An idealist in general’s stripes
By Magomed Toriyev, special to Prague Watchdog
From the very first moment of his appointment, General Yunus-Bek Yevkurov has behaved like a man sent to the front line with a special mission. He cancelled the inauguration ceremony and the celebrations that are normally held when a new Ingush president takes office.
On his first day he visited the central mosque to take part in the evening prayers. His predecessors also made such visits from time to time, but only as guests of honour.
Yevkurov plans to rely primarily on the people, rather than on the siloviki and the bureaucrats. He let this be understood when on returning from prayers he requested support from the elders of the Ingush teyps.
A few days later, the President met with representatives of the opposition. His first step towards Zyazikov’s opponents was blatantly offensive to the outgoing government. He met with the relatives of Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of the Ingushetiya.ru opposition website (now Ingushetia.org), who was killed by one of interior minister Medov’s bodyguards, and expressed his condolences.
Yevkurov sent a commission headed by opposition leader Magomed Khazbiyev to the pretrial detention centre in the Kabardino-Balkarian city of Nalchik in order to ascertain the conditions in which young men from Ingushetia were being help and to provide them with legal assistance. The president also promised to establish a commission to investigate disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions.
In return, the opposition supported Yevkurov. It was said that he was being given a “trust credit”, at least for the first hundred days of his presidency.
The republic over which Yevkurov has now acquired power is in a terrible condition, with many direct and hidden conflicts. An armed Salafist underground and federal “death squads” go hand-in-hand with a high level of corruption and poverty, an extremely high rate of unemployment, and a lack of any serious production. Ingushetia’s budget is based more than 90% on federal subsidies.
Everyone is concerned about a single issue: how and with whom is he going to establish order? Ingush society is now divided between those who view the new president with hope (the majority) and those who believe that his first steps are merely the usual populism, calculated to buy him cheap popularity.
Within a very short space of time, Yevkurov has taken several actions that will increase the already considerable number of his potential enemies. A serious challenge has been thrown down to the caste of government officials, who are mired in corruption.
Yevkurov began by entering into conflict with Ingushetia’s richest and most influential men. The first of these was the former prime minister Ibragim Malsagov. Back in the days of President Ruslan Aushev Malsagov closed the railway tunnel near his home and made the street a pedestrian walkway. Attempts by people to remedy the situation yielded no result – the government did not react to complaints. Aushev had decided that a conflict with Malsagov would cost him too much. Without further ado, Yevkurov gave instructions for the street to be unblocked.
Another, no less strong and conflicting step was his instruction that the land which had been seized in autocratic fashion by officials was to be dealt with and that everything that had been obtained in circumvention of the law was to be returned to the state.
Yevkurov is clearly aware of the extent of corruption in the territory under his command. Take, for example, his intervention in the matter of the bribes that the parents of students have to pay for their children’s education. Here, too, Yevkurov found words that were greeted with joy by Ingush society: “Let us find a normal minister of education – the children shall study without bribes.”
Next in line after the officials are the siloviki, to whom on Police Day the new head of the republic had no scruple about issuing a stern rebuke. Yevkurov accused the law enforcers of cowardice. Noting the absence of police on the streets at night time, he summed up the matter as follows: “If you’re scared of bullets, don’t join the interior ministry.” His remark about some of the detainees currently held by the authorities being innocent would likewise not have gone down well with the local police, many of whom were present at the festivities.
It is expected that the new head of the republic will endeavour to work to neutralize the armed underground. Meanwhile, the explosions, attacks and killings continue, as if no change of government had taken place. Of course, the new president has no reason to expect loyalty from the underground. Yevkurov is a high state official, and for him the soldiers of jihad are enemies, with whom a merciless struggle must be fought. Unlike the Chechen resistance, its Ingush counterpart has grouped itself not around the idea of independence, but under the slogans of a war for the establishment of the power of Allah, and this doctrine allows for no negotiation or capitulation.
President Yevkurov is not reacting with force to what is taking place. However, he has already said what he considers to be most important in resolving the conflict. “If we eradicate such notions as ‘50-50 cash kickbacks’, and the like, the problem of the militias will automatically disappear,” Yevkurov said when asked how he intends to fight the guerrillas.
But it would at the least be naive to suppose that by restoring the rule of law and order and curtailing the arbitrary violence of the siloviki he will be able to restore peace. And the problem is not even in Yevkurov himself, but in the fact that no one knows what powers and restrictions have been established for him by the Kremlin. For Ramzan Kadyrov there are virtually no restrictions: he has created his own army and police, and in Chechnya he can resort to any kind of repression he likes. Does Moscow see in Yevkurov an Ingush version of the Chechen president? It is hard to say.
There is yet another sore point. This is the problem of refugees from the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia. Yevkurov has given people the hope of return, saying that the refugees should exercise their right to live in their native homes and villages.
At a press conference he spoke of the Kremlin’s support for his position. However, this claim raises serious doubts among those who are well acquainted with the real situation. Russia will definitely not steamroller through the plan for the return of the Ingush refugees, a plan that is unacceptable to the Ossetian authorities, just in order to enhance Yevkurov’s prestige. This would lead to the emergence in Prigorodny district of immense tension and serious conflict with the North Ossetian leadership. Thus there is reason to suppose that not all statements by the President are based on a solid and consistent foundation.
But changes are already visible in the republic. After a long break, police officers have been patrolling the towns and villages by night. In Ingushetia it is being said that Yevkurov has brought them a little bit of courage.
The photograph is borrowed from the website gzt.ru.
(Translation by DM)