Monday, March 28, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Colonial Rule of the North Caucasus Approaching Its End, Israeli Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, March 28 – Russia’s “system of administration and organization of life in the North Caucasus has completely exhausted itself,” an Israeli analyst says, and as a result, “the 200-year colonial presence of the Russian Empire [in that region] is moving toward its logical end.” The only remaining quesiton is how much more blood will be shed.

In an analysis postred on at the end of last week, Avraam Shmulyevich, an independent scholar, developed this idea, one that is attracting particular attention in Russia because it coincided with a visit to Moscow by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Shmulyevich begins his essay with a discussion of a report in a Stavropol newspaper concerning a discussion earlier in the week of Moscow’s continuing financial support of the various republics of that region by the collegiums of the Accounting Chamber of the Russian Federation (

According to the Accounting Chamber, Moscow is providing “about 90 percent” of the budgets of Chechnya and Ingushetia, 75 percent of the budget of Kabardino-Balkaria, and 55 percent of the budgets of North Osetia-Alaniya and Karachayevo-Cherkessia.

Moreover, the Chamber said, “the share of inter-budget transfers per capita in the North Caucasus (with the ex caption of Stavropol) is almost twice that of the all-Russian average. Last year, the federal center allocated 41,000 rubles per person in Chechnya, 20,000 in Ingushetia, 17,000 in Daghestan, and 13,000 to Kabardino-Balkaria.

This means, the Chamber continued, that last year, Moscow allocated 129 billion rubles (4.2 billion US dollars) to the region, with more than 40 percent of that going to Chechnya and the rest divided among the other five republics of the North Caucasus Federal District.

This enormous investment, the Chamber concluded, has not paid off. Unemployment, even as officially calculated, is more than twice the all-Russian percentqage, and those without work are younger by more than a decade (22 to 25) than their counterparts elsewhere in the Russian Federation. Moreover, productivity is lower and the state structure larger.

“It would be incorrect,” Shmulyevich argues, “to say that the abovefigures give us a portrait of a sick society.” No, “this is a dead society, a dead economy,” one that can continue to limp on only by the introduction of massive outside funds in much the same way that an oxygen machine can keep an individual alive when his organs are failing.

Russia’s arrangements in the North Caucasus have thus “completely exhausted themselves,” the Israeli analyst says, “and the 200-year-long colonial presence of the Russian Empire in the North Caucasus is approaching its logical end,” however much many in Moscow and elsewhere want to deny that fact.

“A colony is a territory which is sharply disgtringuished from the metropolitan center by the national and/or religious composition of the population, which belongs to a different culture, and which is politically administered from the metropolitan center and is economically dependent on it,” Shmulyevich says.

That is precisely what the North Caucasus has become over the last two decades, a contrast from the Soviet period when it “was not a colony in the full sense of the word.” All colonial powers, “except the Russian Federation,” he continues, have recognized that such a system no longer works and have dispensed with their empires.

“Soviet power,” Shmulyevich points out, “within the framework of the bolsheviks’ forced modernization program tried to put an end to the colonial inheritaqnced of the Russian Empire, to change the colonial status of the borderlands, including the Caucasus, and to include them in on an equal basis within a single state organism.”

“This goal was realized only partially,” he notes, and then, as a result of “the primitization and archaization which came after the collapse of the USSR, the North Caucasus over the last two decades was again converted into a colony” in the sense of the term that Shmulyevich uses.

Theoretically, he writes, there are two ways out of this situation for Russia. On the one hand, Moscow could adopt “a complete change of the situation of administration and the relationships between ‘the center and periphery’ throughout [Russia], the complete modernization of the Russian economy … [and] real democratization of the political system.”

If all those things were to happen, Shmulyevich says, “then the North Caucasus would have the chance to be included on an equal basis in this new life.” But for obvious reasons, there is no reason to expect “such changes” either in the North Caucasus or in the Russian Federation as a whole.

And on the other hand, there is “the second possible variant,” the one that European countries have followed, and that is “decolonization, that is, the separation ofr the North Caucasus from Russia.” According to Shmulyevich, “this process is inevitable” because “it is dictated by objective historical and economic laws.”

“No decisions of the conference of the United Russia Party, no directives of the Russian government and – it is terrible to say – even no personal declarations of Mr. Vladimir Putin personally are in a position to overturn these laws.” Consequently, the only question remaining is how long this process will take.

Will it occur “quickly, in a centralized fashion and voluntarily as the British Empire departed from the greater part of its colonies,” Shmulyevich asks, “or will it occur slowly, bloodily and painfully as was the case of France’s departure from Algeria and Indochina?” In sum, the Israeli analyst suggests, the real question is “at what price in blood” will it happen.

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