Tuesday, October 18, 2016

If Russia Doesn’t Democratize and Federalize, Its Disintegration is ‘Inevitable,’ Circassian Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 18 – If Russia becomes a democratic state with broad autonomy for its regions, most non-Russians living within it will be happy to remain; but if it tried to continue as an undemocratic and hyper-centralized empire, it will “inevitably” fall apart and most will seek independence, according to a Circassian activist.

            Given that the prospects for Russia becoming democratic or genuinely federal anytime soon are small and the likelihood it will fall to pieces great, national and regional elites must think about the futures they want, a Circassian speaking anonymously tells Israeli analyst Avraam Shmulyevich (caucasreview.com/2016/10/kakoj-stanet-cherkesiya-budushhego/).

            The anonymous Circassian activist begins by arguing that “the Circassians are the most divided people in the Russian Fedeaiton” and the one with the largest diaspora. For them to have a chance of development, they must “be unified on their historical motherland” and those abroad must be given the chance to return.

            “The main task of the Circassians at present is unification in a single territorial subject with a common political, economic and cultural space,” not just to allow the Circassians an opportunity to develop under the current difficult conditions but to be ready for a future in which Russia in its current borders will be no more.

            “I do not see a single chance for Russia to avoid disintegration,” the activist says. “The current system of power has already passed the point of no return. The country has become absolutely ungovernable, and the system is infected with a virus from which it will not be able to recover.”

            According to this Circassian, “there is not a single unifying ideal in Russia and no common interests for the various peoples.” The center holds things together by force and by money, but “as soon as the money runs out … the country will fall apart. Each people and even certain Russian regions will begin to pursue its own line, leading ever further from Moscow.”

            He envisions a North Caucasus divided between east and west. The eastern part, including Daghestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia “is more religious and traditional” and would benefit most by finding common ground in those traditions and organizing “a confederation under a religious flag.”

            The western part is historic Cherkessia, “which was destroyed by Russia in the course of the Russian-Circassian war of 1763 to 1864.”  It is today multi-ethnic and the Circassians are a distinct minority.  But the peoples are more secular and more Western-oriented. It is entirely appropriate that it again be called Circassia, a state for all the peoples living in it.

            At present, the Circassians live divided in six regions. The activist says that in the new state whose borders will have to be drawn again because the current borders were imposed to create divisions and conflicts.  But they are far from the only ethnic group that this new/old formation would allow for that to happen.

            The Karachays and Balkars are in fact “a single people, but at present they are divided and will be able to unify within the borders of a restored Circassia. The same will be true of the Terek, Kuban and Don Cossacks, who will be “also able to unify and become a single independent people.”

            All these groups will have rights equal to those of the Circassians: they will not be treated as despised minorities. Indeed, some of them will at least at first vastly outnumber the Circassians, the activist says.  The new state will be economically self-sufficient, will have transport links with the outside world, and will be a reliable partner.

            While the nature of the current Russian state makes it very likely that it will fall apart and that nations like the Circassians will need to go their own way as independent states, the activist insists that “for us, separation from Russia is not a matter of principle. For us, what matters is the realization of our national interests.”

            “If Russia turns away from imperialism and becomes a civilized democratic European state, then for Russia itself and for us it that will be even better,” he suggests. But even that state must meet the national interests of the Circassian nation: recognition of the genocide inflicted on them and the rehabilitation of the people who have suffered as a result.

            “The Russian people doesn’t bear responsibility for what happened to the Circassians,” he argues. “It was the Russian Empire, the Soviet political system and now their legal successor, the contemporary Russian (Muscovite) state that does.

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