Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Approach to the North Caucasus is Ineffective Because It is Superficial, KBR Scholar Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 20 – The situation in the North Caucasus is “dangerous” not only because of the many problems there but also because of the “inadequate” and “superficial” approach that the Russian “political class” has adopted in dealing with it, according to a leading specialist on the region.
At an international conference in Pyatigorsk last week, Khazhismel Tkhagapsoyev, a professor at the Kabardino-Balkaria State University and an advisor to the KBR government, said that Russian officials as a result have focused on dealing with symptoms rather than the underlying problems (
These officials, he continued has sought to counter terrorist activity, to restore Chechnya, and to overcome unemployment by the creation of a large number of workplaces in medium and large industries, but Tkhagapsoyev suggested, “these issues, despite their importance do not cover or exhaust ‘the essence of the Caucasus problem.”
That problem, he argued, is “the re-integration [of the peoples of the North Caucasus] into the [non-ethnic] Russian cultural and civilizational space.”
The reforms the citizens of Russia have experienced over the last two decades, Tkhagapsoyev continued, “have turned out to be ‘especially injurious for the Caucasus’ and for the sphere of nationality relations” there, generating “political separatism, ardent chauvinism, mutual deafness, the alienation of cultures, and the mass outflow of ethnic Russians.”
“Today,” the KBR scholar continued, “Russia de facto is a space of cultures and ethnic groups which co-exist in parallel” worlds, with little interaction. “If Rasul Gamzatov, Kaysyn Kuliyev [or other Soviet-era writers from the region] were living and creating at present, hardly anyone in Russia would have heard of them.”
Moreover, Tkhagapsoyev said, “for the contemporary Russian powers that be, the neglect of the cultural factor is characteristic, something that in the Caucasus region leads to unacceptable losses.” As an example of this, he pointed to Moscow’s recent decision to fight unemployment by investing in large and medium-sized industries.
That sounds good, he said, but it ignores a reality: “in the region there are a sufficient number of vacancies for workers but they remain unfilled because there is no one who wants to take them.” In addition, if a family in the Caucasus has a small business, all the family members will want to work for it, regardless of the specific nature of the job.
“It would seem that everything is clear,” the KBR academic and government advisor says. The powers that be need to go “along the path of family business and small entrepreneurial efforts. However, many things interfere with this.” Among them, he pointed out, is the lack of a resolution of disputes about land, “the main economic resource of the Caucasus.”
As things have worked out, “land is in the hands of major renters or in the shadow economy, but residents of the Caucasus do not see themselves in the role of paid agricultural workers.” As a result, the land isn’t being worked, and social and economic uncertainty and tension are leading to “a lack of faith in the powers that be.”
That is not the only example of Moscow’s inattention to culture, Tkhagapsoyev suggested. Another and equally important kind of neglect involves the history of the peoples of the North Caucasus and especially their clashes with the Russian state in the Caucasus War, the period of Stalinist repressions and the more recent war in Chechnya.
While Moscow has been prepared to condemn the Stalinist repressions in the region and to downplay the Chechen conflict, the scholar noted, there has not been any effort by the Russian powers that be to deal with the Caucasus War, the century-long conflict as the result of which the Russian Empire took control of the region.
This is not a question about “a revision” of the geopolitical results of that war, Tkhagapsoyev continued. Such a step “would be dangerous and fatal for the Caucasus peoples.” Instead, what is needed but not yet forthcoming is “an assessment about the moral aspect of this war and its demographic consequences” – including the expulsion of the Circassians.
A related problem involves “the contemporary situation of ethnic cultures and languages of the Caucasus, to the development of which,” the KBR scholar suggests, “the federal powers that be are not devoting sufficient attention.” Instead, the Duma has passed a law that eliminates language and cultures from the curriculum and at the same time further divides the population.
By introducing into the school special and distinct courses on Orthodox culture or Islamic culture, the powers that be are forcing children to “divide themselves up according to their religious memberships. And in this way, without having resolved the old problems of the mutual alienation of cultures and peoples, they have introduced new ones.”
Yet another problem involves higher education. “In the country a system of elite, privileged higher educational institutions is emerging. There are about 30, but not one institution in the ethnic republics of the region is among this ‘elect’” Instead, there is a sense that Moscow has decided on “a directed provincialization’ of the intellect and culture” of this region.
And finally, Tkhagapsoyev says, there is the problem of the way in which the region is treated in the electronic media of the Russian Federation. As in the past, “the face of the person of Caucasus nationality is repulsive” and clearly intended to be whatever the facts of the case happen to be.
“You will not see any traces of ethnic culture on the all-Russian channels, even on ‘Kultura,’” he points out. Given that, “about what kind of dialogue and consolidation of peoples and cultures can we speak? And how can we move toward an all-national identity of [non-ethnic] Russians.”
If that does not happen, if Moscow doesn’t move beyond its current superficial approach, then, the Kabardino-Balkaria scholar concludes, “the historical prospects of Russia are cloudy indeed.”

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