By Paul Goble
Moscow plans to revive and integrate into government structures elders’ councils across the North Caucasus in the hope that the traditional deference to the older generation there will help it isolate and defeat the militants, but social changes in that region over the last two decades may not have the effect that the Russian authorities hope for.
On Wednesday, Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus called for the revival of the elders’ councils in the republics and kray of that region and to include them in the Social Council of the Federal district to connect his office with the population “by-passing the power vertical” (www.regnum.ru/news/society/1371320.html).
“Precisely such wise and authoritative people who will join them will give advice and recommendations to the first persons of the subjects,” Khloponin said, stressing that they will play a major role in “the moral-patriotic upbringing of the young,” thus keeping them from joining militant groups.
Alla Vlazneva, the deputy head of the internal policy department of the North Caucasus Federal District, said that Khloponin’s proposal represented a development of an idea President Dmitry Medvedev had offered last May and that the elders’ councils will be integrated in the Social Council but will not be paid by the government (svpressa.ru/society/article/38385/).
“This is an analogue to the federal Social Chamber,” she continued, but it is even more important in some ways because “to say that that there is a strong civil society in the Caucasus is to strongly exaggerate the situation.” Rather there, people “always attend to the word of the older and always this is valuable,” a “good tradition which is why it is being revived.”
Ella Pamfilova, the human rights activist who proposed this idea to Medvedev in the first place, agreed, saying that if Khloponin is able to set up “a really working structure and not [another] bureaucratic” exercise, the elders’ councils “could resolve many problems of the region” and “at the very least,” ensure that the powers are given accurate reports “from below.”
Of course, such structures are not without precedent. There have been elders’ councils in several republics of the North Caucasus and even in the Middle Volga and central Rsusian regions as well. But this is the most formal post-Soviet recognition of them, and consequently, Khloponin and the others are placing great hopes in it.
Those hopes may be somewhat misplaced, however. Thursday, Khloponin himself noted that the average age of the anti-government militants has fallen to 18, a trend that underscores both the ability of the underground to renew itself and the breakdown in traditional control mechanisms of deference to the elderly (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20752).
And on the other, as “Svobodnaya pressa” commentator Vladimir Treshchanin points out, this action has the effect of underscoring the reality that “the Caucasus is already not entirely Russia.” Rather it has “a special administration, a special way of taking and implementing decisions.” And that means it is not entirely in the common Russian legal space.
Moreover, Treshchanin continues, if the Caucasus is to restore its traditions, “why should not Pskov and Novgorod be allowed to reestablish the Veche?” Or other regions, Russian and non-Russian alike, be allowed to restore their administrative arrangements from the past, arrangements that in many cases encourage public activism.
Consequently, what Khloponin has done in the North Caucasus may have an even larger impact outside that region than inside it, something Treshchanin suggests Moscow might want to reflect upon before plunging ahead and setting in train something that it may not be able to control.