Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Daghestan Now Has 50 ‘Permanent Representations’ across CIS

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 26 – Daghestan now has 50 “permanent representations” in Russian regions and CIS countries to help promote trade and to support the rights and interests of Daghestanis living there, the latest in a remarkable evolution of a Soviet-era institution that became the foundation for the embassies of most post-Soviet states in Moscow.
Earlier this month, officials from these 50 offices assembled in Makhachkala not only for their annual meeting with the republic’s nationalities ministry, which oversees their activities, but to celebrate the tenth anniversary of 14 of them, including those in Minsk, Bashkortostan, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia (www.vestikavkaza.ru/articles/obshestvo/diaspora/1766.html).
Zikrula Ilyasov, the first deputy minister for nationality policy, information and foreign ties, told them that among their most important achievements and tasks was the promotion of trade with and investment in Daghestan by dealing with the headquarters of the companies and concerns involved.
The permanent representatives, for their part, complained that officials in Makhachkala have not always done what they could to create favorable conditions for trade and investment. Indeed, some of them said, republic officials sometimes have shown little interest in this aspect of their work, Makhachkala journalist Nurmagomed Magomedov says.
But another aspect of the work of these representations appears to be equally important. These offices, he suggests, have become “the connecting link between the republic and those regions where they are located,” assisting among other things in promoting “the preservation and development of the national culture and languages of Daghestanis” living there.
Their work is especially important for those Daghestanis “who were born and have grown up in a different ethnic milieu,” lest “they forget their ethnic roots.” And these agencies also work with “military units in which Daghestanis are serving in order to help improve the moral and psychological atmosphere” and “stabilize the situation” in them.
At the dawn of Soviet times, when communication between Moscow and the regions and republics was often difficult, such permanent representations were common, with almost every republic and many regions maintaining such institutions in the Soviet capital and in neighboring areas.
But as the country’s infrastructure improved, most of them disappeared. However, near the end of the Soviet period, the permanent representatives of the union republics as well as of a few autonomous formations within the Russian Federation assumed a more prominent role, not only as coordinating and cultural centers but also serving as important symbols of sovereignty.
They occasionally figured in the fiction of non-Russian republics as a kind of proto-embassy, and on at least one occasion, they played a critical role in the development of a national movement. In January 1990, after Soviet troops used force in Baku, Heydar Aliyev visited the Azerbaijani permanent representation in Moscow, an act that boosted his standing at home.
While Daghestan has the most extensive network of such institutions, other non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation also maintain offices of this kind, providing both a kind of consular service for their co-ethnics “abroad” and a symbol of statehood that could under certain conditions assume greater importance.
Indeed, given the continuing problems with “dedovshchina” (hazing) in the Russian army, it seems likely that ever more republics will consider such representations as a useful, even necessary means of defending their people. And such defense in and of itself will send a message not only to their own people but implicitly to Moscow as well.

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