Monday, February 28, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Medvedev’s Innovative Leader Fails in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Markedonov Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, February 28 – In a way that eerily recalls the experiences of Mikhail Gorbachev during his first years in office, President Dmitry Medvedev appointed as head of a non-Russian republic someone who was committed to promoting efficiency and modernization by ignoring the traditional division of positions according to nationality.

But just as Gorbachev’s effort exacerbated nationality tensions and forced the Soviet leader to reverse course in various union republics, so too now, Medvedev has been forced to dismiss Boris Ebzeyev, the Russian president’s first appointment in the North Caucasus and a man of whom much was expected in Moscow.

And consequently, Sergey Markedonov argues in an essay on today, this change in the leadership of the Karachayevo-Cherkess Republic seems certain to send a shock wave not only through other non-Russian regions of the Russian Federation but also through the Moscow political elite (

On Saturday, Medvedev dismissed Ebzeyev as head of the Karachayevo-Cherkess Republic, an action that is more significant than many might assume. Ebzeyev was Medvedev’s first regional head appointment, and his advancement “was accompanied by heightened expectations,” more in Moscow, Markedonov says, than “even in the KChR itself.”

Those expectations appeared at the time to be justified. A former head of the Constitutional Court and an author of the Russian Constitution, Ebzeyev impressed many people, in the words of one journalists “as the most intelligent man who had come to the local ‘white house’ in the entire history of the existence of the republic.”

But it waqs not just a matter of “high IQ,” Markedonov continues. Ebzeyev was replacing Mustafa Batdyyev, whose time in office had been marked by corruption and scandal. Ebzeyev, whose reputation for avoiding corruption, thus was widely assumed to be just the medicine that the KChR needed.

Unfortunately, these qualities were not enough to make him a success. Indeed, the policy approaches Ebzeyev adopted appear to be responsible for his dismissal, and because those approaches are ones closely associated with Medvedev himself, Ebzeyev’s ouster is ”an event of all-Russian scale.”

From his first days in office, Ebzeyev took steps that “violated the unwritten traditions of cadre policy in the KChR” and thus set the local powers that be against him. He declared, Markedonov points out, that he said that the “ethnic division of labor – a Karachay as president, a Circassian as premier and a Russian a speaker of regional legislature” needed “correction.”

“Had he done so step by step and not in the form of a cavalry raid on the ethnocracy,” Markedonov says, “Ebzeyev could have expected great success.” But he notes, “what has been done is done” – and now Ebzeyev, “the intelligent in power,” is out of office, and his approach is discredited at least for a time.

Ebzeyev appointed an ethnic Greek to the post of republic prime minister, a step that further exacerbated the Circassian issue, which has been intensifying in advance of the Olympiad planned for Sochi in 2014. And the republic head took other steps which guaranteed that “the regional powers” would “sabotage his actions.”

One case of this took place “literally last Saturday,” Ebzeyev’s last day in office. The then republic head wanted “to convene an extraordinary sessionof the parliament under the pretext of the need to introduce some immediate changes in the budget.” In fact, Markedonov says, it appears he wanted deputies to sign a letter supporting him.

But he wasn’t able to achieve that, and his anti-ethnocratic approach had already been rejected by Aleksandr Khloponin, the Presidential Plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus who said last year that “by May 1,” there should be someone of Circassian nationality in the office of premier of the KChR, a directive Ebzeyev complied with.

“Consequently,” Markedonov says, “the center itself, having sent someone it dispatched to promote ‘modernization’ has recognized that you can’t fight with traditions. Instead, it is necessary to follow them if this gives the Kremlin ‘peace’ and external stability,” something the center cares far more about than modernization.

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