Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Three Worrisome Lessons from the Latest Conflicts in Daghestan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – The continuing clashes among ethnic groups in Daghestan and the intervention of Chechen officials offer three disturbing lessons for the future of that region, according to a new analysis for the OnKavkaz portal by commentator Shamil Dhamaludinov (onkavkaz.com/news/1778-slabost-mahachkaly-pozvolila-groznomu-nadolgo-legalizovat-svoe-vmeshatelstvo-v-dela-dagestana.html).

            The three are: first, “ethnic conflicts will attract ever more protesting young” who earlier had turned to the Islamist underground; second, the ethnic quota system for officials Daghestan has used ignores the population and is ceasing to be effective; and third, powerful regional leaders are increasingly prepared to intervene on behalf of their co-ethnics in other republics.

            Each of these will reorder the social and political situation in the region and challenge the ability of Moscow and the regional authorities to keep the situation under control. They thus merit the close attention the OnKavkaz analyst provides.

            First of all, Dzhamaludinov says, young people in the North Caucasus who had earlier gone into the Islamist underground are now expressing their anger at social and economic injustices in the region “via ethnic mobilization.” The two are linked: where Islamist extremism was strongest, now ethnic protest is.

            At one point, he continues, “specialists on the Caucasus proposed in place of the expression ‘the radicalization of Islam’ to use the term ‘the Islamization of radicalism’” in order to capture the reality that many people angry about conditions locally became radicalized and then turned to Islamist groups. Now, these same people are shifting back to ethnic groups.

            “Non-traditional Islam,” the analyst argues, legitimated protest “against the existing system of relations” and thus drew in those who were angry about it. “Today,” however, “one can speak about the beginning of ‘the ethnicization’ of protest,” with nationality movements attracting and being affected by the same people.

            The Islamic protest movement “both radical and civic” has now entered a period of crisis and can no longer attract as many young people as it did. “The last massive protests of Islamist youth took place 18 months ago in Khasavyurt and Derbet.”  Now, the same people are involved in ethnic mobilization or in protests like those of the long-haul truckers.

            Second, Dzhamaludinov continues, these new protests mean that the ethnic quota system that the Daghestani authorities have used to try to keep the peace is rapidly collapsing, primarily because they may work with some elites but they do not address the concerns of members of these ethnic communities.

            Unfortunately, he says, the current head of Daghestan, Ramazan Abdulatipov does not appear to understand this, routinely using ethnic quotas as a substitute for rather than a policy that addresses the needs of communities. That is severing the ties between the population and those in power and opening the way for radicalization in the population.

            The OnKavkaz analyst then describes in detail a series of actions Abdulatipov has taken in this regard since being named to lead the republic and the ways in which each of them has exacerbated ethnic and also religious tensions rather than ameliorating the situation.

            And third, the commentator continues, the events in Daghestan where the leadership is weak have encouraged Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to intervene on behalf of Chechens in the neighboring republic, effectively taking power there and challenging the existing territorial divisions.

            This situation is not so critical and has a long history, but if what Kadyrov is doing spreads to other republic heads, it is possible that full-scale conflicts will break out not just between various titular nationalities but also between republic leaderships. That will challenge existing ethno-territorial divisions and may lead to the collapse of one or more republics.

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