Thursday, March 18, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Seeks ‘Road Map’ to Restore Ethnic Balance, Stability in Karachayevo-Cherkessia

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 18 – Moscow’s representative in Karachayevo-Cherkessia is seeking to get agreement on “a road map” to restore the pre-2000 allocation of government positions by nationality in order to prevent that bi-national North Caucasus republic from descending into chaos.
But republic president Boris Ebzeyev, an ethnic Karachay who has violated what had been the rules of the game there, is resisting, telling colleagues that he will have nothing to do with such an accord and plans to simply arrest a few of the leaders involved because “there are no national elites in Karachayevo-Cherkessia; the only elite is the powers that be.”
In a three-part article published this week, Circassian freelance journalist Aleksey Karayev describes what were the rules of the game before Ebzeyev, how the republic president has overturned them, and how he has instituted a highly authoritarian, even violent form of “ethnocracy” which has already claimed the life of one young Circassian activist.
Until 1999, Karayev writes, the top positions in Karachayevo-Cherkessia were allocated on an ethnic basis according to the following formula: “the president was a Karachay, the head of government a Circassian, and the chairman of the popular assembly or parliament was an ethnic Russian (
And that formula, which affected all government institutions in that North Caucasus republic and resembled one that existed in even more multi-national Daghestan, ensured that each group felt it had a voice among the powers that be and thus served to keep the peace in that impoverished bi-national republic.
But since taking office, Ebzeyev had ignored this, not only supporting the Karachay majority in the parliament’s efforts to block the candidacy of Vladislav Derev, a Circassian, for the Federation Council, but transforming the ethnic mix in favor of the Karachays to the detriment of others in many government offices.
Although the Karachays, a Turkic ethnic community, form only 38 percent of the republic’s population, they now are disproportionately represented in many places. Karayev says that they now form 70 percent of the officials in the investigation commission, more than 50 percent of the judges, more than half of the prosecutors and so on.
Not surprisingly, these shifts alone have prompted the Circassians to mobilize against Ebzeyev and the ethnic Russians to leave in large numbers. Ebzeyev has responded to the former with force and is widely blamed for the murder of Circassian activist Aslan Zhukov on March 14 (
And over the past 20 years, Karayev says, “almost 100,000 Russian speakers have left Karachayevo-Cherkessia.” In the years between 2002 and 2008, he continues, the departure of Russians cut their share of the republic’s population from 33.6 percent to 21.6 percent. If this trend continues, there will be no Russians left by 2014.
Those developments, combined with poverty, Ebzeyev’s ethnocratic and authoritarian approach, and increasing activism among Circassians within and beyond the borders of his republic, have clearly disturbed Moscow, prompting not only a recent visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev but also the installation of a federal official to try to prevent an explosion.
That official, Renata Karchaa, the current representative of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation for Internal Affairs in the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, has clearly signaled that something like the old balance needs to be restored and has begun talks with all groups who feel themselves excluded by Ebzeyev (
In the course of these discussions, Karayev says, Karchaa has proposed a formula according to which will be “written down the principles of the joint residence of the peoples in one republic, the content of parity agreements, and mechanisms for the realization of general equality on the territory” of the republic.
“In political science,” Karayev notes, “such a document is frequently called ‘a road map.’ It is adopted in those places where the law already is not working.” And he argues that “Karachayevo-Cherkessia today has become the very subject in which without such a memorandum, it will be extremely complicated to solve problems.”
All sides must participate in drawing it up and agree to its realization. Circassians and ethnic Russians have done so. But Ebzeyev is refusing to have anything to do with such an accord, seeing it as a threat to his power and to the status of his nationality, the Karachays who form a plurality but not a majority of the population.
Ebzeyev has told associates, Karayev continues, that “all these agreements about resolving conflicts are nothing more than talk and a complete waste. Conflicts,” he told them, “must be put down,” saying that he’ll “throw two or three of the leaders of the organizations into jail and the rest will quickly quiet down.”
And in this connection, the republic president stressed, according to the account offered by the freelance journalist, that “there are no national elites in the Karachay-Cherkess Republic. The only elite is the powers that be, and” he added, he “does not intend to seek any agreement with them.”
One of Ebzeyev’s aides even gave the order for “the immediate ‘neutralization’ of federal bureaucrats and any other officials who want to sign an agreement establishing ‘the rules of the game’ in opposition to” Ebzeyev and his arbitrary rule, an action that has been reported by others as well (
Moreover, Ebzeyev has sent his representatives to speak with Karchaa and other federal representatives and to demand that they cease and desist from any actions directed toward the conclusion of a memorandum. In response, the other nationalities of the republic have formed a coordinating council (‘soviet”) to defend their interests.
Following the murder of Zhukov earlier this week, this group is becoming more active, thus setting the stage for new conflicts between Ebzeyev and the Karachay, on the one hand, and the Circassians and ethnic Russians, on the other, and between Ebzeyev and the powers that be in Moscow whom the Karchayevo-Cherkessia leader is flagrantly ignoring.
If Moscow does not back Karchaa against Ebzeyev, open clashes between the latter’s regime and the ethnic minorities there are likely. But if the federal center does back Karchaa, Ebzeyev will certainly use all his connections in Moscow to resist, something that could mean the struggle within the republic could have ramifications far beyond the North Caucasus.

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