Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Preventing Assimilation Rather than Returning to North Caucasus Must be Circassians’ Main Focus, Gunger Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 4 – The repatriation of Circassians from around the world to the historical homeland in Circassia in the North Caucasus is both “impossible and unnecessary for the Circassian people,” Negor Fethi Gunger says. Instead, the Circassians should focus on developing their common identity wherever they live and avoiding assimilation.

            The professor at Turkey’s Yalova University advanced this argument at the online Circassian Circle at the end of last month (aheku.net/news/society/cherkesskij-krug). (This is the fifth in a series of Windows on speakers at that event. The first four are available at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/03/online-circassian-circle-brings.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/03/adyge-habze-moral-code-must-be.html,   windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/04/circassians-must-seek-return-to.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/04/circassians-must-return-to-homeland-and.html.)

            “In Circassia,” Gunger says, “the economic, legal, political, socio-cultural, physical and geographic conditions are extremely far from what would be needed to welcome an intensive return of Circassian repatriants.” As a result, making that the central point of the Circassian agenda would be doomed to fail.

            “The common goals of the Circassians as a nation,” the émigré Circassian academic specialist says, “are the defense of their national uniqueness, language and culture and support of their existence as a respected community in the communities of various countries.” Their language and culture, not their historical territory, is their chief resource.

            At the same time, Gunger says, “no one should forget or allow others to forget about the genocide and expulsion of the Circassians by the Russian Empire. When speaking before international communities, Circassians must continue to demand from compensation from russia, return to the motherland [for those who want to], and apologies.”

            On the one hand, Gunger’s words represent a radical departure from and a challenge to the thinking of many Circassian activists in the North Caucasus and also in the diaspora who have made a return to the historical homeland a central tenet of their demands and activities as Circassians.

            But on the other, his argument represents a recognition of current realities: There are more than seven million Circassians in the diaspora, many are integrated and important in the countries where they live, and they have no interest in going back to the North Caucasus at the present time.

            Ensuring that they maintain their culture, language and identity is thus critical not only for them but for those who are in the homeland or who go back. If there were no diaspora, Moscow would treat the Circassians in the North Caucasus with even less ceremony than it does; and so saving the diaspora is critical to saving those in the homeland and saving Circassia.

Pandemic Transforming Russians from Obedient Subjects to Questioning Citizens, Vinogradov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 4 – In response to the challenges the pandemic presents and the actions officials have called for or allowed, “a significant part” of Russian society is undergoing a transformation with its members no longer acting as obedient subjects who always do what they’re told to citizens who question what the powers are doing, Aleksandr Vinogradov says.

            Instead of accepting what Vladimir Putin or other officials are doing, Russians are asking questions, Kazan’s Business Gazeta commentator says. They want to know what laws are the basis for the actions of the powers and why their rights are being limited without any explanation (business-gazeta.ru/article/463930).

            A few have even gone to court, suing officials and demanding explanations, a development that in and of itself is changing the country’s “administrative landscape” by highlighting “cracks” in the administrative vertical and the ideological “mythology” on which it is based.

            It seems likely, Vinogradov says, that “this tendency in the coming weeks of ‘self-isolation’ will intensify further, especially in southern regions of Russia where the growing season is quietly beginning and when work on the land is required for people to earn money.” Those blocked from doing so are going to add their voices to the chorus of questioners.

            This trend has been exacerbated further by the fact that the myth that “Russia doesn’t throw over its own.” In fact, the commentator says, it has shut the border to thousands of Russians who found themselves abroad. “Does that add to the honor and respect people have for ‘the power vertical’? The question is rhetorical; the answer is negative.”

            Moreover, Moscow’s response to the pandemic has placed enough burdens on small and mid-sized business without much hope of compensation. While such enterprises form only about a fifth to a quarter of the Russian GDP, they perform “a most important social function” by providing jobs and focus to millions of Russians.

            By ignoring their needs, Moscow is ignoring the needs of their employees and the employees’ families – and all three can see that with ever greater clarity.

            And Moscow has also put the regions and municipalities in difficulty by making them responsible for the response to the pandemic but not giving them the resources to do to effectively. Not surprisingly, these levels of governance are shocked and confused and trying to figure out what to do not on Moscow’s orders but in terms of their own needs.

            Some of their actions have been ill-considered perhaps, like Ivanovo which called on residents not to rent rooms to Muscovites fleeing the city or Chechnya which has shut itself off from the rest of the Russian Federation.  But that is no surprise in the absence of guidance and in the absence of laws that govern the situation. When some are arbitrary, others will become so.

            As a result of all this, Vinogradov says, it is very likely that when the pandemic ends, “the regional authorities with the complete support of their people will begin to pose to Moscow uncomfortable questions and what is more fight tooth and nail to hold on to the broader powers they have acquired de facto.”

            This will be a long way from real federalism, of course, he continues. But it will represent a reordering of the political system and a transformation of its people.

            As evidence of what this process is likely to look like at the regional level, Vinogradov points to what is happening even further down the political pyramid at the municipal level. In the Irkutsk city of Sayansk, its mayor overruled Moscow and told businesses to continue to work into April.

            Moscow moved in and got this order modified, but what is important, Vinogradov says, is this: Borovsky, in response pointed out that he “comes from the milieu of entrepreneurs and know on my own skin all the difficulties of this sphere … Therefore, I take on myself full responsibility.”

            The kind of responsibility that those above him haven’t been willing to shoulder but precisely the kind that citizens rather than subjects are likely to respect in the future.

Erecting Statues of Russian Imperialists in Non-Russian Areas Intended to Provoke Reaction and Justify Repression, Chuvash Petition Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 4 – Many non-Russians in the Middle Volga and the North Caucasus have been infuriated by the efforts of Russian nationalists to erect statues on their territory to Russian imperialists who conquered their lands and brutalized their peoples with most viewing it as the latest manifestation of the recrudescence of Russian imperialism.

            But until now, few had suggested that it was anything more than self-affirmation by ethnic Russians rather than something more ominous – a plan to provoke non-Russians into the kind of violent reaction that would allow or force Moscow to intervene and suppress the non-Russians as some Russians would like.

            Now a group of Ingush activists has done just that, circulating a petition declaring the erection of statues to Russian rulers is intended to provoke such an outcome, demanding the statues be removed, and warning non-Russians not to be drawn (ru.chuvash.org/news/5006.html and change.org/p/инициаторы-установки-памтника-ивана-грозному-требование-чувашской-национально-интеллигенции-о-сносе-провакационных-символов).

            The authors from the Christian Turkic republic in the Middle Volga make this argument in advance of the planned commemoration of the centenary of the creation of modern Chuvash statehood on June 24, 2020. They say that Chuvash would like to mark that event in a worthy way but two Russian actions are making that far more difficult.

            On the one hand, the proposed constitutional amendments are intended to undermine the federative foundations of the state and reduce the rights of its subjects. And on the other, there has been a movement to erect in Cheboksary statues of Russian imperial leaders that is infuriating the Chuvash.

            Figures like Ivan the Terrible, Orthodox “saints” Petr and Fevroniya, and Elizabeth II don’t have “any relationship to the Chuvash people or the Chuvash Republic and are “an open form” of “everything anti-Chuvash, anti-state and anti-civilizational” attitudes and actions in the Russian Federation today.

            Putting up such statues is an obvious “provocation,” because it cannot fail to anger the Chuvash people, the petition says.  And those who are behind such monuments must have known that these statues would have that effect and thus are intentionally or not “setting various forces of society against one another by generating inter-ethnic and inter-religious discord.”

            “We consider,” the petition continues, “that these destructive forces have miscalculated, and that the people of Chuvashia will not allow in the republic [such] conflicts.” But because there is a risk, the authors say, they want the statues taken down and those behind them to end their dangerous games.

            The petition ends with an appeal to “the Chuvash nation and all the people of the Chuvash Republic” to avoid “unthought out and illegal steps” against these destructive actions lest such moves come back to haunt them.

            Not only does this petition make it clear that Chuvash concerned about stability see the statues to Russian conquerors as something more than just monuments, but it shows that ethnic and religious relations in what has usually been viewed as a peaceful are anything but just below the surface and could explode if the authorities continue to pursue this dangerous policy.