July 11th 2009 · Prague Watchdog / Sergei Markedonov · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Russia's "internal aliens"

Russia's "internal aliens"

By Sergei Markedonov, special to Prague Watchdog

Sergei Markedonov is head of the department of inter-ethnic relations at Russia’s Institute for Political and Military Analysis, and associate professor at RGGU and MGU.

With every day that passes, the socio-political situation in the North Caucasus increasingly gives grounds for alarming conclusions and prognostications. Possibly the only attempt in the past ten years to provide at least some kind of coherent interpretation of the North Caucasus crisis was made by President Dmitry Medvedev, who in June 2009 listed the region’s main problems, which he termed "systemic." Among them he included unemployment, "a monstrous scale of corruption” and the inefficiency of government. As is often the case, the president’s "systemic" approach quickly became a fashion among Russian officials. Discussing the incident which took place in the Stepnovsky district of Stavropol on June 21 (a large-scale clash between Dargins and Nogays), the governor of Stavropol Kray said that "160 young people cannot have a personal dislike for each othe ... Specific individuals can have personal grievances, but when nearly two hundred people are involved it means there is a systemic problem."

That the crisis must be dealt with the Kremlin has finally acknowledged, at least in words. However, as is often the case with the interpretations of the Russian authorities, it is the problems, not the causes, that have been identified. Indeed, what can explain such a high rate of unemployment? Any socio-demographic analysis of the situation in the republics will reveal problems like the surplus of labour and the overpopulation in those regions. This suggests that what is required for the overcoming of the "systemic" problem mentioned by the Russian president is the physical "offloading" of the North Caucasus republics. The key problem is the acceptance of internal migrants. Are the Russian people who today inhabit the southern or central regions of the Russian Federation prepared to accept migrants from Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia? Are they prepared to regard them as citizens of the same country?

The other side of the coin is the xenophobia towards Russians that exists in the Caucasus. In the early 1990s, the administrative and bureaucratic elites of the North Caucasus republics (as was their remit) did practically nothing to prevent the de-russification of those federal Russian entities. The de-russification of the North Caucasus is not only a violation of the existing balance in the social, economic and labour spheres, but is also a significant step toward the de-modernization and archaization of life in the Caucasus republics. In other words the Russians, being to some extent an instrument of state policy, have played the role of agents of modernization. But the Russians who left the region of the "internal abroad" (a brilliant term introduced the Russian demographic historian Vladimir Kabuzan) did not become more tolerant towards "Caucasians" after their departure. Swelling the ranks of the Stavropol, Krasnodar or Moscow police and civil service, they also opted for the creation of special "immigration rules" for residents of the North Caucasus.

In order to deal with the poverty, unemployment and clan-related problems and facilitate a transition to innovative development, regional particularism needs to be overcome. Consequently, the return of Russians to the North Caucasus in one form or another is today just as desirable and necessary as the economic migration of the Chechen, Ingush, Dargin and Avar ethnic groups which form the surplus labour population. Firstly, such a "cycle" of ethnic groups breaks down the existing regional apartheid and removes the principle of the “ethnic right to land and property”; and secondly, it prevents the consolidation of clans that are involved in corruption. Thirdly, it strengthens the Russian ethnos as a political and civic unit. Above all, it helps to place human rights above the rights of nations to self-determination, i.e. the right of the individual above collective rights, which in their turn very frequently become a collective responsibility.

Fourthly, it is obvious that the formation of a new (non-ethnocratic) Russian Caucasus elite would be strategically far more useful than the introduction of counter-terrorist operation regimes and additional troops in the Caucasian republics (where they will be rejected by the local population and exist in the conditions that were described by Tolstoy in his Prisoner of the Caucasus). But for this, there is one small requirement. It is not only that migrants from the Caucasian republics must see Russia as their Fatherland. Russians themselves must view Chechens, Ingush, Kabardinians or Lezgins as their fellow citizens, and not as aliens or the "enemy within". In their turn, for this to be possible, Russians must perceive the North Caucasus region not only as a place to travel to on temporary assignments, but also as their homeland (as was the case for many generations of Cossacks and peasants who headed for this region after the "Great Reforms").

But the implementation of an ethnic policy that is guided not by a cult of ethnicity but by civic and political solidarity and supra-ethnic values cannot be imposed by decree. Neither can such a policy be applied solely to the North Caucasus. The new ethnic policy must become an intrinsic part of the strategy for the modernization of Russia. But for this to be possible, it needs to be understood that modernization will entail not only the strengthening of Russia’s material and technological base, but also a reformatting of thinking, the formation of a new system of ideas and values. The building of a modern Russia with archaic ethnic policies that are rooted in feudalism and the Soviet past and encourage localism, particularism and apartheid is impossible, even in theory.

Photo: Institute of Religion and Policy.

(Translation by DM )




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