Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Dido Case Highlights Problems of Very Small Nations in Russia Now

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 26 – The very smallest nationalities in the Russian Federation face enormous difficulties in defending their constitutional and human rights, a fact of life that has been highlighted by the tragic situation of the Dido people of Daghestan and the difficulties its members have had in seeking just treatment.
In the current issue of the Daghestani newspaper “Nastoyashcheye vremya,” Amil Sarkarov provides the most detailed discussion yet of two recent developments that attracted broader attention to one of the smallest nations of multi-national Daghestan and the travails of that people (
The first involves the fallout from a November 30 fire which “almost completely destroyed the village of Tsebari where many of the Dido people live. Although fortunately no lives were lost, the Dido were left homeless and without basic facilities, and most of them are now living either outside their traditional homeland or in tents in that mountainous region.
The fire itself attracted the attention of the all-Russian and Daghestani media as well as promises by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Daghestani President Magomedsalam Magomedov that the Russian Federation as a whole and Daghestan in particular would rebuild the Dido village.
But, Sarkarov reports, “the residents of Tsebari on the whole remain dissatisfied with the extent and timeliness of the promised help.” In many cases, the Dido say, “not all the humanitarian help supposedly received by those who had suffered reached the intended addressees in reality.”
Some of it may never have been sent, some of it may have been skimmed off by officials, and some may yet arrive because of the difficulties of getting assistance in to an isolated and extremely mountainous part of Daghestan. As a result, the Dido say, they are suffering through the winter without adequate protections.
And they are also worried that the Moscow and Makhachkala authorities may take the easy way out and build housing in such a way or in such a location that it will destroy the “cultural face” of their nation or at the very least make it impossible for the Dido people to live together and thus maintain their national traditions.
That tragedy led to the second event which attracted even more attention to the plight of the Dido. In December Magomed Gamzatov, a Dido from Shamkhal, travelled to Georgia to ask Tbilisi to provide assistance “in the resolution of the problems of the Didos [by helping the members of that nation] with the development of language, culture and recognition.”
Despite Georgian claims, Gamzatov did not ask for asylum in Georgia for his people or ask that Tbilisi annex Dido lands. Instead, he was driven to make the trip by a sense of hopelessness that has arisen, Sarkarov says, by “the complete disappointment in the republic and federal powers that be” and the hope that “another state” might help them.
Gamazatov, the Daghestani journalist continues, was animated by a desire to secure “the recognition [of the Dido] as a separate and self-standing people,” one that was deported and “suffered as a result of the forced resettlement in 1944 onto Chechen lands left vacant” after Stalin deported that nation to Central Asia.
According to the Dido themselves, their nation numbers approximately 30,000 people, twice the official reports in censuses. In most cases, Sarkarov says, census takers have counted many of them as Avars, one of the major ethnic groups of Daghestan among whom the Dido live.
This history, Sarkarov concludes, “raises a reasonable question: what else must be done [if you are a member of a small nationality like the Dido] in order that [the powers that be in both Makhachkala and Moscow] will stop violating your constitutional rights” and allow your
The Dido people, a predominantly Muslim group of mountaineers seldom attract attention, and even basic facts are in dispute. The Dido, for example, call themselves “Tsez,” but most specialists and now the media refer to them as Dido, a designation that in fact comes not from the Dido themselves but from the Georgian (
But as many often forget, there are more than 150 other small nationalities in the Russian Federation, and they face problems in many cases even more severe than do the Dido. That is why the leaders of some of them have pressed so hard for the re-establishment of a special government ministry to deal with their problems.
President Dmitry Medvedev, possibly fearful of the reaction of some ethnic Russians to anything that smacks of deference to minorities, has announced that he opposes the idea and that no new Ministry for Nationality Affairs will be established. But as several writers have pointed out, that decision does not end or solve the problem.
In a commentary this week on the “Russky zhurnal” portal, Akhmed Azimov, the head of the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus and an advisor to the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), argues that it is imperative that Moscow create “an alternative” to such a ministry if it rejects re-establishing it (
Azimov says that Medvedev’s pledge to address nationality problems combined with his refusal to restore a nationalities ministry generates bitter “associations with the struggle against corruption when there is tough rhetoric [about the need to do something] and then an absence of doing anything.”
“Such a situation,” he writes, “is dangerous for any power, especially when there is a high risk of inter-ethnic clashes. If there is no conviction and readiness to do something, then it is better not to make bold declarations; if there is a readiness, then one must immediately seek ideas … and if there is an understanding of what is necessary, there must be a search for partners.”
Consequently, he continues, “it seems to many that one of these obvious steps of the powers that be which would demonstrate its political will should be the restoration of the ministry of nationalities. This trivial idea is only a reflection of the striving of part of society to see the return of the authorities to this sector.”
But even if a decision has been made not to restore such a ministry, that decision alone, Azimov says, “does not free the President from the need to establish some other organ” responsible for “an adequate realization of his positions on this question.” There must be some institutional focus.
And he argues that one possibility could be the creation of a Council for Nationality Policy attached to the Office of the President, an institution that should have a permanent secretariat or working group and one that perhaps could be headed by a vice prime minister” to ensure its prominence.
Thus, Medvedev’s rejection of a nationalities ministry is not the end of the story. Rather, it is yet another turn, and more than that, as the Dido case shows, the failure of Moscow to have an institution of that kind will only increase cynicism among the non-Russians, something that as Azimov says is dangerous for the state itself.

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