September 20th 2008 · Prague Watchdog / Magomed Toriyev · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Freedom in the absence of choice

Freedom in the absence of choice

By Magomed Toriyev, special to Prague Watchdog

Do the Ingush people really want independence? Among Ingush today there are not many who will give a positive answer to this question. Nevertheless, for the first time this problem has been formulated not on an abstract, hypothetical level, but as a condition that would allow the Ingush people to obtain guarantees of security.

It is obvious that the public consciousness has been ”stirred” by the arbitrary behaviour of the Russian special services, and today the very idea of the republic’s sovereignty, though still rejected by a majority of the population, is no longer generally regarded as being harmful or totally lacking in prospects for the future. Many have begun to take a very positive view of its potential as an instrument of change, seeing the demand of independence as a way of blackmailing the federal centre and thereby reducing the level of arbitrary violence on the part of the law enforcement agencies. It is clear that the plan for a sovereign Ingushetia has not the slightest basis in technology or economics. It is merely a reaction of resentment and despair. But the first step is the hardest.

Meanwhile numerous experts – both local and Russian – have been discussing a statement by opposition leaders on a possible withdrawal of Ingushetia from the Russian Federation, and have come up with a rather scornful assessment of the idea’s potential. In their authoritative opinion, there is a whole set of reasons why the republic would be simply unable to function as a fully-fledged state.

A choice of one’s own

Unlike the Chechens, a people related to them, the Ingush never engaged in organized uprisings against Soviet rule. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Chechnya declared its independence, Ingushetia separated from Chechnya and became an autonomous region of Russia. For the Ingush, the idea of sovereignty was devoid of any appeal. There are a number of explanations for this in the mentality of the people and their history.

The Ingush were the last ethnic group in the North Caucasus to convert to Islam. Before they became Muslims, some were Christians while others remained pagans. There was no generally shared creed that might have served as a uniting cultural and religious factor and could have allowed the creation of a more complex, supra-tribal social reality. Indeed, until very recently the Ingush communities felt no imperative to rebuild themselves as a social system corresponding to a "nation - state". The kin-based organization of Ingush society had no need of a system of complex social ideals. In fact, when the foundations of Ingush life and tradition were not being destroyed during the republic’s existence under Russia, no particular problems with the externally imposed social “superstructure” were emerging.

It is curious that the Ingush should have acquired their first real autonomy in a deliberate opting out of the “Chechen choice”. This was also the moment when they gained their identity. The separation was considered essential, for in the Vainakh community the Chechen culture defined itself as the dominant element and always tried to crush, modify and assimilate the Ingush one.

In September 1989 the Second Congress of the Ingush People took place in Grozny, and it finally set the course for the withdrawal of Ingushetia from the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. This event laid the basis for a long overdue re-registration of the people’s status – the Ingush ethnic group acquired the rights of a nation which required its own public institutions and symbols. The Republic of Ingushetia was inaugurated on June 4, 1992 as a part of Russia. In February 1993 the election of the first Ingush president, General Ruslan Aushev, a Hero of the Soviet Union, took place.

With his arrival the republic experienced a national recovery: this involved the opening of a university, Islamic schools, and an Institute for the Study of Ingush History. The economy began to develop. This period lasted from 1992 to 2002.

The Chekist who replaced the infantry commander

But the situation changed drastically after Murat Zyazikov, the incumbent president, came to power. Like the rest of Russia’s population, over the long years the Ingush people grew tired of the instability, the corruption and lawlessness of the Yeltsin era. For many of the republic’s problems they rightly blamed President Aushev. Like the country as a whole, the small republic watched with hope as the star of Vladimir Putin rose on the Russian political horizon.

Zyazikov, who appeared in the republic as a man with the reputation of being a faithful comrade of Vladimir Putin, was welcomed with open arms. That reputation alone would have been enough, but in addition he was able to play on the most sensitive strings in the Ingush consciousness. He promised to use his influence on the head of state, solve the problems of the genocide and ethnic cleansing of 1992, hold talks with the federal centre on the status of Prigorodny district and return the refugees to it, and purge from the government the corrupt business and property tycoons, a loyalty to whom had marred the previous administration.

The Ingush elected a man who was above all close to the Kremlin and represented the antithesis of Aushev, with his constant bravado and his conflicts with the federal centre. This choice turned their lives into a real nightmare.

From nightmare to independence

By 2008, Zyazikov had completely transferred a large part of the power in the republic to the federal law enforcement agencies, which unleashed a bloody manhunt. It became clear that under Ruslan Aushev the republic had not even suspected the heights of bribery, nepotism, budget embezzlement and lying about achievements that unabashedly lay behind the complete internal collapse in Ingushetia.

It cannot be said that the opposition in Ingushetia today has been adroit in its actions. But the opposition’s weakness is a misfortune that is common to all of Russia. Nevertheless, in little Ingushetia its demands correspond to genuine problems, the chief among them being the arbitrary behaviour of the "siloviki", who have abducted and murdered hundreds of people.

The opposition has not been very successful, though it would wrong to say that it has had no success at all. How much success it has had is not yet clear. It has formed its parliament of elected representatives of the teips – the Mekhk-Kkhel, the committee for the holding of a national assembly. The degree to which these structures are efficacious still remains to be seen.

Much depends on whether the people’s anger will reach boiling point, and on the ability of the young opposition to create a working opposition. For at the moment what operates in therepublic is a sort of “field police”. This is the armed Islamist underground which daily fires its weapons at members of the interior ministry forces and the FSB.

After the murder of Magomed Yevloyev it is precisely from the mouths of the opposition leaders who earlier preferred to appeal to the Kremlin and the law, that the word "freedom" has sounded. Even the emptiest of slogans tend to accrete flesh. It was Lenin who wrote about the destructive power of ideas.

All the talk by experts about Ingushetia’s economic insolvency, about how because of its geographical location the republic is fundamentally indivisible from Russia, is not very convincing to people who have suddenly realized one clear and simple truth: all their misfortunes proceed from Moscow. It is Moscow that maintains and protects Zyazikov, and it is Moscow that sends death squads there. Moscow is blind and deaf to all calls for help.

It is obvious that for a long time yet the inertia induced by the habit of living in Russia and under it will continue to make people look towards Moscow with hope, even though they curse it in despair. However, if the status quo is preserved, this will also strengthen their certainty that Moscow is not a mother, but a cruel, heartless stepmother.

Of course the Ingush will find it hard to build their own unambiguous model of statehood, though they have already covered a certain part of the way in this direction. But they have not been prepared to move any further – though at the present stage nothing like that is either necessary or possible.

Independence is the freedom they can find in movement. Remember, like in Soviet times? It's not where you're going that matters, but where you're running from.

Source of the illustration:

(Translation by MD)


 · Will Ruslan Aushev return to Ingushetia? (PW, 13.7.2008)
 · The explosion that was noticed too late (PW, 14.6.2008)
 · Ingushetia as the last line of defence in Russia's Caucasus War (PW, 13.6.2008)
 · Res publica Ingushetia (PW, 9.2.2008)
 · Ingushetia is now a danger zone (PW, 3.7.2004)



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