Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Window on Eurasia: If Problems of North Caucasus Aren’t Solved, Russia will Fall Apart, North Ossetian Deputy Warns

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 21 – Unless Moscow comes up with and implements a carefully thought out set of policies for the North Caucasus, something it has signally failed to do up to now, a member of the North Ossetian parliament says, then there is a very real risk that Russia itself will “fall apart into ‘separate principalities.’”
In two articles in “Vestnik Kavkaza” this week, Valery Gizoyev, the deputy chairman of the legal affairs and local government committee of the North Ossetian parliament, points to ten factors which he says are exacerbating problems in the North Caucasus as a whole and five steps that Moscow needs to take toward stabilization.
According to Gizoyev, the problems of the North Caucasus and of Moscow’s inability to cope with them so far include the following: First, the failure of the each people of the region to know and understand the different traditions and customs of other peoples there and the failure of Moscow to understand these traditions and the diversity of the region’s population.
Instead, he notes, Russian officials and media types portray “people of the Caucasus” as one group and in an invariably negative way. As a result, when Russian soldiers come to the North Caucasus, “they come with a negative attitude toward the local population and see in everyone they meet a militant” (www.vestikavkaza.ru/analytics/politika/5466.html).
Second, Moscow officials act as if once violence is stopped, the conflicts are at an end, and the center can ignore providing a legal assessment of who was to blame and bringing them to justice. Such an approach may simplify the lives of officials, Gizoyev says, but it ignores the reality that failure to provide closure simply sets the stage for new conflicts.
He points out that even today, nearly 17 years after the Ossetian-Ingushetian clashes, there has not been any official judgment about who was responsible, and that 1679 of 1949 cases involving kidnappings in Chechnya have been dropped by the courts after officials could not establish who was responsible for them.
The families of the victims, however, remember and thus provide evidence to back up the saying that “In the Caucasus, they do shoot rarely, but once shots are fired, they do fire back for a long time.”
Third, Gizoyev suggests, one cannot ignore the influence of foreign governments, analysts and communities, some of whom talk about independence for this region and who actively support those in the region itself who, with this encouragement, continue to fight against the existing order of things.
Fourth, he continues, social conditions in the region are completely unacceptable.
Average incomes in the North Caucasus are half the Russia-wide average, and “a third of all the unemployed [in the country as a whole] are concentrated in this region alone.” Such conditions open the door for those who hope to recruit people to extremist causes.
Fifth, there is the struggle of elites, including criminal and criminalized ones who use the existing tensions to hold on to the wealth they seized during perestroika and the 1990s.
Sixth, Gizoyev continues, there has been “passivity” on the part of Moscow, with many ministries that should be active in the region doing little or nothing.
Seventh, all these problems are compounded by widespread corruption, not only among local officials but among federal ones as well, which has rendered almost all investments in the region “ineffective.”
Eighth, he argues, is the lack of adequate ideological work, especially in the area of counterpropaganda. If that does not change, Gizoyev says, then “we will suffer complete defeat in the struggle for the strengthening of Russia in the North Caucasus,” and the peoples in the region will continue their march toward war.
Ninth, he says, involves serious shortcomings in the work of law enforcement organs, many of which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as “true defenders of law and order” but rather just the reverse.
And tenth, Gizoyev says, the region has watched over the course of recent years, the transformation of conflicts from inter-ethnic ones into inter-confessional clashes, a development that Moscow does not appear to fully understand and that some of its own policies continue to exacerbate
In his second article, Gizoyev calls for Moscow to come up with a policy for the region that is “well-thought-out, well-based and reflective of its national interests,” something the North Ossetian deputy argues that the Russian authorities have not done at any point in recent times (www.vestikavkaza.ru/analytics/politika/5533.html).
“Russia needs,” he continues, a program for ‘the Greater Caucasus, calculated for the long term development of the North Caucasus republics and on the laying down of good neighborly relations with the countries of the Trans-Caucasus,” Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
In addition, Gizoyev says, it should adopt “a five-step program” to achieve stability. First, Moscow needs “to develop a scientifically-based program for raising the level of economic development of the North Caucasus republics” and for integrating them economically with the rest of the country.
Second, the central government needs to audit the activities of all NGOs to determine which of them may be the channels for financing directed at “stimulating extremism in the region” and then to close those organizations down.
Third, Moscow must develop an effective means of ideologically countering ideological and religious extremism not only by drawing on “professional propagandists” but also by mobilizing “well-known creative, public and scientific workers.”
Fourth, he continues, Moscow must “propagandize on behalf of and support inter-ethnic marriages” and promote the image of other nations as “good neighbors.” And sixth, it must organize meetings between legislative and executive bodies and various groups in the population so as to build up the ties between government and society.
Discussions of what Moscow should do in the North Caucasus like the one offered by Gizoyev may become less common if the FSB has its way. In Perm, the FSB has arranged for the opening of a criminal case against Igor Averkiyev, who will be tried in September on charges of extremism for suggesting public debate about this issue (www.nr2.ru/perm/241499.html).
Believing that Russian society as a whole should decide “what is to be done” in the North Caucasus, Averkiyev calls the case against him “an absurdity,” an example of the vast difference between “real extremism and ‘the struggle with extremism’” as currently practiced by the Russian powers that be.
Averkiyev’s real crime, it appears, is that he suggests that Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin have been “forced to close their eyes” to the behavior of their creature, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and thereby allow the murders of innocent people like Natalya Estemirova to go “unpunished.”

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