Monday, April 3, 2017

Chechnya May Be a Bigger Threat to Russia Now than It Was in the 1990s, Moscow Paper Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 3 – In the 1990s, Chechnya sought independence from Moscow, and Vladimir Putin has made the suppression of that regional insurgency a centerpiece of his claims for public support. But now, in 2017, Nezavisimaya gazeta suggests, that North Caucasus republic may be on its way to becoming a greater threat than it was to Russia as a whole.

            To put it more succinctly than the Moscow paper does, Chechnya’s drive for independence in the 1990s and 2000s threatened the territorial integrity of the country in one small part of it. Chechnya’s independent actions now call into question the arrangements within and among all of Russia’s component parts as well as its centralized political system.

            In a lead article today entitled “Will Our Federation Withstand Chechen Customs?” the editors say that Grozny’s decision to permit pupils to wear the hijab “poses serious questions about the federal arrangement of Russia” because the Chechens have essentially gone their own way without regard to Moscow (

            The Kremlin has played down these implications, the editors say, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov suggesting that Putin has not taken a position on this conflict between the actions of a republic government and the decisions of the all-Russian duma and federal courts – despite the fact that Putin earlier had declared that the hijab was a religious and not a national custom.

            Grozny’s position is exactly the opposite, the paper continues.  “Formally, the decision of the Chechen parliamentarians corresponds to the constitutional principle of federalism. In this, the Chechen elite is right,” and in many countries decisions on such matters are made below the federal level.

            But if one goes “beyond this limit,” Nezavisimaya gazeta says, “there is a threat to the unity of the state.”

            This is not the first time the Chechen Republic “has demonstrated a special attitude toward the norms of public morality.” In December 2016, for example, Grozny closed all alcohol stores, and over the last three years, Ramzan Kadyrov has unilaterally banned fortune tellers and the like. 

                “All this allows one to speak about the special status of Chechnya, when the principle of federalism is realized only toward selected subjects,” the editors continue. If other federal subjects were to try to assert the same right, Moscow would clearly have a different response – and that difference in itself represents a danger to the country. 

            No one should imagine that this is just about Muslim republics. “In Russia, there are three enormous Buddhist republics and Buddhist districts in mixed oblasts, [and] there are registered extra-territorial national cultural autonomies” for them elsewhere as well.

            And then is a more profound question: should the federal rights that have been given to Chechnya be extended only to non-Russian republics or should they apply to predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays as well. To ask that question is to raise an issue that challenges the existing system.

            Many talk about how unique Chechnya is, the editors conclude, but “reacting to the challenges of federalism by necessity rather than by rules, the state guarantees its effective functioning only if it has a strong leader. If Russia loses a Yezhov-type administration, his system of personal administration will soon enter a fatal crisis.”

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