Vienna, April 28 – Russian officials are refusing to recognize the domestic roots of Circassian anger in the North Caucasus, preferring instead to blame the United States for seeking to “weaken Russia” and refusing to understand that there will never be “complete stability” in a multi-ethnic milieu, according to a Moscow specialist on the region.
When Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential plenipotentiary to the North Caucasus Federal District, visited Karachayevo-Cherkessia last week, Sergey Markedonov points out in an essay posted online yesterday, the Russian official suggested that the US was behind Circassian problems there (www.politcom.ru/10020.html).
That is a profound misreading of the situation, the Moscow specialist on the Caucasus says, one that not only could may allow Russian officials to avoid facing up to the ways in which Karachay leaders have exacerbated post-Soviet problems there but only at the cost of further destabilizing an already tense situation in the region.
“The ‘Circassian problem’ in Karachayevo-Cherkessia in its contemporary form” took shape, Markedonov says, as a result “of the complex processes of the disintegration of ‘the single community of the Soviet people’” and “the search [by Circassians and others] for self-identification.”
During that process, ethnicity and religion grew in importance, but “this struggle far from always led to open armed conflicts,” the Moscow commentator points out. In many places, officials responded in sensitive ways, and as a result, “the struggle for ‘collective rights’ (the rights of the ethnos)” was kept from getting out of hand.
In Karachayevo-Cherkessia, he continues, “this was done by means of the introduction of ethnic quotas in cadres policy.” The president of the republic was to be a Karachay and the prime minister a Circassian. That reflected “the numerical balance which exists in [that] ‘bi-national republic,’” and it prevented political blocs from forming along ethnic lines.
But that balance was violated in 2008 when the new republic president, Boris Ebzeyev – who was, as Markedonov points out, Medvedev’s “first appointment” in the North Caucasus – “decided to violate the cadres tradition and install in the position republic prime minister an ethnic Greek.”
“On the one hand,” the Moscow analyst says, “this decision was based in the noble goal of minimizing ethno-cratic tendencies. But on the other, it … provoked the social-political activity of Circassian organizations not only in Karachayevo-Cherkessia but also in the neighboring republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygeya” with large Circassian populations.”
While Ebzeyev’s actions led to an extraordinary Circassian Congress and other meetings, the powers that be in Moscow might have ignored it had it not been for “the recent initiative of certain nationalistic Circassian structures and Georgian politicians” who are seeking to have the expulsion of the Circassians in the 19th century as “a genocide.”
But given those initiatives and the media attention they have garnered, Markedonov continues, “the ‘Circassian question’ could not fail to become a subject of consideration” by Khloponin during his visit. Unfortunately, his comments suggest that neither he nor his bosses in Moscow understand what is in fact taking place.
Khloponin clearly believes that “the main source of problems in the North Caucasus is the United States,” Markedonov writes. The permanent representative said that “the North Caucasus is a strategic territory of the Russian Federation just like Siberia and the Far East. And our opponents beyond the borders of Russia always hit precisely at the weakest places.”
After Ukraine, Khloponin continued, the US is focusing on “the problem of the North Caucasus, Kyrgyzstan and Iran.” Consequently, “Any actions which take place here,” the polpred said, he will “personally consider as a threat to the stability of the North Caucasus” emanating from abroad.
Pointing to the question of “the genocide of the Circassians” that is being raised in Georgia, Khloponin “continued the theme of an American conspiracy: ‘You know from where this theme arose, who stands before it, and what forces are working in order to ignore the match -- all the more so because of the character and ambitions of the North Caucasians.”
From a senior official, Markedonov says, one would like to hear more specifics when such charges are made. “What kind of institutions are the ones he is talking about? Who leads and finances them? And at least it should be possible to provide one name” so that people will know just who is involved.
“If one is speaking about the Jamestown Foundation, which raised the theme of genocide at a March conference in Tbilisi,” Markedonov continues, one should address the question of just how closely linked that private institution is with any US government project rather than suggesting that anything emanating from Washington is the result of US policy.
It is long past the time when such charges are justified if they ever were. “Otherwise,” Markedonov says, “following the same logic, we would agree that any scientific research forum at MGIMO on the problems of the US or Europe represents evidence of a clever plan of the Kremlin for ‘the strategic weakening’ of the West.”
Of course, the Moscow analyst says, such charges allow Russian officials to ignore that most of the problems they face are “the result of errors committed by the administration and the imperfect of Russian administration as a whole.” But such a focus guarantees that the Russian powers that be won’t be able to address the real issues.
Moreover, this focus on outside forces also allows officials to “ignore an obvious fact: the dissatisfaction of Circassian society with the concrete cadre decisions of the president of Karachayevo-Cherkessia has little in common with the activity of foreign organizations of the diaspora.” In short, this dissatisfaction has “in the first instance domestic causes.”
There is another aspect too, Markedonov says. “Anti-Americanism of the kind used by Khloponin is politically ineffective.” Anti-American themes may work for Turkey or Azerbaijan to promote specific policy agendas, but the kind of charges Khloponin has made do not achieve anything, except to blind some to what needs to be done.
The North Caucasus cannot be shut off from the rest of the world, Markedonov says, and consequently, the Russian powers that be must win over the young people there with “more attractive ideas, resources and perspectives” than those offered by “the propaganda of radical Islamists or nationalists.”
That and not anti-Americanism is “the task of an effective and strong state,” the Moscow analyst says. Further, “it is time finally to recognize that complete stability will exist only in a cemetery. In any dynamically developing society, … conflicts are inevitable,” all the more so in multi-ethnic and poly-confessional places.
It is an entirely different question, of course, how these conflicts should be resolved, he says. Consequently, “one should not fall into a stupor from the serious problems in Karachayevo-Cherkessia or Kabardino-Balkaria. One must be able to find measures of anti-crisis administration and the warding off of possible new crises and extremism.”
“That is a much more useful [approach for Russian officials and commentators],” the Moscow analyst says, “then searching for an American black cat in a dark room. All the more so if such a cat is not there.”