Illustration by RIA Novosti
‘The Feds Aren’t Just Russians’ in the North Caucasus – and Five Other Keys to Understanding that Region
Staunton, VA, June 21, 2016 – Leonid Nikitinsky, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, who accompanied a delegation of that body to the North Caucasus May 30 – June 9 offers six lessons for Russians who know less about that region than people there know about Russia.
First of all, in the North Caucasus, the journalist says, “the feds have no nationality” and thus are “not the same thing as ‘[ethnic] Russians.” They include all those, Russian and non-Russian alike who do not develop relations with the local people, and therefore do not understand how the locals think but instead impose the standards of outsiders on them.
“The secret dream of all residents of the Caucasus is that ‘the feds’ will disappear from there as in Chechnya, preferably of course without shooting.” But the senior officials in the republics there know that if that happens, “the sleeping volcanoes” of traditional life will erupt and create instability everywhere, as in fact is the case in Chechnya as well.
Nikitinsky says that “the problem of the federal center is also that if [Moscow] appoints someone who does not understand this and does not like it” there will be problems too. “The heads of the republics are something like bilingual ‘feds’ who know the [local] customs but also have obvious and secret channels with Martian Moscow.”
Second, he says, in the North Caucasus more than in other parts of Russia, people don’t like to put up with lies. That is why so many journalists are killed there, the Moscow journalist says. Russians view the entire region as “a world of fake” institutions, “but ‘for internal use, a lie here is impossible” and those who engage in lying will pay a price.
Third, Nikitinsky argues, “the Caucasus understands Russia much better than Russian understands the Caucasus.” That is because many people from that region have lived in other parts of Russia, while few Russians have lived in or even visited the region and so view it through a false optic.
Among the consequences of this imbalance is that the most effective ways to resolve conflicts in the region “significantly differ from those which are taken in the rest of the Russian Federation,” but Russians assume they can use the same methods or simply employ military force.
Fourth, he points out, “the laws of the Russian Federation often don’t function in the Caucasus.” More than in other parts of the country, people in the North Caucasus simply ignore the flood of laws and regulations Moscow sends out, seeing them often as “without any sense” compared to “the norms of shariat and customs (adats).”
Fifth, if the feds in the North Caucasus have no nationality, Nikitinsky says, it is always the case that a person who commits a crime does and that people there will focus on that, something that restricts the growth of crime in many cases but that increases the dangers of ethnic explosions when any crime is committed.
And sixth, he insists, “’Islamic terrorism’ is a scarecrow” used to frighten people. In reality what one has across the region is a revolt against Russia, “against the federal center” because in the final analysis “the Caucasus is not Russia” and can’t be understood by those who assume that it is or can be.
Dealing with this reality won’t be easy, he suggests. More federalism is fine, but the reality is that if it includes the right or the possibility of self-determination, there will be more war. The best one can hope for, he suggests, is that ultimately Russians will understand the North Caucasians as well as the latter understand themselves – and act accordingly.
Putin Giving Uvarov Trinity – ‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality’ – Updated Content, Ikhlov Says
Staunton, VA, June 21, 2016 – Ever since Nicholas I’s education minister Prince Sergey Uvarov promulgated in 1833 the idea of “official nationality” combining “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality,” each Russian government committed to walking back reforms by its predecessor has invoked its own variant of this.
Vladimir Putin is no different, Moscow commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov argues, is no different; and in a new essay on the Kasparov.ru portal, he describes what he sees as the content that Putin has invested in each of these terms of the Uvarov trinity.
“’Orthodoxy’ in this formulation,” Ikhlov writes, “is hardly an appeal for the secular elite” to enrich itself with the values of that branch of the Christian church but rather a call “for religious fundamentalism or mysticism,” something that “requires acknowledging the exclusive character of Russian civilization as the alternative to the humanist and enlightened West.”
Uvarov’s understanding of Orthodoxy reflected his effort to cope with the problems arising from “police-bureaucratic authoritarianism,” and in fact, it represented “a translation of feudal, sovereign-vassal relationships into a charismatic system of the power of ‘the ruler-prophet’ and the ancient ‘tsar-first priest.’”
The first time this happened in Russia was with Ivan the Terrible, but it was repeated by Joseph Stalin, and in certain respects, it is being reapplied now by Vladimir Putin, Ikhlov suggests, and for the same reasons: to delegitimize his predecessors who based their authority as “leaders of a modernizing project.”
And the third element of Uvarov’s trinity – narodnost which is usually translated as “nationality” “does not mean some kind of ‘conservative’ democratism” based on the imposition of “a mass culture of quasi-folkloric elements.” That is not what Putinism “of the second and third terms” is about.
In the tsarist past, this term “was only and exclusively a synonym of romantic ‘racial’, that is, tribal, nationalism and also a militant denial of distinctive elite qualities,” a pattern, Ikhlov argues continued into Soviet times with all the communist talk about “worker-peasant simplicity.”
But in every case, “nationality” was invoked in response to earlier reformist efforts. “The Gorbachev-Yakovlev turn to Westernization, which appealed to ‘all-human’ Western enlightenment values has been cursed in the period of the current ‘romantic reaction,’” Ikhlov continues.
What this means for Putin can be seen in the behavior of the Russian soccer louts in Marseilles. For most, such behavior is viewed as shameful. But “for a country attached to ‘Uvarov’s nationality,’ the militant fans are on the contrary a national advance guard which has shown its physical force and moral decisiveness” against “’the rotting West.’”
That reflects Putin’s pursuit of “a cult of archaic qualities and the simple people,” Ikhlov says. “Let them not like us,” he and his followers say; but “let them fear us” because if they fear us, “this means that they respect us,” at least from the perspective of those who follow this latest edition of Uvarov’s ideas.
Like Andropov, Putin Doesn’t Understand Country He Rules or Where It is Headed, Inozemtsev Says
Staunton, VA, June 21, 2016 – In 1983, Yury Andropov famously told a plenum of the CPSU Central Committee that “if we speak openly, we still do not know sufficiently the society in which we live and work.” The same thing could be said of Vladimir Putin and his entourage, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
That should worry the Moscow elite, the Moscow economist continues, because Andropov’s words came eight years before the collapse of the USSR, exactly the same amount of time between now and the completion of Putin’s “last legitimate term in office.” How things will end this time around, of course, “only time will tell.”
And the elite should be especially concerned now because what has formed in the wake of the annexation of Crimea is not a new “consensus” between the regime and an active population but rather the domination of the authoritarian state over an increasingly passive people. That will give the illusion of stability, but such illusory stability won’s last forever.
For most of the first decade of Putin’s rule, Inozemtsev says, political analysts spoke about “a Putin consensus,” one based on the willing of the population to sacrifice its political rights to an ever more authoritarian regime in exchange for significant improvements in its standard of living.
That “’consensus,’” he continues, “led to the demise of many political institutions, to violations of the constitution, and to the elimination of many political freedoms, but at the same time, it appeared quit stable and survived even the economic crisis of 2008-2009.” But it fell apart in the winter of 2011 when some in society no longer were willing to take part in it.
Initially, Inozemtsev says, the authorities appeared to be frightened and began “a certain ‘liberalization.’” But then they responded in a more typical fashion with “anti-Western hysteria, aggression against Ukraine, the occupation of Crimea and broad talk about ‘raising [Russia] from its knees.”
The enormous support Putin received from the population led many analysts to conclude that a new Putin consensus had been formed not on the basis of an exchange of money for power but rather reflecting the willingness of the Russian population to support Putin on patriotic and nationalist grounds.
But the Kremlin’s failures – Russia’s transformation into an international outcast and the collapse of the economy – he argues, suggest that no real new consensus has been formed because the population is not in a position to agree or disagree with the regime about what it would consist of.
Consequently, to call the support that Russians supposedly have for Putin evidence of such a consensus is not something that Inozemtsev says he is prepared to do. The supposed “’second Putin consensus’” never formed, he argues, because the population has been excluded from political life completely.
That was Putin’s goal from the outset, the Moscow economist says, and his “cleansing” of the Russian political space has achieved his goal. With each passing year, the Russian population is less inclined to speak out in defense of its own interests or even when its rights are violated.
“What has taken place in recent years in Russia,” Inozemtsev says, “is difficult to imagine in any contemporary country.” The regime does what it wants, and the population puts up with it. And this has “nothing to do with Crimea or to ‘rising from one’s knees’ or to anything else which might be considered an element of ‘social agreement.’”
“Can such a situation be stable?” he asks. “Yes, but can it be eternal? Hardly.”
The Kremlin’s use of force “over the voiceless society not only creates within it tensions invisible to the hierarchy but deprive the powers that be of the real opportunity to retreat or trade when such things are required.” Thus, Inozemtsev says, the situation now “does not look as stable and predictable” as it was in 2010 or even 2013.”
“The political ‘dividing lines’” have as a result become “’ours-alien,’ ‘friend’-‘enemy’,’ ‘patriot-traitor,’” and those do not permit any compromise by the regime or, if it becomes active, the population.
And that in turn means, the Moscow economist concludes, that “a new configuration will not involve the departure of the president in any specific perspective: Russia, [instead,] is in the position of Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan, with only this difference, the issue of who will be the new leader may not arise for a decade or two.”