Staunton, December 3 – Russian flight from the North Caucasus has long been a matter of concern for Russians, but a new study confirms something that is likely to be even more threatening to Moscow’s control of the region: the percentage of Russians in the power elites of the republics there now even lower than their diminished percentages in the populations.
Not only does that set the stage for more Russian flight, but it recalls a trend at the end of Soviet times when the share of ethnic Russians and especially ethnic Russian officials in the non-Russian union republics was falling, triggering a self-reinforcing pattern that ultimately led to the disintegration of the USSR.
Mikhail Romanov, a researcher at the Politex Agency for Social Technnologies, pointedly suggests that the reasons Russia is “losing the North Caucasus” are that “practically no ethnic Russians remain in the power elites” there and that Moscow prefers to “ignore” this trend (expert.ru/expert/2013/48/pochemu-myi-teryaem-severnyij-kavkaz/).
In reporting on his research, which was supported by the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropoloy and the EAWARN monitoring program, Romanov notes that “the alpha and omega of Russian nationality policy is today considered to be the establishment and the strengthening of the [non-ethnic] Russian nation.”
But in reality, he suggests, the basis for that “can only be [ethnic] Russian culture, the Russian language and the genuinely [ethnic] Russian people as its bearer.” And Romanov pointedly asks “What do a Nivkh and an Avar have in common except for Russianness?” Consequently, if that is lost, so too is a great deal more.
The researcher notes that there have been many apocalyptic predictions about the disappearance of the Russian people. For Russia as a whole, these are almost always overstated, but in the North Caucasus, it is already “an objective reality,” one that calls into question not only “the creation of a [non-ethnic] Russian nation there” but also the retention of the region within the Russian Federation.”
Russians have been leaving the North Caucasus since the 1970s, with their share of the population declining in some cases by ten percent (Adygeya) but in others by 95 percent (Chechnya). Many blame this on the de-industrialization of the North Caucasus, but polls show that the biggest reason is that Russians no longer feel personally secure there.
Efforts in recent years to retain ethnic Russians or to attract them back have failed, Romanov says. And they will continue to do so if they are carried out as they are now: four out of five ethnic Russian young people living there say they are ready to leave. Many of them certainly will.
A major reason for this, Romanov suggests, is that “ethnic Russians in the region are in an obvious unequal position relative to the titular population.” He gives as an eample the share of Russians in the administrative elites: It is now “two to three times lower” than in the population of the republics as a whole.
The only exceptions to this are Daghestan where ethnic Russians form 4.5 percent of the elite but only 3.6 percent of the population and Ingushetia where they form 11 percent of the elite but only 0.8 percent of the residents. Elsewhere, their shares in the administration are much lower than in the population. In Chechnya, for example, there are no Russians in the elites.
The absence of ethnic Russians is especially striking at the most senior positions. None of the heads of republics, none of the heads of government, and none of the mayors of the capital cities in the North Caucasus is an ethnic Russian now, and only two of the seven speakers of the parliament are ethnic Russians.
The departure of Russians from these republics and their absence in the administrations affects not only the Russians and the titular nationalities but also “the so-called Russian language groups” like Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Ukrainians and so on. That is because “together with the Russians, Russian culture and the Russian way of life are leaving as well.”
But nature abhors a vacuum, and this gap is increasingly being filled by the process of Islamization, Romanov says. Indeed, “to a certain degree, Chechnya and Ingushetia already today can be called Islamic republics.”
Moscow officials are aware of this problem, but they prefer to talk about it in general terms rather than focusing on the North Caucasus lest they spark more tensions or raise expectations. But their use of “euphemisms” to talk about this trend is extremely dangerous, Romanov says.
In Soviet times, Moscow ensured both the presence of Russians in this region and its own control by enforcing the principle that the deputy of republic leaders would “always be an [ethnic] Russian.” That system broke down in the last years of the existence of the USSR, and its demise speeded the end of the country.
If Moscow does not recognize that it faces a similar challenge today within the Russian Federation, then “sooner or later [it] will lose this region,” Romanov says. And it will “not because Russian nationalists or foreign enemies want to dismember Russia.” Rather, the North Caucasus will go its own way because it will be “a region which lives by its own laws” and in which “there are simply no [ethnic] Russians left.”
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