Monday, October 12, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Strong Presidency System Has Led to Ethnocracy in Russia’s Republics

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 12 – The introduction of strong presidencies in Russia’s republics after 1993, a move many then believed was essential to the implementation of reforms, has led to “the partial confederalization” of the country, the conversion of republics into “the feudal property of criminal elites,” and the undermining of the rights of all minorities living there.
That conclusion, which some would extend to the Russian Federation as a whole, is offered by Gury Murklinskaya in a commentary on the portal concerning the situation which has evolved in Daghestan, a situation she says shows “how right were the Daghestanis” who voted against a strong presidency in 1993 (
The introduction of a strong presidential system in Daghestan, she writes, “was more than a mistake: it was an act of stupidity verging on criminality because it created conditions” for “the criminal elite of ‘the ruling ethnos’” to dominate those nationalities which are smaller and less well armed.
What makes this trend “especially dangerous,” Murklinskaya continues, is “that it is being carried out in the name of the federal powers that be, and even the federal structures at the local level who are supposed to the guardians of the laws of the Russian Federation and its interests are drawn into the dirty political games of local bureaucrats.”
The run-up to the mayoral elections in the southern Daghestani city of Derbent have shown just how unfortunate are the consequences of this system, with Republic President Mukhu Aliyev and his staff displaying “a crude and shameless use of administrative resources” to ensure that their preferred outcome would be achieved.
They put pressure on all groups of the population, especially those who depend on the government for their incomes, used the OMON, confiscated film from journalists, and even fired on demonstrators. As a result, the Derbent vote may be overturned in court, but these actions are only symptoms of a much larger problem, Murklinskaya insists.
The reason Aliyev and his regime are acting this way and transforming Daghestan into a republic of ever greater force and ever less real power of law” is because Moscow will soon have to decide whether Aliyev will continue in office or be replaced either by his candidate or someone else.
By ensuring that only the “correct” result of the election is possible, Aliyev clearly believes he puts himself in a better position either to remain in power or to determine that his successor will be a member of the same nationality and same criminal group as he is, Murklinskaya continues.
But the upshot of that is that Daghestan has become “something like England before World War II,” as described in Graham Greene’s novel, “The Ministry of Fear.” And as a result of Aliyev’s effort to solidify his ethnocratic rule, everyone in the republic can see that Aliyev is ready to carry out “the moral and physical destruction of the leaders” of smaller nations.
“The overwhelming majority of the population of Daghestan is pro-Russian by conviction independent of nationality,” she writes. But Aliyev’s rule, and the support it gets from Moscow, is changing that because “thousands and thousands of Daghestanis” now are confronted by questions “of life and death.”
Under peaceful conditions, Murklinskaya suggests, all of this might be resolved relatively easily. But “under conditions of escalation of foreign challenges, the invocation of the so-called ‘Wahhabi threat’ by the part of the elite which is more adventuristically inclined” represents a more serious danger.”
Aliyev and his regime, she suggests, are using it not only to frighten members of their own society and any independent politicians there but also to generate support for themselves from Moscow, an approach that includes within it “a potential threat to the security of the southern portion of Russia.”
As “the responsible part of the Daghestani political elite” is beginning to recognize, Aliyev’s approach, one that has been supported by Moscow up to now, must be opposed, and the members of this group have begun “to organize in order to oppose the enormous violations of the law by the powers that be.”
Unfortunately, too few people in Daghestan or beyond its borders know about what Aliyev is doing and how elites and the population there are reacting because Mukhu Aliyev has imposed tight controls on the media lest anyone learn just how dangerous conditions there are becoming.
Murklinskaya concludes with the following warning: “It is time for the federal center to think about a way out of the dead end of the ethno-clan development of the republics of the North Caucasus, especially those which are multi-national. It is necessary to develop a system of power in which it will be impossible for any one ethnos or clan to ‘usurp’ power.”
Moreover, she says, “the political phenomenon of ‘a ruling ethnos’ which has become such a customary one now must become impermissible as well.” If that does not happen, she implies, both the pro-Russian attitudes of the population and the stability of the region could be at increasing risk.

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