By Paul Goble
The gap between the powers that be in the North Caucasus republics and the populations of these regions is growing, taking the form among the older generation of apathy and among the younger one social aggressiveness and creating a situation in which the authorities are rapidly losing control, historian Kirill Shevchenko says.
As have many other, the specialist on region notes that the problems Russia has as a whole are manifested most disturbingly and explosively in the North Caucasus because of its “historical heritage” and “the ethno-cultural characteristics” of its peoples and their governments at all levels (caucasustimes.com/ru/severnyj-kavkaz-mezhdu-socialnoj-apatiej-i-agressiej/).
For example, Shevchenko says, growing income inequality throughout Russia is having the most negative impact on the peoples of the North Caucasus not only because elites see taking as much as they can as their right but because this trend violates long-standing values among the peoples there.
That is seldom discussed by the Russian media which prefers instead to report about the constant victories of Russia’s counter-terrorist effort, stories that represent an “indirect” confirmation that “the current social milieu in the North Caucasus republics of Russia constantly gives rise to and supports terrorist activity.”
As a result of changes since 1991, the entire region is, in the opinion of almost all experts, more or less rapidly moving out from the common legal field of the Russian Federation. Indeed, Shevchenko says, Russia is “losing its sovereignty” over that region altogether however upbeat Moscow media outlets remain.
Specialists on the region also note that “a corrupt administration cannot be strong by definition,” and consequently, the corrupt regimes in the North Caucasus seek to arm themselves “against the society that hates them by enlisting the support of Moscow” and by allying themselves with criminal oligarchic groups to enrich themselves.
In this situation, Shevchenko continues, the republic rulers will do anything “to convince the Kremlin that [they] are irreplaceable in the current circumstances, and thus they will artificially create ‘these circumstances.’” That is what they need to survive and force Moscow to support them.
The main slogan of these elites is one found in Moscow as well: “’don’t rock the boat.” But what is unfortunate is that the center does not appear to recognize that it is being played for a fool by such talk. However, if Moscow doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to admit that it does, the populations of these republics understand all too well.
They can see that the republic elites are selected not on the basis of professional qualities and talents but rather “by personal devotion, loyalty, and family connections.” And they also can see that such elites are totally incapable of solving any of the numerous social and economic problems in the region.
That represents a radical departure from the Soviet and pre-Soviet past, and “the situation is made worse by the fact that the ideological vacuum that arose as a result of the collapse of the USSR and the discrediting of communism has been filled, despite liberal expectations, not by democratic ‘all-human’ values but by the reanimation of aggressive ethnocentric stereotypes.”
Across the North Caucasus, liberal and market ideas have been discredited as well because they have been invoked by corrupt elites, Shevchenko says; and as a result, ever more people are turning to “destructive socio-cultural codes and behavioral norms adopted in the patriarchal-clan era.”
Those promoting these ideas are often armed with the most contemporary technologies like the Internet and that makes the spread of such notions even more rapid and intensive. And it is assisted unintentionally in most cases at least by elites who rewrite history in order to justify their rule.
But in all too many cases, these invented histories preclude the cooperation among peoples and between peoples and elites that were the hallmarks of North Caucasian society in the past and instead promote, Shevchenko suggests, hostility among the nations of the region and an increasingly yawning gap between incompetent elites and angry populations.