Staunton, November 30 – The problems of Stavropol kray, very much on public view because of last weekend’s ethnic clashes there, “have an importance far beyond the borders of one subject of the [Russian] Federation or even one [federal] district, according to a leading Russian specialist on the Caucasus.
In an essay featured on the “Novaya politika” portal yesterday, Sergey Markedonov, who is currently at the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies, argues that Stavropol is the key to Moscow’s position in the North Caucasus, the region that remains Russia’s main domestic problem (novopol.ru/-stavropolyu-nujna-integratsiya-text93089.html).
While the non-Russian republics in the North Caucasus have always attracted more attention, “whether we want it to be or not, Stavropol is considered as a kind of base subject of the entire district and also as an advanced post of Russian statehood” on whose development hinges the development of the entire region and more.
A major reason for this is that after the end of Soviet times and “the waves of inter-ethnic conflicts” in the North Caucasus, “many [there] saw in [Stavropol kray] ‘a safe harbor.’” It became “a second home” for ethnic Russians fleeing the violence in Chechnya and Ingushetia, with 78,000 such people there officially but with the real number perhaps twice that.
But, as Markedonov points out, “not only ethnic Russians preferred Stavropol to the complicated life in the North Caucasus republics.” Over the last two decades, various Caucasian peoples, including Chechens, Dargins, and Avars, settled in “the eastern and southern districts” of the kray.
The clashes of last weekend and even the one that took place in Stavropol on September 18th might not appear that important in and of themselves. But the unwillingness of officials to acknowledge the ethnic dimension of these fights and to engage in serious analysis and in the development of countermeasures is extremely worrisome, Markedonov says.
Given the ethnic mosaic in Stavropol and the role of that region in the North Caucasus, he continues, “the powers that be should have been ready for possible ethnic excesses” and been in a position to “react in a timely fashion to challenges from the localities.” But that has not yet happened.
One aspect of last weekend’s clashes that provides the basis for serious reflection, Markedonov says, are reports that some of those who came from Chechnya bragged that they were part of the protection guards for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and thus were beyond the reach of law enforcement anywhere.
Granted that Chechnya is “a special case,” but allowing its denizens to flaunt themselves in this way and oppose the authority of officials in other regions “is extremely dangerous.” Such actions and claims will invariably produce xenophobia among others, leading to the kind of violence that officials may not be able to contain.
The only viable “nationality policy” in this region must involve “integration” of all groups into a single society. If that is not achieved, then “we will have a segregated regional community.” Indeed, if one is honest, “we already have it in many parts of the kray.” But that must be overcome and both ethnic Russians and North Caucasians must feel they are part of one.
Some years ago, Markedonov continues, Stavropol’s most famous former resident, Mikhail Gorbachev remarked that “the powers that be ‘had arrived in Sumgait three hours too late.’” That delay in sending forces to prevent an ethnic pogrom ultimately “cost a nuclear superpower its life.”
“Today,” the Russian analyst says, “the Russian powers that be do not have the right to any new delay. Consequently, Stavropol must become the subject of all-sided atten tion by the state and society.” Any failure to focus on it, draw the necessary conclusions, and act upon them, he implies, could have an equally fateful result.