Tuesday, April 28, 2020

No Legal Forces in North Caucasus Calling for Independence but Problems are Intensifying, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – At the end of March, the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency conducted an online conference among regional and Moscow experts on “The North Caucasus: New Conflicts or Lines of Tension.” Naima Neflyasheva has now presented a summary of their deliberations (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/1927/posts/42924).

            There was general agreement that armed challenges to the state have decreased, that tensions within Islam have declined but those between Islam and non-Muslims have increased, and that conflicts over territory both within and between republics are now at the center of political life.

            There were also suggestions that new conflicts are arising as people from various republics leave the region for work and interact with each other far from their homelands. Some of these conflicts in Moscow and other Russian cities then play back into the republics with unexpected intensity.

            Shakhrudin Khalilov, the political observer of Daghestan’s Novoye delo, provided perhaps the most comprehensive and intriguing description of the problems in the North Caucasus today. Like other participants, he acknowledged that “the picture of the future does not look so apocalyptic as it was described in the 1990s.”

            Conflicts over borders within and between republics have reduced “religious, political and other disputes.” Control of land rather than ideology is central as a result of population pressures from high birthrates and low death rates. That is the case in Ingushetia but also in Daghestan and elsewhere. And the repetition of the Ingush scenario is not impossible.

            Khalilov says that one problem that is especially acute in Daghestan is what he calls “de-korenizatsiya,” the replacement of leaders drawn from the republic with those who are inserted by Moscow from the outside. Many of the latter have proved themselves indifferent to the needs and values of the population, and people are offended.

            The economic crisis is hitting the North Caucasus especially hard: “falling incomes, growing income inequality, and the lumpenization of the broad masses” are becoming the basis for new conflicts. These factors are now far more important that religious or ethnic extremism and are likely to be the basis of conflicts in the region in the coming months.

            But perhaps his most intriguing comments concern the reaction of the North Caucasians to the proposed constitutional amendments and to the new controls that have been introduced because of the pandemic. Most people, at least in Daghestan, aren’t that concerned by the provisions about the Russian language and Russians as the state-forming people.

            Instead, Khalilov says, they are far more worried by the willingness of Moscow powers to change the constitution whenever they want for short term needs, such as extending Putin’s time in office. That means for the peoples of the North Caucasus that they are less certain about what the future will bring.

After all, if Moscow changes the basic law now, why won’t it do the same in another few years if that suits its purposes? They are also worried that the extension of Putin’s term will mean a strengthening of the power vertical and the introduction of even more outsiders in their republics, thus reducing the status of their nations.

At the same time, the Daghestani commentator says, people are angry about the arrangements that have been made to fight the pandemic. They don’t believe the new controls will be lifted when the coronavirus passes, and they fear that their rights will continue to be violated.

That more than Islam and perhaps even more than borders is likely to become the chief source of conflicts between the powers and the peoples in the North Caucasus.

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