Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Window on Eurasia: United Russia in Daghestan Increasingly Resembles the CPSU

Paul Goble

Baku, January 15 – Daghestan, the most multi-national republic in the Russian Federation, no longer has any ethno-parties which express the interests and will of particular ethnic groups. Instead, the major all-Russian parties there increasingly include representatives of a wide variety of nationalities.
On one hand, Aslanbek Adiyev writes in an analysis of the situation there, this outcome reflects the reality that none of the existing ethnic groups is sufficiently large to take power on its own and thus must form alliances with others if it is to continue to have an impact on the government (http://www.fondsk.ru/article.php?id=1149).
And on the other, he says, the overwhelming dominance of United Russia means that every ethnic group wants to be represented within it and that this pro-Kremlin party thus increasingly resembles the Communist Party of the Soviet (CPSU) in that real politics takes place not at the ballot box among the voters but behind close among elites.
Specialists on ethno-politics and sociology, he notes, have often written about the existence of ethno-parties in Daghestan. But if their arguments on this point may have been true in the 1990s when there were numerous parties competing in elections, they are no longer true when there are few parties and when United Russia dominates the scene.
Instead, the Daghestani sections of the major all-Russian parties include representatives of various ethnic groups, including many whose leaders are very much at odds. They join these parties to have a chance at power and in the hope that they will be able to influence policy on behalf of their groups rather than being shut out entirely.
The situation in United Russia in this regard is especially instructive, Adiyev suggests. Its representatives include the president of the republic, the mayor of Makhachkala, the representatives of former opposition figures from the Northern Alliance, and members of various ethnic groups and clans.
The reason this is possible, the Daghestani political analyst suggests, is because United Russia is “not a party in the classical (European) sense of the word. In Daghestan in fact, United Russia completely identifies itself with the republic authorities and does not have a specific social base.”
And thus, like the CPSU in Soviet times, United Russia pretends to represent the interests of all strata of society.” But that in turn means that the Daghestani section of the party is “split into segments according to the clan interests of the competing groups” within it.
In short, the rise of United Russia has not meant the end of inter-ethnic tensions and competition in Daghestani political life but rather its shift from the public arena to elite meetings behind closed doors.
And that tendency has been compounded by the inherent conservatism of Daghestani politicians, a set of attitudes and inclinations highlighted when they failed to respond positively to Moscow’s effort to create a second and competing political party in the form of Just Russia.
Had some Daghestani politicians been willing to take part in that part, Adiyev argues, this could have represented “a unique opportunity” for the competing political groups of that republic “to play by the rules of a formal multi-party system,” with real competition among parties that actually represented particular sets of interests.
But Daghestani politicians did not rise to the occasion, Adiyev says, noting that not a single influential politician or businessman was willing to run on the United Russia slate or even work for its election. Instead, their innate conservatism drove them to support the party o power, United Russia.
Consequently and despite the suggestions by many outside observers to the contrary, Adiyev writes, “all the fundamental political struggle in Daghestan both was conducted and will continue to be conducted not between parties but within one party – United Russia.”
Like the CPSU, most of its members, however much they may dislike one another or differ in their positions on issues or their relations to ethnic groups, are people with positions in the local establishment and they thus have something to lose. Consequently, and to retain office and stay in the political game, they are prepared to compromise.
Because this arrangement means that most of its members will not make ethnic appeals to the population, many outside the republic will be inclined to think that this shift has reduced ethnic problems there. But that is not the case: Instead, these problems will just be fought over in new and hidden venues.
Given that reality, one that neither the Kremlin nor most Russian analysts appear to understand, Adiyev says, one must ask the question: “Does the country need the kind of democracy that does not take regional differences and the asymmetrical nature of federal arrangements of Russia into account?”

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