Libmonster ID: TJ-327
Author(s) of the publication: Vladimir BOBROVNIKOV

Vladimir BOBROVNIKOV

Head of department, Institute of Oriental Studies

Russian Academy of Sciences Ph. D (History)

If one should believe assessments of Moscow and foreign press in recent months (the summer of 2005), Russia is on the verge of a social explosion in Daghestan1 . It is a common view of observers of differing orientations. Though some of them ascribe the wave of assassinations of Daghestan militiamen, officials and politicians to the Islamist "rebel army", while others refer to "illegal armed gangs", this does not change the essence of their reports. These assessments surely have an element of exaggeration. At any rate, there was still no civil war in Daghestan in early September of 2005. Nevertheless, there is no reason to heave a sigh of relief, and the Russian custom of "trusting to luck" can hardly help in this case.

Of late, the federal authorities have decided to stabilize the situation in the region through the use of force. After the USSR's

стр. 15


disintegration, Russia's southern border has been shifted to Daghestan, which considerably raised the status of the republic. There have been numerous indications of the increased attention to Daghestan - in the autumn of 2004 construction of an army garrison started in Botlikh; Daghestan's borders with Azerbaijan and Chechnya are being reinforced, for which 12 billion roubles have been allocated from the budget; on July 15, 2005, Vladimir Putin presided over the meeting in Derbent that was devoted to security of Russia's South. Special force units are being deployed to the republic. Since August 30, militiamen in the republic have been confined to barracks. Besides, there is an ongoing transfer from elections of heads of republics (including Daghestan) by popular vote to their appointment from the center.2 It may be likely that Daghestan will get its first President from Moscow in the summer of 2006. What may it lead to?

Signs of crisis in Daghestan

In order to assess the probable consequences of current Russian policies in Daghestan, one should look into the essence of the crisis that has struck the key spheres of life in Daghestan - its power, law enforcement, economy.

The government of Daghestan, which has been since late Soviet times continuously headed by Magomedali Magomedov, seems to be losing control over the situation in the republic, simultaneously losing the confidence of the federal center. The party and nomenclature elite here has been able to stick to power for a longer time than in other republics of North Caucasus. After the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet in 1994, it smoothly shifted to the State Council and National Assembly, which are today the

стр. 16


supreme power bodies in Daghestan. In its fight for power, the post-Soviet nomenclature has first crushed down ethnoparties that were born by the perestroika3 , ending with suppression of the armed Wahhabi opposition by the autumn of 1999. Some opposition leaders have managed to get themselves a government post and even, like Gadji Makhachev (member of the currently disbanded Avar People's Imam Shamil Front), a deputy seat in the State Duma. Most of them, however, got no access to the ruling elite, while the most dangerous (Khachilayev brothers, banker Gamid Gamidov, Sharaputdin Musayev, etc.) were assassinated.

The recent constitutional reform, which involves replacement of the current State Council of representatives of 14 titular nations by a President, may become a stumbling block for the old nomenclature4 . The past year has already seen a flare-up of political struggle in the republic. Khasavyurt Mayor Saigidpasha Umakhanov led an anti-government action - addressing several thousands of people at a July 29 rally, he called for dissolution of the State Council and early elections. The authorities, however, managed to gain the upper hand over the opposition by changing top militia officers in Khasavyurt. On October 8, 2004, Hizri Shikhsaidov, head of the National Assembly, resigned, yet the composition of the cabinet was not changed. At the same time, the situation in outlying districts remains tense. In 2005, rallies and mass disturbances took place in Kizlyar, as well as Derbent, where on April 8 - 9 24 people were wounded in a clash between Shiites and Sunnis fighting over the premises of the local Juma mosque. Botlikh residents have been for several months protesting against construction of the army garrison here. Young people in Khasavyurt are joining armed anti-government detachments that are active in their district.5

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Besides disturbances on Daghestan borders, the republican government is also accused of corruption and inability to protect its own citizens. In June 2005, there was a scandal over 10 ethnic Daghestanis murdered in stanitsa (village) Borozdinovskaya in Chechnya. The coming 2006 elections provoked a wave of political assassinations. On May 20, 2005, Minister for National Policy Zagir Arukhov fell victim to one of these - along with dozens of innocent civilians, a parliament deputy, several heads of local administrations, an assistant prosecutor. An outright war has been declared against militiamen. Last year, 32 law enforcement officers fell victim to it6 . As many as 39 terrorist acts took place between February and July of 2005. 76 people were wounded by explosions, and another 24 were killed. Most of the crimes were perpetrated in Makhachkala. The latest terrorist act, in which 3 militiamen were killed, happened on August 20.7 According to the author's information, the rampant terrorism may to a certain extent represent a response of Wahhabis, set free from prison, to the tortures and cruel treatment to which they were subjected in 1999 - 2000.

The current crisis in Daghestan is largely due to the breakdown of Soviet-time heavy (in the first place, defense) industry and agriculture. Some economists believe that Russian crisis of the 1990s surpassed the US Great Depression in its depth and scope8 . By 1997, the volume of industrial production in Daghestan had decreased to less than 20% of the 1990 level, while agricultural production had gone down to 34% thereof. This resulted in mass unemployment, 6 times higher than the average Russian level. 60% of the population have income below the subsistence level9 . At the same time, there have mushroomed out "new Daghestanis", like

стр. 18


the late Khachilayev brothers, who have managed to make criminal millions. Usurpation of state property is going on. On August 25, 2005, 25% of stock of the Derbent cognac plant was auctioned off. It is only federal subsidies that save Daghestan economy from financial collapse. In 2004, subsidies made up 78.8% of the republican budget10 . The recent audit conducted by the RF President's plenipotentiary representative in the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak confirmed that Daghestan costs Russia too dear, in the most proper sense of the word.11

The absence of sensible economic policy in the republic gives concern to not only Moscow but also Daghestanis themselves. What is more, a greater part of the subsidies does not reach them. Thus in 1998 there was a scandal over the misappropriation of 43 million roubles from the Pension fund, headed at the time by Sharaputdin Musayev. However, the affair was hushed up, whereas Musayev became a National Assembly deputy and was murdered in Moscow not so long ago, on April 17, 2005. As far back as the 1990s, Daghestan already witnessed strikes whose participants called for payment of wage arrears. In recent years, such strikes have assumed all-republican proportions. The Trade Union Federation organized the biggest strike on October 20, 2004, with the participation of 70,000 teachers, over 43,000 medical workers and about 2,000 cultural workers12 . In Makhachkala, the strikes of shuttle taxi drivers calling for higher tariffs have already become a tradition (shuttle taxis being the main kind of public transport here). The authorities customarily ignore civil protest actions, even though they are increasingly scared of potential social explosions.

As far back as the 1990s, the authorities initially had a terrible dread of a war between "mountaineers" and people living on the

стр. 19


plain, Moslems and Orthodox Christian cossacks. Later, they were even more afraid of radical Islam represented by dissident Wahhabi communities, which opposed the officially recognized Religious directorate of Daghestan Moslems. The opposition was not too successful in its attempts to speculate on nationalism and Islam - from ethnoparties to Shamil Basayev, who in the summer of 1999 headed the armed raid against Northern Daghestan, which served as a prologue for the Second Chechen war. The research in which the author of this article took part demonstrated that ethno-confessional movements of the 1990s had been caused by land famine, unemployment, economic collapse and other problems that had not found their solution since the Soviet times. Islam and nationalism as such pose no threat for Daghestan13 . And of course, the Daghestan crisis is fed by the armed conflict in Chechnya. It is not without a reason that Northern border areas currently present the biggest problems in Daghestan.

What should not be done

It is no use trying to guess what may happen in Daghestan tomorrow. The situation is changing too fast. Much depends on policy and politicians, the situation in Chechnya, and the situation in the Middle East. One can only make comments regarding the possible development of the Daghestan crisis.

Most observers see two ways out of the existing situation - a civil war, or Russia's forced withdrawal from Daghestan14 . The latter proposal, put forward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn as far back as the early 1990s, has little in common with reality. Daghestan today is a fruit of almost 150 year-long Russian (and Soviet) reign in the Caucasus. It is tied to Russia by a thousand links. It is not at all

стр. 20


similar to Algeria of the times when it was waging a war for independence, separated from the metropolitan country by the sea. The Islamic boom of the 1990s and the mass exodus of ethnic Russians from Daghestan, whose share in the republican population decreased by half between 1989 and 2002 (from 9.2 to 4.7%)15 , does not at all mean Russia's withdrawal from the Caucasus. No less did the Islamic boom strike Central Russia. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Daghestanis followed suit and left the republic, too, settling down in the Lower Volga Region, Siberia, Moscow and St. Petersburg. One should not picture Daghestanis as uncouth and unsociable mountaineers. They are rather descendants of people who have once lived in mountains. As for the war, the authorities may really make it real by taking harsh, incompetent steps.

There arises a question, therefore: what should not be done if a social explosion in Daghestan is to be averted?

In the first place, one should not send here candidates to the presidential post from the center, and especially one should avoid choosing them from among "muscovites" like Ramazan Abdulatipov who lack any real support in the republic16 . Not much better would it be to simply appoint Magomedali Magomedov for a new term. In this way, Moscow may only undermine the political balance established in the region. One cannot help agreeing with Daghestan political scientist E. Kisriev who insists that replacement of the State Council by a President and appointment of the latter from Moscow are fraught with a serious destabilization in the republic. Back in Soviet times, an informal hierarchy of ethnic clan groups was established in Daghestan. In the 1950s - 1980s, the Avars were at the top,

стр. 21


succeeded by the Dargins since the mid-1990s - these include Magomedali, as well as Samir Amirov, the eternal Mayor of Makhachkala. Some Dargin businessmen, like the recently killed Musayev, have joined the opposition. An excessive strengthening of one group will inevitably result in growing anti-Russian sentiments, among both the ruling elite and the opposition.

Today, the order in Daghestan may only be restored by a strong, even though criminal, local authority that would be capable of making compromises. At the same time, one should not place too great hopes on "peacekeeping traditions" of customary and Moslem law, adat and sharia, though academic scientists are so fond of calling for their revival17 . The experience of the 1990s demonstrates this is exactly the thing that should be avoided. The fate of Maskhadov's Chechnya shows the outcome of the attempted introduction of sharia laws with a stroke of the pen. Both Moslem and common law really possess a considerable law enforcement potential - if they are properly applied. Besides, this potential was lost in Soviet times. In 1928, adat and sharia became outlawed (by the famous Chapter Х of the RSFSR Criminal Code), gradually being shifted from the sphere of law to that of custom. Reintroduction of even some elements of common law or sharia would require today development of a special legislation, trained personnel and, of course, big expenditures. Otherwise, the authorities would only provide its political foes with weapons that would be turned against them.

There are also some other conclusions to be drawn from Russian policies in Daghestan in the past 10 - 15 years. Firstly, one should not once again impose an economic blockade on the republic, as it was done during the First Russian-Chechen war

стр. 22


(1994 - 1996). This blockade resulted in destruction of entire industrial and transportation branches in Daghestan. Today, the central authorities have to spend enormous funds to compensate for the inflicted damage. The share of subsidies in the Daghestan budget increased from 10% to 88% between 1990 and 199918 . It is known from history that, despite the blockade, criminal flows of money, people and weapons to Chechnya were continued - through the territory of Daghestan and Azerbaijan. After the start of the Second war, dozens of thousands of refugees and participants in the armed hostilities moved to Northern Azerbaijan - once again, they did it through Daghestan. This indicates uselessness of imposing economic blockades on areas of military and political conflicts on Russia's southern boundaries.

Besides, one should not continue persecution of "caucasians" in Russia. Labor and trade emigration of ethnic Daghestanis were caused, on one hand, by the demographic explosion of the last third of the 20th century, and, on the other hand, by the land famine in rural areas and shortage of jobs and living space in towns. It was rooted in the Soviet epoch, when the authorities, instead of developing social infrastructure in the mountains, encouraged mass resettlement of mountaineers down to the plains. As a result, in 1989 over 30% of ethnic Daghestanis in the USSR lived outside Daghestan. In post-Soviet years, migration intensity grew due to a wave of refugees from the areas of Chechen and Karabakh armed conflicts. It was 2.8 times higher than Russia's average level. In this situation, the policy of the authorities of Moscow and a number of other federation subjects, attempting to restrict migration from the Caucasus through administrative measures, seriously destabilizes the situation. The central and regional authorities should revise

стр. 23


their migration policy - Russia should not reject its own citizens from Daghestan.

* * *

1. See, e. g.: Время новостей. 21.06.2005; The Economist, 8.07.2005; The Wall Street Journal, 29.07.2005.

2. Following the Beslan tragedy in the autumn of 2004, Vladimir Putin proposed that elections of heads of subjects of the Russian Federation through a popular vote be replaced by regional representative bodies' approval of candidates nominated by the Russian President. Realization of this plan drastically changes the structure and legitimacy of power in post-Soviet Daghestan.

3. A definition coined by Daghestan political analyst Enver Kisriev to denote quasipolitical monoethnic movements set up by the democratic opposition of Daghestan in the first half of the 1990s. These included Kumyk Tenglik, Avar People's Imam Shamil front, Lak Kazi-Kumukh, Lezgin Sadval, Dargin Tsadesh and a number of other parties, most of which disappeared in the late 1990s. See: Кисриев Э. Ислам и политика в Дагестане. М., 2004.

4. Конституция Республики Дагестан. Махачкала, 2003. P. 36 - 37, 44 - 47.

5. For more detail, see publications of the opposition Daghestan Internet newspaper "Черновик" (ЧК) dated 15.04, 26.08.2005 (http://chernovik. net).

6. Liberation, 30.06.2005.

7. Шабанов М. География террора // ЧК, 15.07.2005; Черным по белому // ЧК, 26.08.2005.

8. Медведев М., Чуканов Н. Великая российская депрессия. М., 1997. P. 16.

9. Рамазанов Т. Б. Проблемы преступности в республике Дагестан. Махачкала, 1999. P. 70 - 71, 83.

10. ЧК, 1.07.2005.

11. Extracts from "Справки об обстановке в Республике Дагестан и мерах по ее стабилизации", drawn up by Dmitry Kozak's staff under the general editorship of A. Pochinok, had by the summer of 2005 leaked to mass media, becoming a subject of lively discussion in Daghestan press.

12. Кисриев Э. Дагестан // Этническая ситуация и конфликты в странах СНГ и Балтии. Annual report of the ethnological monitoring net for 2004. M., 2005. P. 304.

13. Bobrovnikov V. Post-Socialist Forms of Islam: North Caucasian Wahhabis // ISIM Newsletter. No. 7. March 2001; idem. Rural Muslim's Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Caucasus: the Case of Daghestan // The Caspian Region. Vol. II. The Caucasus. Ed. By M. Gammer. London and New York, 2004.

14. Roshchin M, Smirnov A. Popular Support Increases for Dagestan Rebels // Eurasia Daily Monitor, 2005. Vol. 2. No. 122.

15. Calculated on the basis of 1989 and 2002 census materials.

16. Кисриев Э. Дагестан. P. 300 - 301.

17. See, e. g.: Межнациональные конфликты на Кавказе: методика их преодоления. M., 1995. P. 19 - 29. The attempt to use "adat traditions" resulted in the Law on local self-government (1996), which gave rise to numerous administrative problems and aggravated estrangement between republican authorities and local public in agricultural Daghestan.

18. Рамазанов Т. Б. Проблемы преступности. P. 84.

19. Кисриев Э. Дагестан. P. 298.


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