online yesterday, the tragic clashes in Kondopoga may turn out to be “a saving vaccination” (http://www.russ.ru/layout.ru/set/print//politics/lyudi/ieroglif_kondopoga).
After attention to Kondopoga ebbed at the end of last year, the conflict in that Karelian city has once again become the subject of a flood of commentaries in the Russian press, not only because of the anniversary this week but also because of the trials last month of some of the participants.
But Nersesov writes that for him and obviously for many others, “Kondopoga became that place where Russian society could look directly at its own death and even touch it with its hands. For what happened there was in essence a rehearsal for a new Russian-Caucasus war” but with one essential difference.
Unlike the war in Chechnya and the continuing turmoil in southern regions of the Russian Federation, this conflict was not “confined to the North Caucasus but would break out across the entire country” even and perhaps especially in places where people from the Caucasus are new arrivals.
Indeed, the conflict between ethnic Russians and Chechens in Kondopoga at the end of August last year happened precisely because neither officials nor the population had much experience with interethnic relations and were driven by images of “the other” rather than by any concrete experience with him.
Kondopoga showed, Nersesov continues, that members of both groups have accepted these images and are now prepared to act on them in ways. And that new development, he suggests, points to “the reality of the risk of the unleashing of a total ‘anti-Caucasian’ civil war.”
In that war, he warns, “Russia would not survive.”
Nersesov concludes his essay by arguing that “it is not so important” whether this scenario is being sponsored by some outside force or is arising “’by a natural path.” What does matter, he says, is that all the residents of Russia have now “looked into the abyss” and stopped before “stepping into it.”
And to the extent that Russians continue to act with restraint, to pull back from this kind of violence in the future, the Moscow writer says “hopefully,” the violence in Kondopoga will have been a frightening but ultimately “a vaccination” that will save the entire country.

No comments: