Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Moscow Ignoring Evolving Ethnic and Religious Changes in North Caucasus at Its Peril, Markedonov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – Over the last few years, the North Caucasus has dropped off Moscow’s radar screen, Sergey Markedonov says, at precisely the time when ethnic and religious changes there make it likely that the region will present far more serious problems for the center in the near future.

            Speaking to a Makhachkala conference on current problems in the region at which other speakers noted that one in every 18 crimes there is related to extremism and the Islamists are actively recruiting via the web, the Moscow specialist says that Moscow needs to refocus on the North Caucasus now (

                The reason is simple, he continues, is that religion has dramatically increased its role in the lives of the rising generation of North Caucasians and that those informed either by ethnicity or religion are now focused on very different issues than was the case 20 years ago. Failure to recognize this will only make the situation worse.

            “The religious factor has begun to have great importance,” Markedonov says. “In the 1990s in Chechnya, for example, it was not expressed at all.”  But the younger generation today is less interested in ethnic issues than in religious ones and thus can be effectively approached only if that is recognized.

            Meanwhile, the ethnic factor has simultaneously become less important relative to religion and changed its focus.  Again, in the 1990s, people were focused on ethnic issues that arose in Soviet times – “Stalinist repressions, the restoration of specific administrative formations” and so on.

                “Now,” however, Markedonov continues, “the ethnonational problems” people care about “are connected with the realities of the current day – land, resources, and access to power.” Thus, for example, Circassians today are more focused on gaining representation in government bodies than in the events of 1864.

            If Moscow fails to recognize these changes, the Russian expert on the region suggests, it will not only be unable to counter the emerging threats but may even take actions that will exacerbate problems rather than solve them.

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