Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Blogosphere Now ‘Real Political Force’ in North Caucasus, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – The blogosphere is becoming “a real political force” in the North Caucasus, both as a place where individuals and groups can exchange information and ideas and one where political leaders can reach out to the population even in the absence of electoral competition, according to a regional expert.

            In an article posted on the portal today, Razhap Musayev traces both the “bottom up” and “top down roles: of bloggers on the Internet across the region and suggests how each is transforming the media and political space in the non-Russian republics there (

            A major reason for the “bottom up” development, he suggests, is that “where independent media are weakly developed, [bloggers] become almost the only source of reliable information” and commentary not only for residents but even for members of the economic and political elites, a fact that the latter increasingly recognize.

            Over the last month alone, Musayev points out, “two of the seven heads of the subjects of the North Caucasus Federal District have met with bloggers” – Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov and Ingushetia’s Yunus-Bek Yevkurov – and in the near future, a third – Karachayevo-Cherkessia’s Rashid Temrezov – is expected to do so.

            Moreover, again over the last month, there have been blog competitions in four of the republics – Ingushetia, Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia – and prizes have been handed out at both the regional and republic levels.

             According to Musayev,”the authorities have begun to clear recognize that without getting involved with this force, they will not be able to solve the problems of the region.” To that end, the majority of them have not only met with bloggers on a regular basis but helped establish “specialized” blogger schools to get more people into this sector.

            And in another sign of the increasing influence of the blogosphere in the North Caucasus, numerous businesses and tourist centers in the region have sought to place articles in blogs rather than put them in the federal media, which in any case will charge them a great deal for putting articles about them in their pages.
            When the British foreign office advised people not to travel to the North Caucasus, businesses and officials in the first instance turned to the blogosphere to register their anger and to point out the limitations in the British evaluation and only somewhat later did the central media pick up on this story, Musayev says.

            And that too, he suggests, shows that “the North Caucasus blogosphere, after that of Moscow, St. Petersburg and several of the [other Russian] megalopolises is one of the most active and developed” in the country.
            An even clearer indication of its growing importance is the way in which regional leaders are establishing or increasing their own presence online.  Chechnya’s Kadyrov has a combined audience via Instagram, Twitter and Live Journal of 173,000, more than the number of readers of “Rossiiskaya gazeta” or “Izvestiya” -- and far more than the number of readrs of “Moskovskiye novosti” and “Nezavisimaya gazeta” combined.

            “Hundreds of people” in the North Caucasus today are posting comments and requests on the sites of their republic’s leader, Musayev says, adding that he is aware of “dozens of cases when [Chechnya’s] Ramzan Kadyrov himself telephones bloggers after they make appeals to him on the net.”

                Other republic leaders have followed suit, including Ingushetia’s Yevkurov, Kabardino-Balkaria’s Arsen Kanokov, and Daghestani President Ramazan  Abdulatipov, although the number of their friends and followers are much lower than Kadyrov’s: about 2000 follow Yevkurov, 85000 Kanokov, and 14,000 Abdulatipov.

            Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus, has also gotten into the act, although he relies primarily on a “hot line” embedded in his personal website.  But he also invites bloggers to his more or less regular meetings with journalists to discuss “the sharpest and most important problems of the regions” of his federal district.

            There is yet another reason why the blogosphere is so important in the North Caucasus.  Direct elections may be cancelled, but “this does not mean that bloggers will not influence on processes in society and the opinion of the population.” Indeed, the absence of elections may make their role even more important for both independent journalists and for political leaders.

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