Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Failure to Modernize Chechnya Seen Leading to Republic’s Independence

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 18 – Moscow’s failure to modernize Chechnya and its lack of resources and will to continue that effort have opened the way for the re-traditionalization of Chechen society and given the disconnects between that society and Russia, for Grozny’s current de facto and ultimately de jure independence, according to leading Moscow commentator.
In an article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Aleksey Makarkin, the first vice president of the Moscow Center of Political Technologies, argues that the recent killings of human rights activists in Chechnya point to far deeper and longstanding problems there than most Russians have been willing to acknowledge (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=9369).
The nature of these crimes, he suggests, is very different than the attacks on the president in Ingushetia or the head of the interior ministry in Daghestan. In those two cases, those doing the attacks were respectively “extremists” of one kind or another or members of different ethnically-based clans competing for power.
But Chechnya, more than either of these other North Caucasus republics, Makarkin argues, remains “a traditional society,” and in traditional societies like Chechnya’s, “people who violate the definite rules are subject to mortal danger from the side of those who have arms and are prepared to use them.”
According to the Moscow analyst, traditional societies are characterized by their “hierarchical nature, the great authority of clan and family ties, the priority of customary law and religious traditions over written laws and the obligations before society and the state over the rights of the individual.”
Consequently, when human rights activists work in Chechnya, “they inevitably have come into conflict with the local chiefs (not necessarily with Ramzan [Kadyrov] – in Chechnya, there are a large number of bosses one level down, many of whom a few years ago were militants) and do not receive much support from the side of the population.”
Viewed from this perspective, he suggests, the recent killings thus represent “the latest evidence of the failure” of Moscow’s policies directed at “the modernization and ‘bringing up to date’ of Chechnya,” policies that Russian governments have been pursuing in various ways for more than a century.
In support of his contention, Makarkin draws on the writings of Valery Tishkov, the influential head of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology. Tishkov has suggested that in Chechnya even at the end of Soviet times, there were two different “sectors” in the economy of that republic, a modern “Russian” one and a pre-modern “national” one.
The “Russian” sector included the oil industry, machine building and infrastructure and employed very few Chechens. An example of this, Tishkov said, was the oil industry, which employed 50,000 people but only “a few hundred Chechens.” The “national” one, which involved small-scale trade, agriculture, and crime, employed few people other than Chechens.
A similar divide between a modern Russian sector and a pre-modern Chechen one existed in education. While Moscow set up a system of secondary and higher educational institutions there, few Chechens in the rural areas – the overwhelming majority -- ever attended, the result of poverty and the participation of many Chechens in seasonal labor elsewhere in the USSR.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the balance between these two sectors shifted, with Russians departing and their part of the economy collapsing and the Chechens and their portion becoming dominant locally. And as a result, Makarkin insists, what has taken place over the last 18 years can accurately be described as “the re-traditionalization of Chechen society.”
Ramzan Kadyrov is part and parcel of that, the Moscow commentator says, and he argues that “in Moscow, officials perfectly well understand that [Kadyrov’s] goal is the preservation of traditional society with just one difference: earlier [that society] had a poly-centric character, but now power is concentrated in the hands of a single leader.”
But if the center understands that, it is quite prepared to accept Kadyrov as long as he declares his loyalty to the center because “Moscow does not intend to modernize the republic: it has neither the forces, nor the desire, nor the actors for that.” And consequently, the re-traditionalization of Chechnya is likely to intensify.
This creates “an important strategic problem” for the Russian government, Makarkin concludes. “If the republic lives its own life while having little in common with all-Russian affairs, then how much time will it remain within the borders of Russia?” In the short term, of course, memories of the horrors of the war may constrain Chechnya.
Over time, however, as Chechens begin to forget the past, the fear embedded in those memories could disappear because “relations to the center in the Caucasus depend on fear.” But “if the fear disappears, then Chechnya again could turn out to be outside the Russian legal field, not only de facto [as is already the case] but de jure as well.”

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