Monday, February 8, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Writers Mistaken in Treating North Caucasus Separately from Russia, KBR Scholar Says

Paul Goble

Key West, February 8 – Moscow writers, including some of the most distinguished, either do not understand or do not want to understand that “the problems of the Caucasus are part of what is taking place in Russia and with Russia and that their resolution must be sought in the general context of the development of the country,” according to a Kabardinian academic.
In an article in “Kabardino-Balkarskaya Pravda,” Khazhismel Tkhagapsoyev, a professor at Kabardino-Balkaria State University, charges that for good motives and bad many journalists and academic specialists in the Russian capital have treated the North Caucasus in ways that many in the West would label as orientalist (
That is, they have ascribed to the residents of the North Caucasus special qualities which explain what is going on there entirely apart from what has been taking place more generally in the Russian Federation and in the international community, including the world of Islam, over the last two decades.
The occasion for Tkhagapsoyev’s anger was a recent conference in Prielbrus on “Social-Political Stability in the Russian Caucasus: The Ethno-Confessional Dimension.” On the one hand, he expresses concern that the meeting which attracted some of the most notable Moscow scholars did not include any people from the region being discussed.
And on the other, he takes the strongest exception to the conclusions offered at that meeting on Islam in the North Caucasus by Aleksey Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center, a scholar whose expertise on Islamic issues in general Tkhagapsoyev acknowledges and respects.
Much that Malashenko said in Prielbrus, the Karbardinian scholar admits, was absolutely true, especially the former’s statement that what is now being written about the role of Islam in the North Caucasus “lacks objectivity” because it is “politicized and ideologized.” Unfortunately, Tkhagapsoyev argued, Malashenko is guilty of that himself.
In fact, the Kabardinian scholar says, Malashenko was guilty of “the worst form” of this scientific crime: he imposed on reality a ready-made theoretical structure without considering whether the basic propositions of his theory were in fact true. As a result, whether he intended it or not, Malashenko mislead his readers.
Among the propositions which Malashenko advanced, Tkhagapsoyev says, included the ideas that “in the region a systemic Islamic opposition exists,” that “the opposition follows that political course which is called the Islamic call for reconstructing all life according to the canons of Islam,” and that this “call” has more support than do the powers that be.
“But,” Tkhagapsoyev argues, “who showed that these ‘postulates’ are true?” And he continued that together with these ideas, Malashenko constantly referred to “the return of the Caucasus to its own archaic traditions, to an Islamic way of life,” as if the North Caucasus existed independently from the rest of Russia and the world.
“Why,” the Kabardinian scholar asks, is not a word said about ‘the first causes’ of the current Caucasus problems – namely about the former strategy of ‘take as much sovereignty as you can swallow’ [a reference to Boris Yeltsin’s calls in the early 1990s] and about the terrifying de-modernization of Russia” during that decade?
Why, he asks again, did Malashenko not talk “about the clericalization of the Russian population and about the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the political practice of the country?” Those trends help to explain what is going on in the North Caucasus without the need to impute some kind of special character to “persons of Caucasus nationality.”
But Malashenko not only ignored the way in which common Russian developments affected the region, Tkhagapsoyev continues; he insisted that other external factors did not have an influence on developments there, thus forcing one to conclude that there was something unique about the people in that region.
And thus a scholar who should have known better promoted the picture of “the wild Caucasus” which supports “in Russian mass consciousness” the notion of “a person of Caucasus nationality.” The only problem, the Kabardinian scholar argues, is that “no one in the Caucasus knows this person” – because he does not exist in reality.
”The residents of the Caucasus on human measures are exactly the same as the residents of any other region of Russia,” Tkhagapsoyev insists, and consequently, Moscow will only be able to solve their problems when it addresses the problems of the country as a whole, a very different direction than the one in which Malashenko has pointed the authorities.
Tragically, the Kabardinian scholar concludes, anyone who learns how to talk about the North Caucasus using words like “clans,” “taips,” “traditions,” and “Islam” “already sees himself as a specialist” on that region and is seen as a specialist by others outside the region if seldom within it.
And that in turn has the following consequence, Tkhagapsoyev says, “the missionary knights from political science and journalists passionately call to the federal powers that be with the words: ‘Listen to us and only to us –and you will save the Caucasus!’” But that will not be the case, the Kabardinian scholar lamented.
It is time for everyone to recognize, including the most distinguished scholars and journalists in Moscow, that the problems of the Caucasus are part and parcel of the problems of Russia and that the problems of both will only be solved if they are addressed together rather than treated as two entirely different things.

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