Thursday, May 30, 2019

Lack of Horizontal Ties among Regions Means Weakening of Vertical Ones between Them and Moscow Threatens Country, Shmulyevich Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 30 – “Russia is very poorly administered,” Avraam Shmulyevich says. “Horizontal ties are practically non-existent, and vertical ones are very poor.”  As a result, such systems can last a long time but then disappear overnight because any weakening of the vertical ties means there is little to hold the country together.
            That is what was the case in 1917 and again in 1991, the Israeli specialist on the North Caucasus says; and as a result, “the Russian Federation could fall apart in three days.”  Because that is so, the regions and republics are increasingly having to think about how they will cope and what they will do in that event (

            Because of his expertise, Shmulyevich develops this point by discussing the Caucasus. He suggests that “over the post-Soviet years, the Caucasus has been transformed into an ordinary colony,” one that is costly and difficult for the center to administer. Moscow lacks the skills to do so. As a result, it is “the source of turbulence for the entire Russian Federation.”

            “Mentally,” the analyst says, the North Caucasus has “already distanced itself from Russia and Russia from it. Therefore, Moscow most likely in the coming years will simply throw off it as ballast” holding Russia back much as the West European colonial powers let their colonies go in the 1950s and 1960s.

            The question arises, however, “will this be a good thing for the Caucasus and for the world?” Could it take the form of normal nation states? Of dictatorships like Chechnya already is? Or a region of Islamist terrorism and radicalism?  Or could it consist of all these things competing among themselves and drawing in outside powers?

            According to Shmulyevich, “the Circassians are the only people of the caucaus among whom there is an ideological system that can serve as an alternative to Islam … the ideology of Khabze.”  But within the divided Circassian nation, that ideology is now locked in a competition with Islamism.

            “Any people which exists under a colonial yoke degrades,” the Israeli analyst says. “The North Caucasus and all its peoples have lived in three empires” and as a result various “unhealthy phenomena” have emerged. But these phenomena have not completely destroyed the underlying cultures of these peoples.

            Many of them have healthy elements within them, Shmulyevich says.  One mustn’t feel that everything is bad but rather work to help the health elements defeat the unhealthy ones.  “There are all kinds of possibilities to do this, and that requires in the first instance to remember that the first source of all the problems is that the Caucasus became a Russian colony.”

            “Anti-colonial revolutions both in European colonies and in the Russian Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries were headed by members of the intelligentsia and businessmen who went to study and make careers and money in the metropolitan center and abroad and then returned to their Motherlands.”           

            For centuries, he continues, “the Caucasus peoples have suffered many catastrophes, attacks and conquests. Russian colonial rule is only one of them.” Russia has been and remains “a disintegrating factor,” and there is no reason to think that the region will recover quickly or easily from its occupation.

            One may certainly quibble with Shmulyevich about varius aspects of the situation in the North Caucasus, but his insight on the relationship between vertical and horizontal ties is fundamental and should become the basis of analysis of the Russian situation not only by Western observers but by participants of all kinds within the Russian Federation.

            Unless Russia develops more horizontal ties among its regions, any weakening of the vertical ones between the regions and the center will inevitably call the territorial integrity of the country into question. Those who think that vertical ties will be enough have been proved wrong before and are quite likely to be proved wrong again. 

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