Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ethnicizing Land Disputes Spread to Middle Volga Where They’re Between Bashkirs and Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 17 – It has long been axiomatic that ethnic conflicts in the North Caucasus are rooted in disputes over land both within republics as in Kabardino-Balkaria and Daghestan and between them as with Ingushetia and Chechnya, but relatively little attention has been given to the fact that ethnic conflicts elsewhere in Russia can have the same roots.

            And the neglect of this factor is all the more serious because unlike conflicts in the North Caucasus which are between non-Russian nationalities and thus at least potentially subject to Russian management, those elsewhere in the Russian Federation are more often between a non-Russian nation and the Russian one.

            Such conflicts elsewhere over land and the investment of ethnic meaning in them may take a long time to emerge – both sides have good reasons to keep them hidden -- but once they break out into the open, they may threaten Moscow’s ability to control the situation far more than do even those in the always restive North Caucasus.  

            That is clearly the case in Bashkortostan. There, Fail  Alsynov, the head of the Bashkort National Organization told Radio Liberty Tatar-Bashkir Service journalist Naif Akmal shortly before  he was arrested by the police  that assemblies of Bashkirs in ten regions and one city have gathered from 300 to 600 people to protest ( in Bashkir and in Russian).

            Among the most important issues agitating Bashkirs now, he said, was control over land.  The Bashkirs are seeing land that they thought would always be there bought up by people coming from “Orenburg and other oblasts,” a clear reference to Russians who have enough money to buy at fire sale prices Bashkir land.

(Although Alsynov did not mention it, Russians may have an additional reason for such purchases and the Bashkirs for resenting them: the Orenburg corridor between Bashkortostan and Kazakhstan is a political issue: Many in the Middle Volga see it as a bridge to independence; many Russians worry it could be. See

Alsynov says his team has organized the protests via the Internet. His VKontakte group,, has “about 45,000” followers, making it one of the largest in the Middle Volga and a potentially powerful mobilizing tool. Activists have also distributed broadsides to those not connected online.

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