Thursday, December 27, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Will Duma Make Regional Heads Criminally Responsible for Ethnic Conflicts?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 27 – Two senior Duma deputies are preparing a bill that would make the heads of regions and municipalities criminally responsible for the outbreak and handling of ethnic conflicts on their territories, with fines for allowing a conflict to break out and incarceration for up to two years if they act in ways that cause it to develop rather than end.

            Gadzhimet Safaraliyev, the chairman of the Duma committee on inter-ethnic relations, and Ramazan Abdulatipov, the deputy head of the Duma committee on federal arrangements, are currently working on a draft that they hope to submit in the very near future, “Izvestiya” reported yesterday (

            If regional or local leaders allow any conflict to grow into “serious inter-ethnic clashes,” Safaraliyev told the paper, “that individual will be held responsible for this incident.” He said that he and others continue to work on the idea but that they have agreed that there need to be specific punishments up to and including criminal ones.

            What lies behind this idea, “Izvestiya” suggested, are conflicts “like the one which took place in Kondopoga in September 2006” and which President Vladimir Putin observed at the time that “the local authorities worked ineffectively” and that “if they had reacted in a timely fashion, then perhaps there would not have been these tragic events.”

            Regarding a more recent incident in Demyanovo in Kirov oblast this past June, Nikita Belykh, the head of the oblast, “called the actions of the leaders unsatisfactory and proposed that the tensions could have been avoided if the bureaucrats had taken steps in a timely manner,” something he said that lower-ranking officials had not done.

            Officials and experts are divided on the usefulness of this measure and whether it should be approved.  Dmitry Kipru, the head of the Kondopoga municipal district, told “Izvestiya” that he considers that “sufficient responsibility [already] has been placed on leaders” and that imposing criminal sanctions could only be “useful” if “precise criteria” were defined.

            Oleg Betin, the governor of Tambov oblast, said he agreed with the proposal, but Yevgeny Bobrov,, the head of the migration working group of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, said he was “categorically against this initiative” because it imposes responsibility on the wrong people.

            “If someone should bear responsibility” for the outbreak and control of inter-ethnic clashes, he suggested, then it should be “the territorial administration of the FSB.” Imposing sanctions on others, Bobrov said, “will only lead to cover ups” because “no one wants to advertise international clashes” in the territories he is responsible for.

The news agency surveyed Russian parliamentarians about the proposed law (  Valery Shnyakin, the United Russia deputy chairman of the Duma international relations committee, said he saw no need for such a law and that it was a mistake to adopt legislation on the basis of “one or two cases.”

            Sergey Obukhov, the KPRF deputy chairman of the Duma committee on social and religious organizations, suggested that if one followed the logic of the bill’s drafters, then “similar responsibility should spread also to the federal authorities, to the president and to the head of the government.”

            That is all the more so, he argued, because “the majority of local leaders and in particular those at the municipal and rural level today do not have real levers of influence on the situation in their districts, including on the situation of inter-ethnic relations.” Instead, “the lion’s share of responsibility” for such questions “lies with the federal authorities.”
            Valery Zubov, an SR member of the Duma transportation committee, said that the proposed legislation “could turn out to be at one and the same time unjust and useless,” unjust because it deflects attention from Moscow where the real responsibility lies and useless because
Such a law will do little to address the underlying ethnic tensions in the country.

            Issa Kostoyev, a former member of the Federation Council, in contrast said he supports the measure and would happily help draft it.  “At present,” he said, “inter-ethnic relations in the country are such that any measures directed at supporting inter-ethnic peace will not be superfluous.”

            The authorities are always worried about the collection of taxes, Kostoyev added, “but the problem of inter-ethnic relations is much more important, especially since during conflicts, taxes will not be collected.”

            But Vladimir Ovsyannikov, an LDPR deputy on the Duma defense committee, said that he considered this initiative “stupid.”  If it were adopted, “it would be possible” to go after any regional leader because “in each subject of the Russian Federation there are groups interested in a change of leadership and who would happily use” such a law to oust incumbents.

            “Inter-ethnic conflicts depend not on the heads of the regions but on masses of other factors,” Ovsyannikov continued, and many of them “arise as is well-known spontaneously and are impossible to predict.”  All regional leaders “are interested in stability,” and therefore the proposed draft lacks “good sense and will not find support.”

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