Not the time for a hero
By Magomed Toriyev, special to Prague Watchdog
By adopting the federal law “On measures aimed at organizing self-government in the Republic of Ingushetia and the Chechen Republic”, a well-intentioned Kremlin has created a major headache for Ingushetia’s new president.
The republic has frozen in anticipation. Parliament is supposed to enact this law in the territory of Ingushetia, but the problem has traditionally focused on the term “territory” – the line along which people have drawn the republic’s border is not at all the same as the one which Russia’s Federal Agency of Geodesy and Cartography imposes on the map, year after year. We are talking about the eternally vexed question of Prigorodny district.
Back at the beginning of December, Ingushetia’s President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov told the deputies that they must deal with the Law on self-government before the end of the year. This means that the National Assembly must clearly define the republic’s boundaries.
Even the decision to include the Prigorodny district in Ingushetia as part of the republic may, in addition to all the other regalia bestowed on him, give Yevkurov the status of a national hero. Even if it proves impossible to “take” Prigorodny district when the law is enacted, that will not stand in the way of the President’s canonization. In this case the declaration of intent is more important than the practical result.
President Aushev, who constantly came into conflict with the Kremlin because of Chechnya, none the less preferred to act with circumspection where the issue of Prigorodny district was concerned and avoid setting unrealizable goals. He signed one routine agreement after another on the return of Ingush refugees, without ever pretending to the role of consolidator of the Ingush lands. Ossetia has not complied fully, or even satisfactorily, with any of the agreements, justifying its reluctance to let the refugees return by claiming that “Ingush and Ossetians can never live together” or referring to the issue of the “water protection zone”.
Most of the 75,000 refugees have not been able to return to their home villages. Already a generation has grown up for whom home means caravans [vagonchiki].
Against the backdrop of the war in South Ossetia, dissatisfaction with the Kremlin is acquiring clear outlines in Ingushetia. Indeed, Russia, which is capable of toppling the army of a foreign state in five days and taking an entire people under its protectorate, is unable to resolve the issue of the return to its own citizens of their own land and homes of which they have been deprived for over sixteen years.
Today the Russian system of government, including the one that prevails in Ingushetia, is so arranged that the only meaningful actor in the political process is the head of the federal entity. As elsewhere, the parliament here has long lost the function of an organ of power. Individuals with mandates that were purchased, or extorted because of family ties, do only what they are told to do by their main and sole elector – the President of Ingushetia. And that is all.
And consequently the President is the final and only authority to which the people's anger and accusations of betrayal of national interests can be addressed. Yevkurov has not the slightest chance of evading responsibility. But his own position is as yet unknown. So far he has refrained from making any political statements about the Law on local self-government.
The President and his team now have a real prospect of attaining the almost absolute legitimacy which he needs, by supporting a decision that has made a disastrous incursion into the structure of inter-ethnic relations and administrative-territorial boundaries that has been established and maintained by the federal centre. In this case he may have very substantial reserves with which to fight the armed underground, since, ignoring Salafist ideology, the Ingush people formerly supported the mujahedeen as a kind of field militia which acted against the Zyazikov regime. Having “recognized” Yevkurov’s authority as legitimate and ”theirs”, the Ingush will lose their need for acts of indirect retaliation against an unjust state.
The actual return of the long-lost Ingush lands may take another 200 years, but Yevkurov will gain enough legitimacy from the issue of Prigorodny district to last him in the conflict with the federal centre for a long time to come.
One should not fail to note that altering the administrative boundaries on paper will under no circumstances lead to a renewal of fighting between the Ingush and the Ossetians. There is also no danger of Ossetia being threatened with a seizure of the lands of Prigorodny district. At the present stage, it is enough to give people hope of an imagined future and to strengthen their belief that government can act according to an “ethnic” scenario.
But in the Caucasus bravery verging on insanity is valued and respected more than intelligence and prudence. All that Yevkurov needs is a demonstration of lofty madness, not its actual embodiment.
Today the Ingush intelligentsia insists that such a decision by Parliament and President should be the subject of endless reviews by the courts at all levels. The Ossetian and Ingush sides can be provided with all the facilities to determine the legality and legitimacy for the lawful return of Prigorodny district to Ingushetia, with no fixed term set for the examination of the issue. For the first time in the Caucasus a precedent will be created for the clarification of inter-ethnic and territorial claims in a court of law rather than on the battlefield.
It is possible that the Russian president, a distinguished lawyer and legal expert, will see this as an acceptable solution to the problem. His appointee Yevkurov will conquer the Wahhabis, while the question of Prigorodny district will be decided by a district court one way or the other, without war and ethnic cleansing.
Described thus, the project looks quite realistic, but only within the old federalism of the Yeltsin era. Putinist centralism, with its desire to ensure the status quo by any means, its almost squeamish attitude to Caucasian disputes, its government of Caucasian territories by indirect pressure, more or less rule out the possibility of a Yevkurovite démarche. But one can always dream!
The map is borrowed from the website ru.wikipedia.org.
(Translation by DM)
(T) RELATED ARTICLES:
· Northern Caucasus on the brink of a new conflict (PW, 4.11.2004)