Staunton, May 27 – The coronavirus pandemic and Russian government efforts to combat it have exacerbated all the pre-existing social and economic problems in the North Caucasus and created “ideal conditions for a social explosion,” according to Aslan Bakov, a Kabardino-Balkaria analyst.
In a commentary for the Prague-based Caucasus Times, he argues that this is because economic problems in that region are closely interlinked with the land and ethnic disputes that have roiled social life there for decades, with the deterioration of the former inevitably leading to a deterioration in the others (caucasustimes.com/ru/idealnye-uslovija-dlja-socialnogo-vzryva/).
This is particularly true in the bi-national Kabardino-Balkar Republic, where control of land often triggers disputes. According to Bakov, it is the only region “where to this day the land issue has not been resolved” because to do so would require rebalancing relations between the two nations.
Land there, he notes, “was not transferred to the property of rural residents” as was done elsewhere, including in neighboring Stavropol Kray. Instead, it remains under the control of local governments, and that has been exploited by local elites to reward some and punish others as part of their strategy to maintain control.
But what this means, the Nalchik analyst says, is that “in practice, all land suitable for agriculture has remained in the hands of businessmen (those who control rural latifundia) who divide the suitable land among themselves so as to preserve their long-term rent.” In the past, that led many rural residents to flee the republic, but now 20,000 of them have returned.
The majority of them subsist as day laborers but increasingly they cannot make ends meet. And the republic government has compounded this problem by not increasing subsidies while not lowering taxes and fees. As a result, he says, these workers who have come back from Russian cities are adding to the problems of Kabardino-Balkaria.
And he cites local observers who say that this “combination of negative factors can lead to a social explosion, if the powers that be do not undertake decisive measures to support the population.” Unfortunately, they do not have either the will or the resources to do so, Bakov suggests, and consequently, a social explosion is likely, one with potentially disastrous results.