Vienna, April 10 – The migration of North Caucasians to Moscow and St. Petersburg has brought the problems of that region into Russia’s core, but one Russian commentator is suggesting that the flight of ethnic Russians from that region has had the effect of bringing “the Russian question” there into the center of Russian politics.
Sergey Markedonov, one of Moscow’s most thoughtful analysts on the Caucasus, however, argues that understanding the real dimensions of Russian flight from that region is essential for the understanding not only of developments there but also of “the Russian question” more generally (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20168).
He argues that “the chief distinction of ‘the Russian question’ from other ethno-political problems of the region consists that its two ‘dimensions’ [-- political and humanitarian –] are clearly separated in time,” with the former occurring in the early 1990s and the latter beginning in the mid-1990s and continuing up to now.
That distinction is often lost, Markedonov suggests, by those who simply track the flight of ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus and the “quantitative ‘de-Russification’ of the region,” something that has certainly occurred but something that must be explained rather than merely registered.
Typically, people talk about Russians fleeing the North Caucasus out of fear for their lives, but “the Russians in the North Caucasus hardly were passive contemplatives waiting for the resolution of their own fate in the offices of republic officials and at numerous meetings” of the local population.
Instead, despite being subjected then and later to numerous cases of open discrimination, the Russians of the North Caucasus at the beginning of the 1990s made “not a few attempts at forming a political movement in reaction to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the ‘parade of sovereignties,’ and the growth of ethnic nationalism.”
Although ethnic Russians began to leave the North Caucasus even before Gorbachev’s time, Markedonov notes, “practically in all republics of the region, activists of ‘the Russian movement’ attempted to find their own alternative to the new political and social realities.” But their efforts were “not crowned with success,” and “a second Transdniestria” did not appear.
There were various reasons for this failure. First, the Russian movement there “could not find either strategic or tactical allies,” even though some, like the Nogay, appeared to be on offer, because the Russians were more concerned with “’purity of blood’” that pragmatic moves toward the achievement of their goals.
Second, the Russian activists “were not able to assess completely the status evolution in the region,” a development in which Russians “had ceased to be considered as ‘the elder brother,” but rather an ethnic competitor. Consequently, the Russian movement continued to be focused “not on the future but on the past.”
And third, the Russian movement in the North Caucasus “turned out to be unprepared to use the language of human rights,” something that meant “the Russian project” could not compete in the struggle with the ethnocratic elites of the North Caucasus who used that language with enormous skill.
“Deprived of support from above (administrative, ideological and material),” Markedonov continues, “the Russian movement was in a position to oppose the regional clans who could count on both ethnic and clan solidarity.” Moreover, the Russian movement was not able to take into account “the interests of the Kremlin.”
“The Federal center, not being interested in the complete integration of the region limited itself only to external control over the North Caucasus ‘administrative market,’ was ready not to provide support for ‘the Russian project’ but rather wanted to support regional bureaucratic clans,” almost all of whom were non-Russian.
Moreover, Markedonov continues, “the ‘Russian project’” was not interested in playing the games of democracy, a system which they viewed as “the cause of the reduction of the social status of Russians.” Consequently, the project’s leaders “did not consider that with the help of democracy, they could have opposed the ethnocratic ‘privatization of power’” in the region.
And that failure in turn, the Moscow analyst argues, meant that “many leaders of ‘the Russian project’ were ready to struggle not against the principles of ethnocracy as such but only against ethnocracies that were not their own.” And that was reinforced by the changes in the economy which cost the ethnic Russians much of their tradition base in the North Caucasus.
All these things help to explain “the ‘de-Russification’ of the North Caucasus,” a trend that is dangerous not only because of the role Russians had been playing in science and technology but also because of the way in which ethnic Russians had served as “the cement” among the ethnic clans in the region.
But there are two other ways in which the de-Russification of the North Caucasus has had fateful consequences. On the one hand, it has led both Russians and non-Russians to engage in the kind of “settling of scores” that contributes to the rising tide of violence in many parts of the region.
And on the other, it has means that “the ‘Russian question’ of the North Caucasus is being exported deep inside the country” as a whole. But these problems cannot be resolved “without overcoming the regional apartheid” that exists not only in the North Caucasus but in Russia itself.
That is because, as Markedonov concludes, “as long as the Russian powers that be will recall an enormous bureaucratic market, it will be possible to forget about the rights of man and citizen, of the Russian in Grozny [the capital of Chechnya] or of a Chechen in Moscow,” the capital of the Russian Federation as a whole.