Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Daghestanis Resist Effort to Insert Ethnic Russian Official into Makhachkala

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 4 – Daghestani residents, apparently aided and abetted by officials of their republic government, took a variety of steps to block Moscow from installing an ethnic Russian in a position in a federal agency there that had been occupied by a member of a local non-Russian nationality.
That action on Monday, one whose impact remains in doubt as of this writing, recalls not only the protests that occurred in December 1986 when Mikhail Gorbachev installed an ethnic Russian in place of an ethnic Kazakh as party leader in his republic but serves notice on Moscow that many non-Russians may take to the streets now if Moscow repeats that step.
And that in turn could lead the central Russian government to decide against replacing such longtime non-Russian leaders as Murtaza Rakhimov of Bashkortostan and Mintimir Shaimiyev of Tatarstan, whose departures many in the Moscow media have been speculating about over the course of the last few months.
The events in Daghestan this week are still murky. According to a report in Moscow’s “Kommersant” yesterday, Daghestan border guard refused to allow Vladimir Radchenko, whom Moscow had named to head the federal tax service in Daghestan, to cross into that North Caucasus republic (
The guards gave as the reason for their actions a report that a bomb had been planted in the offices of the building he was to occupy. But there appears to have been an additional reason: some 600 Daghestanis were reportedly demonstrating in front of that building to protest the appointment of an ethnic Russian to a post that had been held by a Lezgin.
According to the Moscow paper, this protest presented itself as self-organized, but all indications are that “without the involvement of the authorities of the republic, it would not have taken place in this situation,” a conclusion that if true makes the current standoff even more dangerous from the perspective of the central government.
The new man, Vladimir Radchenko, who had earlier headed the federal tax service in Karachayevo-Cherkessia before serving for a brief time in Moscow, had already faced resistance from the Daghestani authorities, the paper said, who had wanted a say on the nomination of someone to a position that is subordinate not to them but to Moscow.
Originally, Radchenko’s superiors had thought to appoint him to a lower ranking post in Daghestan and then promote him as it were from within. But Makhachkala objected, and so Moscow decided to install him in the top job as it was within Moscow’s gift, at least according to the letter of the law.
Once it became known in the Daghestani capital that the Russian government had decided to appoint its own man to the post, “more than 600 people” assembled in front of the building in Makhachkala to protest this decision, blocking the flow of traffic and making clear by their statements how angry they were.
Akhmedbek Ibragimov, a protester who identified himself as a university instructor in that republic, told “Kommersant” that demonstrators wanted to make clear to the Daghestani and Russian leadership that “we are not against the powers that be; we only want that they listen to our voices.
And he added that “every nation has the right to have its own representatives in the power elites.” Consequently, Ibragimov said, “One a Lezgin is removed from a position, then another Lezgin ought to be named as his replacement.” But too often as in the current case, “this principle doesn’t operate.”
Both Ibragimov and other participants in the demonstration underscored that neither Moscow nor Makhachkala could say that there were not fully qualified members of local nationalities who could perform this job with distinction – an argument that many in Moscow frequently and fraudulently advance when they insert an ethnic Russian in non-Russian areas.
“We do not understand,” another demonstrator said, “why the federal center assigns [such leaders]. We have our own fully qualified candidates, and [Daghestani President] Muku Aliyev could independently choose from among them the head of the tax inspectorate” without any need to bring in an outsider.
As for President Aliyev, he was more cautious. His spokesman noted that the tax inspectorate was a federal structure concerning which Moscow had the right to make all appointments, and they did that there was no reason to think that a member of one nationality installed in such a position would behave differently by “lowering taxes” or anything else.
Moreover, his representatives said, Aliyev has “frequently declared that in Daghestan there is not and will not be” any system where particular posts are reserved for members of particular nationalities, a denial of the existence of the very system on which such stability as there has been in Daghestan in recent years has been based.
Moscow has now chosen to ignore this, something it has done consistently in the past. But the demonstration in Makhachkala and the obvious complicity of the Daghestani government, whatever it says for public consumption, suggests that the central Russian government cannot do so with impunity for much longer.
One Azerbaijani commentator today suggested that there is no possibility that the Putin “vertical” can afford to ignore “the national specifics” of particular regions, if the people in them are angry ( And it is certain Moscow will now pause before moving against non-Russian leaders just as it has paused in pursuing regional amalgamation.
. That may, in the first instance, save Bashlortostan’s Rakhimov, but if it does not, the problems on display in Makhachkala will be multiplied many times, creating a threat to central control far greater than the demonstrators in Makhachkala or many others far from that North Caucasus city may now imagine (

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