Saturday, April 27, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Rural Culture Now Dominates Daghestan’s Urban Spaces, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – The exodus of ethnic Russians and young Daghestanis from the cities of that republic and their replacement by an influx of rural Daghestanis has created a situation in which rural values have overwhelmed urban ones and led to a re-traditionalization of social and political life in the formerly more modern cities, according to a Moscow scholar.

            Consequently, Makhachkala and other Daghestani urban places are now far more like the rural areas than they had been at any point in the last century, and the distinctions that many have drawn between the modern values of these cities and the traditional values of the countryside are no longer valid.

            In an interview with Badma Burchiyev of “Bolshoy Kavkaz,” Mikhail Chernyshev, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Problems of the Market at the Russian Academy of Sciences, says this process will continue with the departure of the remaining ethnic Russians and young urban Daghestanis (

            “In the first instance,” their departure reflects “a change of the culture milieu” of what had been modern cities, Chernyshev says.  With the increasing arrival of people from rural villages, “the norms and values of the mountain districts have become dominant” in these urban places, “and they do not always correspond with the way of life of the Russian population.”

            The Moscow scholar says that just one example shows how this process is working.  People from rural areas having entered the cities have secured a ban of the sale of alcohol to all residents regardless of religion during the Muslim fast in the month of Ramadan, something that many non-Muslim Russians find deeply offensive.

            The cascading nature of migration means that “migrants from the mountains,” the most primitive of the Daghestanis, now dominate the rural districts of the republic, “and rural culture dominates in the cities.”  In the past, the city swallowed up and transformed the villagers, but now the villagers are swallowing up and transforming the cities.

            “This has led to a situation,” Chernyshev says, “in which not only the Russian part of the population is becoming uncomfortable there but also the representatives of local nationalities who are bearers of secular culture and European values are         becoming uncomfortable as well,” not because of the growth of religiosity as such but because of the shift in cultural values.

            Given this trend, no mass return of ethnic Russians or secular Daghestanis is likely, he continues. Building more Orthodox churches for the former may be good populist politics, but it will only mean that there will be many empty churches and more anger among Muslim believers who will increasingly view the state as the enemy.

            Chernyshev’s comments came in response to proposals by Ramazan Dzhafarov, the acting deputy head of the Daghestani government, to increase support for Russian institutions in order to hold more ethnic Russians in Daghestan and to attract some back, a project that many have already expressed skepticism about.

             Enver Kisriyev, a senior scholar at the Moscow Center for Civilizational and Regional Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences who specializes on the Caucaus, told “Bolshoy Kavkaz” that “there is no need to adopt a special program for ethnic Russians in Daghestan because “there is no anti-Russian movement” there.

            “It’s true that Russians are leaving Daghestan,” he pointed out, “but indigenous Daghestanis and representatives of other peoples are leaving as well.” Such internal migration is “a normal and positive phenomenon in most cases,” but what is taking place in Russia is both different and unfortunate.

            “Siberia which has great potential for industrial development is losing population at a catastrophic rate,” and the country’s residents are converging on Moscow which is overpopulated. There is “another worrisome trend: certain regions are becoming ethnically homogeneous. In the Caucasus, they include, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Daghestan.”

            This increasing ethnic homogeneity, Kisriyev argued, “is not connectedwith the desire of the Caucasians to live in their own ethno-cultural milieu.” These are depressed regions and local people “of all nationalities” are leaving as well. “The Chechens are leaving Chechnya very actively, including abroad.”

            The departure of such people, however, means that those who remain are not only disproportionately members of the titular nationality but also bearers of the most traditional kind of national culture. And the increasing influence of their values on the situation has the effect of accelerating this process.
            According to Kisriyev, Moscow “does not need to consider contemporary political and economic problems through the prism of inter-ethnic relations. The very fact of such an approach,” he says, “suggests that the problem will not be resolved and that inter-ethnic relations can get worse.”

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