By Valentin Tudan, special to Prague Watchdog
NAZRAN, Ingushetia – The new President is the main topic of every conversation in the republic. The hopes of the Ingush, their first disappointments, their attempts to grasp the logic of this or that decision of government and to predict the future – these take a great variety of forms. At present the hopes prevail, though President Yevkurov has already managed seriously to undermine confidence in himself.
The most violent criticism is directed at his position on Prigorodny District, which he steamrollered through the Ingush People’s Congress. That position can be summed up briefly as follows: the republic of Ingushetia is defined in terms of its actual borders, and the main priority is now the problem of housing the refugees in their earlier places of residence. The demand for an immediate return of the disputed territories may lead to disaster, and it is a demand that will not be met by the federal centre, as any revision of borders in the North Caucasus would lead to fresh wars and inter-ethnic conflicts.
In addition, Ingush human rights defenders are not too happy with certain aspects of President Yevkurov’s activity. His barrack-room command style has aroused some doubts. “He publicly sacked the administrative head of the village of Galashki because two armed men suspected of belonging to illegal armed groups were arrested there,” Timur Akyev, head of the Nazran branch of the human rights NGO “Memorial”, explains. “For one thing, the men have not been tried by any court, and for another, the administrative head is not responsible for problems of security. That’s the job of the law enforcement agencies.”
Another factor is that not everyone can see the point of Yevkurov’s anti-Western rhetoric. Many consider that his statement to the effect that the U.S. is trying to use Ingushetia in order to pull Russia apart was merely a sop to the political status quo, an attempt to blend in with the system of “friend-foe” coordinates established in the Kremlin.
It is only a few kilometres to Nazran now. By the side of the road are two armed personnel carriers. Servicemen jump out of one of them, apparently in order to attend to some technical problem. It’s a familiar scene, and the faces are familiar. Nothing has changed during the few years of my absence.
And now there is another checkpoint, another queue, this time at the entrance to the city. A dozen or so policemen are guarding the narrow passage through the concrete blocks. “When Yevkurov came to power the traffic jams came back,” the driver explains. “He told the cops to do their job, but they’re useless at anything except keeping pointless records and making people’s lives a misery.”
Nazran has also not changed much. There is mud everywhere, on the road, on the verges. The same low-built houses of different sizes, the same crazy traffic – everywhere, from every side street, cars come shooting out, literally melding their way into the traffic. From the days I spent here in the first Chechen war I remember the city’s main distinguishing feature: as soon as you got out of your car and stepped onto solid ground you instantly found yourself spattered up to the knees with mud from the road. The same thing happens now. I was always amazed at Ingush women's ability to navigate the streets without getting their shoes dirty. A great and inscrutable talent.
Some changes in the city’s appearance are, however, striking. The new, European-style buildings, the facades of which are almost entirely covered with glass, the store windows, with electronic goods, clothing, furniture, all of which have been designed with a claim to metropolitan lustre. But all this does not change the overall picture, since the range of architectural styles is dominated by red brick and mud.
“Mussa,” I asked my friend who was showing me round, “let's go to the bookstore. I want to see what history books they have.”
“There is no bookstore in Nazran,” Mussa said gloomily, spreading his hands in a guilty manner. I had to make do with the meagre assortment available at two kiosks to which my escort took me. I must admit that I was shocked by the absence of a bookstore in Ingushetia’s most densely populated city.
“In Soviet days the Ingush intelligentsia lived and worked in Grozny and Vladikavkaz ,” Mussa explained, “and Nazran was just a provincial backwater. Nowadays everyone is here. The Vladikavkaz folk are the aristocracy – the military men, the scientists of various kinds, the imperialists who can outdo the other Russian patriots, while the Grozny lot are slightly different: they’re the merchants, the middle-ranking Party and Soviet officials. Yevkurov is a typical example of Vladikavkaz’s Soviet Ingush elite.”
And so, abandoning the subject of bookstores, we once again steered our course towards the President.
Yevkurov constantly emphasizes that he is a federal official who primarily views Ingushetia’s problems through the prism of Russia’s – and the Kremlin’s – interests. He never tires of repeating that does not want to set the landmine of Prigorodny District under the administrative and territorial division of the whole North Caucasus.
For Yevkurov’s fellow countrymen, such statements are music to their ears. Unlike the Chechens, they have never even considered a divorce from Russia. The separatist themes that suddenly began to be heard during the last months of Murad Zyazikov’s presidency in the statements of opposition figures were a kind of rocket launcher. The opposition believed that the threat of separation would force the federal centre to pay attention to the republic’s sorry plight.
On the Ingushetiya.org website, one of Yevkurov’s critics ridiculed the President for his absurd appearance. The national skullcap worn in combination with a suit and tie was a demonstration of bad taste, the critic said, born out of a desire to please everyone. But in fact, to some extent Yevkurov’s appearance revealed his program of action.
He is at once an Ingush and a government official. The combination of these roles does not cause him the slightest discomfort. In his desire to place reliance on the traditional informal structures of Ingush society, the new President in some ways reminds one of Dudayev. He constantly makes the rounds of the villages, where he meets with the elders, whose opinions in the vast majority of cases are weightier and more authoritative than the views of the government’s representatives. The Ingush People’s Congress, which has been criticized for falsification in the election of its delegates, is none the less essentially that same council of authoritative men, but on a scale that includes the whole of Ingushetia.
The President reconciles blood enemies, he promises to exculpate men who have embezzled of state property if they give back what they have stolen. It goes without saying, of course, that none of these actions bear any relation to Russian law, and on certain points may even contradict it. It is absolutely obvious, however, that Yunus-Bek Yevkurov feels himself to be a man of the state, and will never make a break with the Russian legal system of the kind that his Chechen counterpart, Ramzan Kadyrov, has made.
But it is not only traditional social structures that interest Yevkurov. He has long and detailed discussions with everyone. The new President has serious grievances about his compatriots. He believes that they are helping the armed underground. In his many statements on this subject one can detect the operational information that has been supplied by the law enforcement agencies, and indeed he does not conceal the fact that in his views on the mujahedeen he prefers to align himself with the security forces rather than the Ingush population. Against such aiding and abetting, and against the underground resistance itself, he intends to conduct a merciless war.
The mujahedeen see no difference between Yevkurov and his predecessor. For them, both are representatives of the kafirs who have occupied the territory of the North Caucasus. It is said that this is more or less how Amir (Emir) Magas, aka Akhmed Yevloyev, aka the Military Amir of the Caucasus Imarat (Emirate), expressed himself at a secret meeting with Yevkurov. It is even asserted that Magas used much stronger expressions. The Ingushetian President has denied that the meeting ever took place, but people in the republic persist in claiming that it did, and that it took place in the village of Galashki in the house of kinsfolk of the so-called “Colonel Khuchbarov” who led the school seizure in Beslan.
Whatever the truth may be, after nearly four months in office Yekurov has failed to achieve any visible progress in the fight against the underground. The number of attacks and acts of sabotage has not diminished and sometimes seems even to have increased. Neither governmental authority nor threats have been of any avail. I very frequently hear people ask whether the guerrillas are a real force. Look at what is happening in Ingushetia, I say. At least they are a force which a professional soldier and intelligence officer, a man with inside knowledge of the way in which Ingush society works, has been unable to budge one inch, over a period of four months. An extent of time that is certainly more than long enough to develop a front of military action.
Sermons on moral purity, social equality, service to Allah, a heroic death for the sake of high ideals against a backdrop of moral decline, corruption, greed and selfishness find a keen response in the souls of these young men. On public transport, at markets, in all the places where people discuss pressing issues, one can hear them singing the praises of the mujahedeen and their heroic struggle. Their mobile phones show video clips of sermons or battle scenes. The names of the fighters are known by heart, using apt turns of phrase, the young men discuss events that have taken place in their daily lives, their experiences of combat. The underground is imbued with a romantic atmosphere. There is fullness of life, there are ideas and ideals.
It is hard for me to tell how deep and substantial these sentiments are. They seem, however, to express the vague, not fully conscious sympathies of society at large. It is easy to see where the mujahedeen derive their support, and why Yevkurov is so harsh in his accusations against his fellow countrymen.
Looking in another direction, it can be assumed that Chechnya will sooner or later be outside Russia, and that Ingushetia, no matter how violently it is shaken, will remain a part of the great and muddle-headed country to the last.
Photo: The Assembly of Nations of Kazakhstan
(Translation by DM)