Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Russian Nationalists, Leftists and Chechens Debate Future of North Caucasus

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 18 – Yesterday, at a roundtable organized by the Moscow Institute of Innovative Development, Russian nationalists, members of leftist groups, and representatives of the Chechen Republic joined in a lively debate about what each group sees as the future relationship of the North Caucasus and the Russian Federation.

The participants were unusually blunt. Dmitry Bakharev, the head of the Slavic Force Movement, opened the debate by arguing that “over the course of centuries, [his] ancestors had assembled these lands with their blood, worked and defended them,” pointedly asking “and what contribution to the general development of Russia has been made by the Chechen people?”

Arguing that the Russians, not the Soviets had defeated Hitler, Bakharev enquired “how can [we] build relations if we know about the disappearance of several dozen Russians in Grozny, about the bestial murders of Russian soldiers in Chechnya? [and] ifin Moscow, there is a street named for a man who called for killing as many Russians as possible.

Zelimkhan Musayev, the Chechen minister for foreign ties, nationality policy, press and information, disputed Bakharev’s argument. He argued that the Soviet Union won in World War II “only thanks to the trust among peoples.” Moreover, he pointed out, “the Caucasus war did not last a century; it lasted only 25 years” (

Moreover, the Chechen minister continued, “Russian General Yermolov “who pacified the Caucasus destroyed Chechen settlements completely” because that struggle “was not a war of Russians and Chechens; it was a war of two civilizations. But most strikingly, Musayev defended Chechen actions since 1991.

The Chechens Have “nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “Akhmad Kadyrov with arms in his hands defended his people, and the war itself was a ‘bestial provocation’ of the Yeltsin-Dudayev corrupt regime.” Moreover, it often happened that “Chechen women covered Russian soldiers with their bodies, thus saving the soldiers from shooting.”

What his opponent is doing, Musayev suggested, is seeking to “justify his own excesses by searching for the bad in his opponent. We are prepared for positive dialogue. The problem is that unfortunately, the Russian Federation does not have a national ideology.” Instead, what is on offer is extreme nationalism and chauvinism.

Another Chechen, Professor Yavus Akhmadov turned on the nationalists and said that “You as people who did not pass through the war certainly do not understand one thing. You think that it can’t get worse than it is and that it is necessary to take power and so on. We also thought that way when we supported the first revolt against Dudayev’s regime.”

“I assure you,” Akhmadov said, if you act in the same way, “it will get worse.”

According to Akhmadov, most Chechens “identify themselves as citizens of Russia. But they are supporters of a state of a ‘feudal-imperial type,’ a strong power, a strong president, and a strong Russia.”

Vladimir Lakeyev, the first secretary of the Moscow city committee of the KPRF and a representative of leftist groups, Novy region reported, “tried” to bridge the gap by arguing that what matters is not nationality but the structure of the state. “To a complete degree, friendship of the peoples will work only under socialism,” he added.

Aleksandr Batov, the coordinator of leftist ROT-Front, argued that “in Chechnya there is only the appearance of peace” and that “in other national regions there is the basis for the renewal of a war,” with new outbreaks of “separatism and nationalism because conflicts like Chechnya were “profitable for [leaders on] both sides” although deadly for the people.

“Nationalism, the establishment of an [ethnic] Russian state, and the separation of the Caucasus are a path to nowhere,” Batov argued. That is because there are in reality only two nationalities: “the nationality of honest people who toil honestly and the nationality of thieves,k bandits and the like who now rule in our country.”

Another nationalist speaker, however, took a different view. Aleksandr Belov who had led the now-banned Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) said that he “personally did not feel any antipathy toward Chechens” and that “none of the Russian nationalists consider the Chechens as anything but fully valued people.”

But Belov said, “objective reality is such that Russian society experiences a definite fear of the Chechens and the majority of Russians do not associate Chechenya with Russia.” Given that and the absence of assimilation, ‘how should the Russian and Chechen peoples exist together?” The answer is that the divide between them is too great to bridge.

Rustam Tapayev, the president of the Union of Chechen Youth, called on the Russian nationalists to provide evidence that they were seeking a resolution. “Otherwise, in his words, all will conceive them as an organization which ‘exists while there is a conflict … Bothers can argue but they need to find common aspects and not disagreements.

Vladimir Tor, the representative of the Russian Social Movement (ROD), dissented from the idea that one could call “brothers” all those at the table But he suggested that did not mean that there could not be a discussion. However, he insisted that the Chechens must explain why they deserve many times the subsidies from Moscow that Russians get.

He said that was the most important question that had to be answered, although he suggested that two others – the bad behavior of Chechens in Russian cities and “the genocide of ethnic Russian in the Caucasus” – require resolution as well. And he reminded the group that “genocide is a crime which does not have a statute of limitations.”

That prompted a response from Akhmadov. He suggested that “not a single kopeck or ruble has Chechnya received at the expense of the Russian or Khanty-Mansiisk land. Everyone knows the expression of our president [Ramzan Kadyrov]: “Give us the possibility to pumpt oil and we won’t need money from the federal budget.”

After a sharp exchange on these and other issues, Viktor Militaryev, the coordinator of ROD, said there were two additional problems which had to be discussed: “the monopolization of small and mid-sized business by the peoples of the Caucaus” and “the protection of ‘their own’ by national diasporas.”

But Denis Zommer, a leader of the Union of Communist Youth, summed up the meeting with what may be a common view: “It is wrong to dance the lezginka at the tomb of the unknown soldier, but it is also wrong to drink beer there.” With that, the groups appear to have agreed to meet again, next time in Grozny.

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