Staunton, August 30 – Today, the situation in Russia’s North Caucasus frontier is relatively quiet, sociologist Denis Sokolov says; and “objectively, there are no human, organizational, intellectual and financial resources in any of the North Caucasus republics for the achievement of any successful project of national sovereignty.”
But the RAMSCON researcher argues, “nevertheless, the southern Caucasus frontier has not been dissolved by urbanization, the global market and the power vertical but at the same time these factors have made its distinctiveness more complex and profound,” raising the possibility that today is “the calm before the storm” (opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denis-sokolov/severniy-kavkaz-buduschee-frontira).
“The Caucasus has a long memory: it recalls not only the Chechen wars of 15 years ago” but the Russian conquest in the 19th century. Over the last 25 years, it has not fitted itself into “the Russian post-Soviet urban milieu but rather restored its religiosity and ethnic identity,” Sokolov argues.
“Unexpectedly, contemporary means of communication – WhatsApp, Facebook, and Telegram – have come to its aid” in that regard. Circassian young people in Turkey and Moscow sometimes are not able to speak their native language but write in Circassian because they are in communication with Circassian groups in social media.”
Moreover, “people from the North Caucasus significantly less than the majority of other Russians trust the Russian judicial system and often try to resolve conflicts in their milieu without recognizing de facto the monopoly of force of the Russian legal system,” the sociologist continues.
The hermetically sealed quality of Caucasian communities leads to a situation in which the legal field inside rural communities is governed by customary law or the shariat and secured collectively. Sometimes this leads to group conflicts with the use of swords or guns.” And this takes on its own special forms in cities.
There, people turn to their own siloviki, “field commanders, private armies or criminal authorities,” a trend with “serious consequences,” Sokolov says. It means that Russian officials often can’t cope with this challenge and that ordinary Russians “do not trust the Caucasians and fear them as aliens.”
And the attitudes that produces are growing on both sides, with Russians more hostile and North Caucasians ever more conscious that they are a people or peoples apart, Sokolov argues. That keeps the region in the status not of a border one but of a frontier whose real dimensions are obviously in flux.
“Each time when the state will lose control over religion elites or force structures a new armed conflict will break out. The threat of armed force and terrorist attacks will disappear only when the frontier will be completely dissolved or transformed into an administrative or state border.”
“Now,” Sokolov continues, “societies with their jurisdictional and social infrastructure in the North Caucasus exist, but there are no elites interested in sovereignty: the Russian budget pays more than they could get any other way and it is easier to take this rent than to pursue alternatives.”
Sovereignty can be forged in one of two places. On the one hand, there can be “the formation and consolidation on both sides of the frontier of sub-elites who are directly interested in political independence because they count on receiving a monopoly in a guaranteed rent.” It can come from Moscow or somewhere else, but rent is required.
And on the other hand, it can emerge as a result of armed conflict. “An external conflict transforms a protection racket into an army, an internal conflict into the forces of legal order, and a terrorist war into punitive detachments.” The last 25 years in the North Caucasus has been the history of all three.
There is every reason to believe this will continue: “the absence of social lifts for young people, radical ethnic or religious ideology, the conflict of generations, and urbanization are all well-studied factors which like dry wood burn well in the fire of political struggle,” the sociologist says.
“As long as rent from land and infrastructure is less than rent from corrupt sources and from the distribution of the budget, the frontier will be the subject of research by anthropologists,” Sokolov says. “When that relationship changes, it will be transformed into the line of the front or a state border.”
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