Friday, February 9, 2018

Daghestanis Asking Now What Kazakhs Did in 1986: Aren’t Any of Us Good Enough to Be Leaders?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 9 – In December 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev ousted longtime Kazakhstan Communist Party chief Dinmukhamed Kunayev and installed in his place Gennady Kolbin, who had never worked in Kazakhstan before but who had served as second secretary and therefore Moscow’s minder in the Georgian SSR.

            Kazakhs and local Russians allied with them went into the streets and more than 200 people died in the clashes, the largest of the early nationality clashes in Gorbachev’s reign and the result of his promised “ethnically blind” nationality policy in which competence rather than ethnicity would govern cadres choices.

            Gorbachev justified his actions by saying that he couldn’t find anyone in Kazakhstan who could succeed Kunayev, an absurdity and an insult which the Soviet leader then compounded by almost immediately agreeing to have an ethnic Kazakh serve as second secretary, leading Kazakhs to ask why that individual could not have the top job.

            Now, something very similar is happening in Daghestan. Moscow has installed an ethnic Russian as republic head and he in turn is putting outsiders in most key positions, all in the name of competence over ethnicity. But as in Kazakhstan a generation ago, Daghestanis are insulted and are asking whether Moscow thinks that none of them are good enough to lead.

            Shortly before the session of the Daghestani parliament called to confirm the new republic prime minister, a Tatar from Kazan, Artem Zdunov, one resident of Makhachkala demonstrated against it on the main square of that city and his image went vital on Instagram (

            The man pointed out to members of the parliament that there are “thousands of law-abiding and honest people” in Daghestan and that there is no need to go outside the republic to find a new leader. “Respected Daghestanis, if honor and dignity of Daghestan and Daghestanis are dear to you, you must vote against” the outsider.

            His appeal by mid-day today Moscow time had been viewed by 146,093 people who had left a total of 3559 commentaries. And in the event, 15 of the 90 members of the legislature did not appear for the vote, and two actually voted against Moscow’s nominee, the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency reports (

            Many members of the Facebook page, Daghestan Online ( expressed similar views, as did several leading Daghestani businessmen.  In the words of one Daghestani in this group, “I also want my own landsman [in power] as is the case in Chechnya.”

            Obviously, not everyone in Daghestan shares such views or at least is willing to take the risks associated with expressing them. Many are delighted with the ouster of officials they agree are corrupt. (See But the outsiders who have been imposed on them face a real challenge in winning the support of the local population.

            And just as was the case with Gorbachev 31 years ago in Kazakhstan, Moscow is going to have to make use of some Daghestanis in deputy positions if it is to get anything done.  If it does as Gorbachev did, that will raise questions as to why these people didn’t get the top jobs to begin with. If it doesn’t, that will lead some to conclude that Daghestan really is a colony run by outsiders.

            Neither of those conclusions promises civic peace in a republic where many people in the past two decades have chosen to go into the forest to fight with arms in the hands Moscow’s representatives.

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