Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Window on Eurasia: In Ingushetia, It’s 1937 All Over Again, Rights Activists Warn

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 24 – State terror in Ingushetia today now resembles Stalin’s Great Terror in 1937, according to leading Russian human rights activists. And that terror is likely to continue, one of them said, as long as the Russian state can finance itself by the sale of oil and gas abroad.
At a Moscow press conference on Tuesday after returning from a three-day visit to that North Caucasus republic, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group and the dean of Russia’s human rights community, said that the situation in Ingushetia could only be compared “to the Stalinist repressions of 1937” (
Under the pretext of “the struggle against terrorism,” she and her colleagues said, the Ingush regime of Murad Zyazikov together with its allies in the Russian FSB and military are carrying out a campaign of kidnappings, tortures, and killings that is both terrifying the population and leading to the growth of Islamist radicalism rather than its suppression.
She and her team reported that many of the kidnappings and murders of peaceful residents were the work of “federal organs like the FSB and the Russian army,” whose operatives speak Russian rather than Ingush and are in no respect subordinate to the local authorities, who are also guilty of similar crimes (
Asked why this was so, Alekseyeva and the other human rights activists suggested that there were two reasons. On the one hand, they said, many in Moscow view terror as a useful means to create a climate of fear in which it will be possible to “guarantee the stability of the political regime in this Caucasus republic.”
And on the other, the activists continued, many in the Russian government clearly believe that they can perfect the mechanisms of a dictatorship based on siloviki terrorism that, at some point in the future, might be “extended to the entire country,” much as Stalin did in building his totalitarian state 75 years ago.
But because there is a civil society in Ingushetia, one that is more organized than in many places in the Russian Federation, this official drive is clashing with the democratic aspirations of the population, creating the conditions for a violent explosion unless the authorities change their approach.
“In order to avoid a civil war” in Ingushetia, the rights activists said that they plan to try to dispatch to the region potential negotiators who will “try to resolve the [catastrophic] situation in Ingushetia today,” one highlighted yesterday by an attack on several Russian officials who were visiting that republic yesterday.
At the conclusion of the press conference, Alekseyeva said that she and her colleagues will seek to raise the issues Ingushetia presents with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who, she said, has followed developments there closely and could be expected to understand the threat they pose to the country as a whole (
Commenting on this, Yuliya Latynina, a Moscow journalist who has specialized on the Caucasus in recent years, told yesterday that “the terror in Ingushetia may last as long as Russia does not run out of gas and oil” and the money the Russian government receives from their sale abroad (
Latynina made five points about the current situation in Ingushetia that extend what the human rights activists reported. First, she said, Zyazikov has made the Kremlin his hostage by suggesting that any dissatisfaction against him is in fact dissatisfaction with Moscow, an argument that has allowed him to act with impunity against his own opponents.
Second, she argued that Zyazikov despite the terror that he and the Russian forces have unleashed, “has completely lost control over the territory of the republic.” While Moscow cares mostly about declarations of loyalty, she notes, it does not want its regional representatives to open the door to chaos.
Third, in recent months, Latynina says, Zyazikov appears to have “completely lost contact with reality” as well. He has proposed building a tourist resort in Ingushetia, despite a level of violence that would make any outsider think many times before booking a vacation in that republic.
Fourth, Zyazikov has overseen a dramatic rise in the level of corruption, something that has allowed him to keep some of his supporters happy but that has further alienated the population and created competition among his backers for still more illegal gains, especially as many of them conclude that Zyazikov may not be in office forever.
And fifth, Latynina says, it is likely that some within the FSB are currently planning to replace Zyazikov with someone who might quality as “an Ingush Kadyrov,” that is, someone who could “combine loyalty to the federal leadership of Russia with attempts to stop the disorder of kidnappings and murders in Ingushetia.”
But like Alekseyeva, Latynina also draws a parallel between Ingushetia now under Zyazikov and the Soviet Union in 1937 under Stalin: When the NKVD arrested anyone, that person became “an enemy of the people.” Now, in Ingushetia, “when the siloviki kill anyone, that person is automatically declared ‘a separatist’ or ‘a terrorist.”
Latynina’s conclusion, however, is even more pessimistic than Alekseyeva’s. She says that the current system in Ingushetia “can continue as long as there is oil and gas in Russia” to sell and thus allow the regime to ignore the will of the people from whom it might otherwise be forced to turn for resources and support.

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