Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A Mountaineers Confederation is an Idea Whose Time has Come Again, Kodzova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 16 – To defend their rights and to overcome the problems that Moscow’s imposed arrangements have caused, the peoples of the North Caucasus whose regional identity has always been stronger than ethnic or religious ones need to again seek to form a Mountaineers Confederation, Sofiya Kodzova says.

            Kodzova, an ethnic Kabard (Circassian) who heads the St. Petersburg  Olma Media Group, makes that argument in the course of a presentation to the Liberal Mission Foundation discussion of how to protect ethnic rights and democratic rights simultaneously (

            She says that today, just like 400 years ago, liberal doctrines by themselves “are not capable of defending a small individual against the state, a small country against a large one (and one is speaking not only about Ukraine and Crimea) or a small people from a dominating nation (or more precisely from the state acting in its name).”

            “Chechnya-Ichkeria, entering into a war with Russia is a very clear example of a conflict in which a small ethno-formation against a monster state is condemned in advance;” and more than that, of the ways in which the monster state will transform the small ethnic formation into an even worse variant of itself.

            But this does not mean,” Kodzova says, that “small peoples for a more comfortable and prospective existence must reject the search for new ethno-cultural constructions or alternatively search for an alternative to present-day ‘liberal-great power scholasticism.’”  And the unexpected triumph of a song, “Salam Aleikum, Brothers,” in the North Caucasus proves that.

             “The secret of this musical sensation of course is not in the music or the dance but in the political message practically all mountaineers took from it,” she continues. And this message is “purely regionalist, confederalist, and if one may say so also both anti-imperialist and anti-nationalist.”

            “It is clear that under the words ‘my proud region and motherland’ is meant precisely the Caucasus region and more precisely the mountainous part of the Caucasus and not Russia … There is not a word about Russia in the song, and the flag of the Russian Federation in this flash mob also doesn’t figure.”

            It reflects the intensifying feeling among the mountaineers of the North Caucasus that they have more in common than the ethnic divisions the Soviets and the Russians have tried to promote and that they have less in common with the rest of the Russian Federation than they had thought but cannot fight it individually.

            As some North Caucasians told a Moscow commentator not long ago, “’if you begin to fight NATO, we will not be fighting on your side’” (

            “It is no secret,” Kodzova says, that the North Caucasus has its own “’face’” both among its residents and for Russians who seldom distinguish among the groups Moscow has sought to keep separate. And it is also no secret that for people in the region, “a common mountaineer identity in the Caucasus has always stood above religious commonality and ethnic markers.”

            Many of the problems in the North Caucasus were created by Soviet efforts to create ethnic republics and draw borders among them. Indeed, there have been border disputes, often violent, since the beginning; and it is clear now that these conflicts “will never be resolved by means in the Russian imperial toolbox.”

            Only a regionally based supra-national formation can solve these problems without the kind of repression that kept them in check in Stalin’s times.  And it is “not surprising” that North Caucasians have periodically thought about and even attempted to create such a unity in diversity, Kodzova continues.

            “The mountaineers made the first kind of conscious choice of this kind in 1917,” she says. Between the two revolution, there was born in the region, “the idea of a Caucasus Confederation and a year later without clashes or bloodshed was formed ‘a Union of the United Mountaineers of the North Caucasus and Daghestan.’”

            It lasted only a couple of years before Moscow’s intervention destroyed it, but it included “all the territory from the Black to the Caspian Sea,” some 260,000 square kilometers with a population of more than six million people. Within it were “Daghestan, Chechnya, Ossetia, Kabarda, Balkaria, Karachay and Abkhazia.”

            Its internal borders for these national formations “had an undoubted logic and were based on ethnicity but in the case of any territorial or other contradictions, there was the possibility of their exclusively peaceful and consensual resolution.”

            This idea about a confederation was discussed and promoted in 1990 by Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov, the great Sovietologist, who recommended it “as the best model of regional arrangements based on democratic principles.” But efforts to realize it were suppressed bcasue Moscow saw it as a manifestation of separatism.

            But now 30 years have passed, 30 years filled with two Russian wars against Chechnya and with conflicts within and among the nations and republics of the region that Moscow has encouraged and the people of the region are again thinking about a confederation. That is shown by the popularity of the hit song, “Salam Aleikum, Brothers.” 

            There is growing recognition that if such a confederation were established, it would be in a position to eliminate the disputes about borders that now ark the regions, to allow for the return of refugees, and to overcome the disputes that Moscow relies on. In short, it is rapidly becoming an idea whose time has come again.

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