Vienna, May 28 – Operating on the principle that if “there is no publication, there is no problem,” the FSB has sought to reduce to a minimum coverage of the Circassian issue both in Russia and abroad, efforts that reflect Moscow’s concerns about it and unfortunately point to more trouble ahead in the North Caucasus.
In an article posted on the CaucasusTimes.com portal today, Avraam Shmulyevich, an Israeli researcher who has written extensively on the Circassians, says that “the FSB and Russian bureaucrats responsible for nationality policy have taken the strategic decision to ‘cover up’ the Circassian problem” (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20077).
Last week, Circassians in the North Caucasus and around the world marked the 145th anniversary of their forcible expulsion from their homeland by tsarist authorities and the genocide that resulted. But in contrast to earlier years and despite this being a “round” date, this commemoration was “completely ignored by the federal mass media,” Shmulyevich notes.
But the powers that be in Moscow did not limit themselves to the Russian media: they sought to restrict coverage of this event by people living abroad, including Shmulyevich, who as the head of the Eastern Partnership Institute has written frequently about the Circassians and other ethnic groups in the Caucasus.
Shmulyevich reports that in advance of the May 21 anniversary he received several messages from Russia asking him “reduce [his] activity” as far as covering the Circassian question is concerned. But he continues, these recommendations were supplemented by direct media attacks on him.
One Russian Internet article said he was trying to “create a Circassian nation” and “destabilize the situation in the Caucasus, and others insinuated “in the good old traditions of Soviet anti-Semitism” that he as an Israeli Jew was working against Russia and Russian interests (www.stringer.ru/publication.mhtml?Part=48&PubID=11338).
Another said that he was seeking “the separation of Chechnya and the entire North Caucasus” from Russia as a prelude to “the establishment of ‘Greater Circassia’,” independence for the Crimean Tatars and the Middle Volga, and the separation of Xinjiang from China (blog.kob.spb.su/2009/05/20/305/).
And still a third set of Runet articles, all inspired by this FSB effort, accused him of being part of an international conspiracy seeking to promote a pan-Turkic “network” of states directed against Russia (www.stringer.ru/publication.mhtml?Part=48&PubID=11338 and www.daginfo.com/index.php?name=news&op=view&id=1785).
Such ill-informed commentaries, Shmulyevich says, would not be worth answering if it were not for the fact that they highlight the very importance of the Circassian issue the FSB and its allies are seeking to play down and that they show the ways in which the FSB is attempting to manage the news not only inside Russia but abroad.
As Shmulyevich points out, “the ‘Circassian question’ really exists.” There is no need for “dark forces” to invent it. And both the Circassians living in the Russian Federation and those in the diaspora have “a whole list of problems and demands which for years they have been trying without success to bring to the attention of the federal authorities.”
In the past, nearly all and even now most Circassians would like to find a solution to these problems within “the Russian legal field,” Shmulyevich says. That will not be easy, he continues, given the extraordinary complexity of the situation in the North Caucasus and Moscow’s current approach of denying that any “Circassian” problem exists.
As evidence of that, he points to the “schizophrenic situation” in which Moscow “celebrates the anniversary of the voluntary and peaceful inclusion” of the Circassian republics into Russia even as people in those republics recall the century-long fight they put up against being absorbed by Russia and their subsequent expulsion from that country.
But the problems in Moscow’s approach are not only ideological, the Israeli analyst says. On the one hand within the Russian Federation, the FSB and GRU continue the Soviet-era policy of “divide and rule,” setting groups against each other, even though this almost certainly will lead to explosions and further radicalization.
And on the other, these services are promoting what they say they oppose, namely Islamist radicalism, because when they attack anyone who opposes the local regimes as “an extremist,” they add cachet to that charge and throw “gasoline into the fires” already spreading across the region.
Abroad, he points out, the FSB “is working among the Circassian diaspora,” urging its leaders not to raise the issue lest the situation for their co-ethnics inside the Russian Federation deteriorate, a classical Soviet-era strategy that traces its roots back to the “Trust” Feliks Dzerzhinsky set up under Lenin to work against the first Russian emigration.
While the FSB has had some success among the older generation, its efforts have proved to be “a Pyrrhic victory” at most, because others in the diaspora and especially its younger members recognize that the Russian security services would not be making these efforts if they were not afraid.
Summing up, Shmulyevich says that the Moscow-appointed heads of the Circassian republics along with “Russian bureaucrats and Russian special services working in the media and on international issues” are behaving in ways that suggest “with such protectors and with such an administrative apparatus, Russia doesn’t have any need for [additional] enemies.”