Staunton, January 11 – North Caucasians have long relied on informal family-based systems for resolving disputes, but by attempting to exploit these systems to punish his enemies, Ramzan Kadyrov is discrediting that system and thus opening the way for Chechens to resolve disputes not on the basis of those traditions but on those of Islam.
Konstantin Kazenin, a longtime specialist on the North Caucasus at the Russian Presidential Academy of the National Economy and State Administration, offers that conclusion on his Facebook page (facebook.com/konstantin.kazenin/posts/932128976873785?fref=nf).
His argument is important not only because it shows that some of the measures that the Chechen leader has adopted will be counterproductive but also because it provides yet another reason why those who believe Russian interests in the North Caucasus and more generally require Kadyrov’s ouster, despite his symbiotic closeness with Vladimir Putin.
Kadyrov’s much-quoted statement that he plans to follow what he describes as the customary practice in Chechnya of having family members bear responsibility for the actions of any one of them and that he will use “all resources, law, tradition, and religion” to achieve this goal of the state has some “really important” byproducts, Kazenin says.
The Chechen leader puts “alongside law, religion and tradition.” That does not mean that one is replacing the other but rather that “each occupies a definite niche” in the lives of the peoples of the North Caucasus. Treating them as if one can replace another or be put in its service is simply not the case.
Traditional law is extremely important in Chechnya and Ingushetia and somewhat less so in Daghestan, the Moscow scholar says. Based on family and clan ties, it imposes tight control over the behavior of all: if someone does something that offends the family or clan, he or she must either stop doing so or risk expulsion from these key social networks.
That is what Kadyrov is trying to exploit, Kazenin says, but by seeking to put traditional law in the service of the state, he is “very seriously modifying” it because “traditional law in the Caucasus is about relations of families AMONG THEMSELVES and not with the authorities or at the dictate of the authorities.”
“The most important element is the freedom of decisions taken by each side,” the Moscow scholar continues. Traditional law can work “only as a result of the independent decision of the elders of each family group without the interference of any powers that be in these decisions.”
According to Kazenin, “in general all relationships which traditional law regulates are profoundly ‘horizontal’ – that is, among people, among families, among rural communities but not between the individual and state power.” Ignoring that reality puts both traditional law and state power at risk.
When Chechens and others see traditional rules becoming a tool of the state, “attitudes toward it among ordinary residents of Chechnya logically will deteriorate,” he writes; and that will mean that “informal regulation on the basis of tradition will give way to informal regulation on the basis of Islam.”
This carries with it “one serious risk,” Kazenin says. There are many people who will claim to speak in the name of Islam and “among them, conflicts will begin.” Unfortunately, he points out, “there is practically no ability to resolve intra-Islamic conflicts in present-day Chechnya.”
Some experience in that regard exists in Daghestan and in Ingushetia, worked out, Kazenin continues, “sometimes with the participation of the authorities and sometimes without,” and thus keeps most of the potential participants in such disputes within a common legal field – or at least, these arrangements promise to do that.
But “in Chechnya,” he concludes, “the present-day religious policy based on the total support of only one of the branches of local Islam has not allowed for the development of such habits at all.”