Staunton, February 9 – Many in the Russian media today are inclined to accept uncritically assertions that the clans in Daghestan are all about corruption and the violation of the law and that they reflect the backward ethnic and religious nature of the population of that North Caucasus republic.
But Sergey Markedonov, a scholar at the Russian State Humanities University who specializes on the region, says they in fact arose as an adaptive mechanism when the Russian government left that republic and its population “without sufficient attention,” forcing Makhachkala to make its own way (caucasustimes.com/ru/sergej-markedonov-dagestan/).
The triumph of extra-legal arrangements that many call clans, the Russian scholar says, occurred “not thanks to any ethnographic characteristics of Daghestan but rather of the burdens it has been forced to bear for many years in a vacuum of state power.” Someone had to step into the breach, and the power of clans were the result.
Consequently, “responsibility for this must be shared” between the local elites and Moscow. For long years, Daghestan was left to its own devices. It was forced to cope with living next to separatist Chechnya and to address the problems of divided peoples (Lezgins and Avars) with Georgia and Azerbaijan without particular help and support from the federal center.”
“When the most complex socio-political processes development without sufficient control by the state and when the civil courts and law enforcement structures do not guarantee defense and security, clans and influence groups come to the fore to create a system of social organizations and political order at their discretion.”
Despite this, Markedonov says, the clans more than once provided “essential assistance to the Russian state as was the case for example in 1999 at the time of Basayev and Khattab’s incursion into Daghestan.” Despite tough talk about defeating the Chechens, Moscow gave little thought then or later to those – the Daghestani clans – who helped it do so.
But this is not just a historical question, he continues. If Moscow is to promote the genuine renewal of Daghestan, it must understand these specific features of Daghestani life which involve not just a few hundred clan leaders but hundreds of thousands of ordinary Daghestanis whose lives have depended on them.
Failure to do so will have serious consequences, the Moscow expert suggests. Almost certainly, it would mean that this latest campaign will fail because Moscow will not arrange to have the services the clans have performed provided by the state. And that will lead to a descent into violence.
It won’t be enough to arrest a few officials or clan leaders, Markedonov says. Moscow and its representatives must ensure that there are rules of the game and enforcers of those rules that will mean there will be fewer opportunities and need for corrupt clan practices.