Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Return of Realpolitik Portends Horrors for North Caucasus, Russia and the West, Kovalyev Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 20 – The root of the problems in the North Caucasus, Sergey Kovalyev argues, is the result of a broader shift in the paradigms governing politics today away from a commitment to universal human values to a Machiavellian Realpolitik that threatens not only the peoples of the North Caucasus but Russia as a whole and the West as well.
In a discussion on Moscow’s current approach to Chechnya, the prominent human rights activist argues that “Moscow is seeking to extend to the entire North Caucasus the political model which has taken shape in Chechnya where the bandits serve as a prop for the federal powers that be” (www.specletter.com/obcshestvo/2010-07-20/mir-po-makiavelli.html).
There as elsewhere, the longtime human rights defender says, “the root of all misfortunes lies in the lack of correspondence between declared universal values” and “the Machiavellian” approach that governments have adopted, an approach “based on the principle of a war of all against all,” conducted “with loud words about civic and political freedoms.”
This is obvious in the North Caucasus, he argues. There, the following is taking place: the prop of the powers that be are the bandits -- the prop indeed of our Moscow federal powers that be,” who do not see the violence as a problem but as the justification for their approach not only in that region but more generally.
The powers that be in the center have decided, Kovalyev continues, that “that stability which exists in Chechnya now is a model for the entire North Caucasus. And what does this Chechen stability mean? It means murders and hands drenched in blood.” But it does bring a kind of surrogate stability.
According to Kovalyev, “part of the population supports [these arrangements] out of fear, and another part does so lest things become even worse.” Among the latter are people who are prepared to put up with these horrors because they say those involved in them are at least addressing the immediate day to day concerns of the population.
Such an approach “can work throughout the North Caucasus,” he says, “and it is absolutely acceptable for the Kremlin. [The powers that be in Moscow] are not such fools that they do not understand that they will not be able to achieve anything wonderful in the North Caucasus.” Consequently, they are willing to make this calculation.
But the problem is worse than that, Kovalyev continues. “Alas,” he says, “[he] is speaking not only about the Caucasus but about the country as a whole. And even more: this is a question not about the country but about our international political situation,” because Russia is profoundly affected by changes in what is acceptable in the world.
And at present, he suggests, Russia and the rest of the world are “experiencing a moral, historical and legal crisis of global proportions. That shameful line which is called political correctness dominates. Unworthy compromises dominate.” And he points to “a newly minted Nobel Prize laureate” who has entered into such compromises with Russia.
“What does this mean?” Kovalyev asks rhetorically. “It means that one is prepared to pay for the comfortable resolution of private, absolutely petty private problems with the lives and freedoms of other. That is all. And it is acceptable in the world” as it has developed over the last decade.
For “more than ten years,” Russia has been developing its own approach in the Caucasus, Kovalyev writes. For most of that period, the West, “to put it mildly, did not approve. Then the August 2008 war happened.” That should have been an occasion for more than just an expression of disapproval.
“But what did they do? They decided that ‘the reset must not suffer from this. And what did the United States win from this? A somewhat more comfortable interaction with Moscow on a whole number of disputed questions.” And that sets the new norm, one in which governments can trade principles for short term gains while saying they are not doing so.
One “simply cannot mask contemporary political hypocrisy any more. It is evident and obvious to all.” And attacks on extreme cases like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein are an exception to the new rule rather than evidence that the older commitment to the principles of universal human values is being maintained.
Unlike the ideas of Academician Andrey Sakharov, which helped change the world but which are now being ignored, the political crisis that infects the world, one informed by “a new Machiavellianism,” will spread for some time, undermining the possibilities in which so many earlier placed so much hope.
“One should not speak about universal values if we immediately put them in the marketplace and trade them,” Kovalyev says. “Let’s say honestly that the Machiavellian world completely satisfies us. Another world, alas, is not on offer. It is impossible. This at least would be honest.”

Window on Eurasia: Pre-Soviet Past Can Become the Basis of Belarusian National Identity, Surveys Suggest

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 20 – In a week when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has argued that the Soviet period created the basis for Ukrainian statehood, a Moscow scholar suggests that Belarusians will remain divided by the Soviet inheritance but can be united on the basis of their pre-1917 national history.
In an article in the current issue of the Levada Center’s “Vestnik Obshchestvennogo mneniya,” Aleksey Lastovsky argues that the pre-Soviet period rather than the Soviet one “has the greatest potential for the strengthening of national identity” among Belarusians today and in the future (www.polit.ru/research/2010/07/19/belorus.html).
Indeed, this scholar argues on the basis of public opinion surveys in Belarus over the last several years, “Soviet history cannot serve as a unifying factor for an integral historical memory” among Belarusians. While they may know it best, they are sharply divided on the meaning for their nation of many of its events.
And although many Belarusians know less about their nation’s pre-Soviet past, the growth of knowledge about that past has two “most important characteristics” for the future of their national identity. On the one hand, it is not completely defined, allowing “without particular difficulty, to include in it necessary content” through education.
On the other, this period, unlike the Soviet one, is already assessed positively or at least not negatively in the mass consciousness of Belarusians. Consequently, “pre-Soviet Belarusian history quite effectively can be used for the formation of a community of understanding about the past and present Belarusian nation.”
As in the case of other countries in the former Soviet space, Lastovsky writes, “the collapse of the Soviet model of history required [in Belarus] a review and redefinition of the national historical narrative and the search for unifying ways of making sense of their own histories.”
The greatest amount of public discussion of this took place at the very end of the Soviet period, but despite the ultimately unreasonable hopes of some, those discussions alone did not lead to a transformation of collective historical consciousness. And many people, especially members of the older generation not part of the educational system, retained Soviet values.
That reality, Lastovsky continues, has been highlighted by the surveys conducted by the Belarusian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, by polls conducted by the Eurasian Monitor, and by the Novak Sociological Laboratory on “The National Identity of the Belarusians: Who We are And Whom We Will Be?”
These three efforts, the sociologist says, allow for an analysis of what Belarusians believe about the sources of Belarusian statehood, about the events in national history which generate pride as well as shame and anger, and about the most important individuals in Belarusian history of the 20th century and before.
In his 6,000-word article the sociologist provides a detailed description of the findings of these various surveys, pointing out the various positions of members of different generations of Belarusians about all these points and the ways in which they are likely to evolve over time as a result of the passing of the older generation and the education of the young.
For example, he notes that “people over 50 are more inclined to give preference to the Belarusian SSR as the first Belarusian state (15 percent) than are younger respondents (five percent). But even the older generation identifies the origins of Belarusian statehood with the Polotskian principality or the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
That pattern reflects the fact, Lastovsky continues, that the pre-Soviet period of Belarusian history is “practically unknown” to members of the older generation. “The younger generation in contrast,” he says, “is extremely well informed about various events and personages of Belarusian history.”
And Lastovsky points out that the promotion of the Great Fatherland War as the signal event of the Soviet period has had the effect of putting in “the shadow other events of this period” or leaving public opinion about them very much divided, although the recent surveys show the anger many Belarusians still feel about the impact of the Chernobyl accident.
For Belarusians to complete their national consolidation and move forward, Lastovsky argues, it will be the pre-Soviet period rather than the Soviet one that will be the most effective means for doing so, a reality that highlights the historical nature of the Belarusian nation that many Russians and others continue to deny.

Window on Eurasia: Circassians Radicalized by Moscow’s ‘Double Standards’ in Ossetia, Exiled Leader Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 20 – The “double standards” behind Russia’s nationality policy -- very much on view “when the Kremlin recognizes a small part of the Ossetian people as an independent state while leaving the larger part within Russia and the right to choose its future” -- are radicalizing the Circassians, according to one of their leaders in exile.
In an interview conducted by Fatima Tlisova and posted on the Kavkaz-Uzel.ru portal, Murat Berzegov argues that what Moscow has done regarding the two Ossetias is radicalizing Circassians across the North Caucasus who are now asking why they are being attacked for demanding that they be treated equally (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/171772/).
This interview is important because it provides the clearest indication yet of the ways in which Moscow’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008 and subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states is having an unintended and from Russia’s perspective unwelcome impact in the already troubled North Caucasus.
In the past, Berzegov, founder of the Circassian Congress who received political asylum in the United States earlier this year because of threats to his life in his homeland, has called for Moscow to acknowledge the Russian genocide of the Circassians in the 19th century and to allow the Circassians to combine the various state formations into which Stalin divided them into one.
In this interview, Berzegov reiterates those positions: “The Circassians in their current state fall under the definition of a divided people.” They are split “into five subjects” of the Russian Federation and are “artificially designated by different ethnonyms.” Abroad, “the Circassians are dispersed in more than 50 countries.”
This status, he continues, “contradicts” both the Russian Constitution and international law and must be addressed by “political methods within the framework of the legal field of the Russian Federation and the United Nations.” In so doing, the Circassians are not asking for any “exceptional rights or privileges” or the denigration of the rights of others.
“We seek,” the exiled leader said, “the realization of the right of a people to a single historical territory, to repatriation -- the right to return to the Motherland of the descendents of those forcibly deported, to a single ethnic name which reflects membership in a single people, and through these intermediate steps, we want to achieve the reestablishment of Circassia.”
“None of our demands are radical or contradict the Russian Constitution,” Berzegov stressed. But “unfortunately,” he continued, “all are actions and declarations generate in Moscow a negative reaction, even if we speak only about that which we have the right to under the Constitution of the Russian Federation, that of unity.”
For all the other peoples “who live in the Russian Federation, unity is a natural right and considered a given.” But “when the Circassians speak about unity,” Moscow treats it as “a threat to the integrity of Russia” and “our demands” as “something illegal, as if we were seeking greater rights than other peoples have.”
That simply isn’t the case, Berzegov insists. “We demand equality, but in the Kremlin, this is interpreted as a criminal striving to exclusiveness because we speak about the unity of the people and territory.” And Moscow risks making the situation worse by suggesting that there is some relationship between Circassian aspirations and political Islam, but that isn’t true either.
“Political Islam,” he continues, “has completely opposite goals to ours.” It seeks “the construction of a caliphate, based only on religious unity and completely excluding a national component. I do not think,” Berzegov says, that it is in Russia’s interests to unite Circassian social movements with structures which are involved with terrorism.”
But the most serious threat of the radicalization of the Circassians lies elsewhere, the exiled leader says. “Russia must move away from double standards in nationality policy. Even people far from politics are beginning to doubt the adequacy of the political course” of the Russian government in the North Caucasus.
That is because they can see such double standards very much in evidence “when the Kremlin recognizes a small part of the Ossetian people as an independent state while leaving the larger part of this people within Russia and without the right of a choice over the future” of that people.
This “unequal approach in nationality policy is too obvious,” he says, “and it is sharpening a feeling of injustice among those peoples whose rights are being violated, especially among the more politically active part of the people, its youth.” If something is not done, that could lead to some unwanted consequences.
“Moscow has not been able to develop a mechanism for reducing social tension, there are no organizations which could serve as a bridge between society and the powers that be, and the powers that be lack a will to dialogue with the people,” he says. Instead, “the powers that be prefer to ignore or minimize the Circassian problem, to distort its essence and drive it deeper.
This Russian “tactic excludes the possibility of the legal resolution of the tasks and becomes a platform for their irreversible escalation, [if and] when young people begin to go into the forest.” If Moscow doesn’t respond politically, Berzegov concludes, “then a repetition of the chaos in Ingushetia and Daghestan is unfortunately a real scenario for Circassia.”