Vienna, April 30 – To stem ethnic unrest in ethnically mixed republics, Moscow is returning to the Soviet-era practice of allocating the top positions in these republics among the largest nationalities in them, a shift that may buy the Russian government time in the short term but one that carries with it serious risks in the longer term.
On Wednesday, Boris Ebzeyev, president of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, accepted the resignation of that republic’s government. But he asked all members of the former government to remain in their posts until a new government is formed and approved – all that is, except the prime minister Vladimir Kayshev whom Ebzeyev had appointed and boosted in the past.
The reason for that exception, Ivan Sukhov writes in yesterday’s “Vremya novostei,” is that Kayshev is an ethnic Greek and that his appointment violated the tradition of having an ethnic Karachay as president, an ethnic Russian as parliamentary speaker, and an ethnic Circassian as prime minister (www.vremya.ru/2010/74/4/252628.html).
To highlight that “restoration” of the earlier rules of the game, Ebzeyev asked Muradin Kemov, a Circassian who had been deputy prime minister, to serve as the head of the caretaker government, and the republic’s president added that there won’t be any “significant changes in the composition of the new government.”
Instead, the Karachayevo-Cherkessia president stressed, “the new government [once it is formed and approved by the republic parliament] will continue to work on two vectors of development: the social development of the republic and also the creation of energy, tourist-recreation, agro-industrial, and educational innovation clusters.”
Kayshev’s days were clearly numbered, the Moscow journalist says, when Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus Federal District, visited the republic nine days ago. Clearly, Sukhov says, Ebzeyev, who was President Dmitry Medvedev’s first appointment in the North Caucasus, was told he needed “a correction in cadres policy.”
Indeed, Sukhov continues, “according to certain indications, Mr. Khloponin unambiguously made it clear that the government of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic must be headed by a Circassian.” If that is the case, then it appears Moscow has decided to move away from the majoritarian approach Vladimir Putin had pushed and Medvedev had continued.
“Many experts in the North Caucasus,” Sukhov points out, “call Karachayevo-Cherkessia one of the most problematic regions” because “in the last several months, there has been an clear sharpening of inter-ethnic relations between the Karachays,” a Turkic group with 40 percent of the population, “and the Circassians,” who number 10 percent not counting related groups.
Since last fall, the Moscow journalist continues, there have been “several mass fights” between members of the two nationalities. And “the Circassians have been periodically raising the question about separating out their own subject of the federation or about the inclusion of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic within Stavropol or Krasnodar kray.”
Circassian leaders “consider that a Karachay ethnocracy is being created” there, with “all possible resources” going to the Karachay rather than shared with the Circassians or other non-Karachay groups. Karachay leaders respond that this is not the case and that the Circassians are simply angry because their candidate for the Federation Council did not get the job.
There is some truth to both these views, Sukhov says, but there is a third element, one found elsewhere in the North Caucasus as well. “The third president attempts to rely on the supporters of the first, justly supposing that the cadres of the second were not distinguished by their suitability but forgetting that sometimes they turned out better than their predecessors.”
The Circassians have thus won a certain victory, although as Sukhov points out, they “understand that the post of premier (like by the way, that of speaker) is exclusively technical.” And thus “it isn’t surprising that the Circassians are continuing to plan their congress and to sharply criticize the powers that be” in the republic.
What makes these changes in Karachayevo-Cherkessia interesting are not the details but rather Moscow’s apparent decision to back away from what had begun to look like an “ethnically blind” policy at least for posts below that of republic leader in the region, a shift that the Russian powers that be appear to have concluded is too risky.
That retreat in the face of rising ethnic sensitivities may buy Moscow some time, but just as was the case in the last years of the Soviet Union, the center’s acceptance of these arrangements as inviolable will not only tie Moscow’s hands in dealing with many regions but also encourage non-Russian groups to make more demands in the future.