Staunton, September 28 – The referendum in Scotland in terms of both the way in which it was conducted and its outcome has important lessons for Dahestanis and the government of the Russian Federation, according to a Makhachkala commentator, lessons that neither has yet assimilated but that both should.
On the one hand, Eduard Urazayev says, what has taken place in Scotland shows that political struggles conducted with ballots rather than bullets are more likely to produce positive outcomes. And on the other, it shows that decentralization and federalization are necessary for ethnically diverse countries.
In the current issue of Chernovik, the Daghestani commentator notes that reaction to the vote in Scotland has ranged from delight to despair, depending on the politics of those involved because “each has taken from this referendum his own lessons,” but, he says, “certain conclusions are [quite obviously] useful for Dagestan.”
While many in the Russian Federation are now disappointed with democracy as an institution, he says, “Great Britain and Scotland demonstrated in model fashion to the entire world how it is possible by law and without war to reach a decision on an extremely sensitive issue – the possible division of one country into two.”
Indeed, Urazayev continues, their behavior is especially impressive when one considers that the vote took place at a time of increasing international tensions “because of events in Ukraine and the continuing financial-economic crisis in many countries of the West.” Despite that, participation was high, the competition fair, and the outcome close but clear.
And while the proponents of Scottish independence lost, although not by much, “in complete correspondence with the principle of democracy about taking the rights of minorities into account, the leadership of Great Britain immediately after the announcement of the results of the referendum began to prepare proposals” to give Scotland more autonomy.
Most Dagestanis on hearing the word Scotland think only that it is “also a mountainous country which conducted a national liberation struggle” and has a football team, Uruzayev says. “But we are all human beings, and comparisons are always useful,” perhaps especially in this particular case.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and the state weakened, “representatives of the former communist elite were forced to make concessions and to include in the Constitution and laws of Dagestan norms about national quotas in elections for the Popular Assembly and municipal representative bodies.”
They also had to “consider nationality in the assignment of ministers and leaders of other organs of executive power,” Uruzayev says. But then some of those who had risen to leading positions of national movements were found to be either convicted of crimes or closely connected with criminal elements. And the whole system was discredited.
But not everything was lost at least initially. Three times (in 1992, 1993 and 1999) Dagestanis rejected the idea of a single leader of the republic and turned out in large numbers to vote for a collective president, the State Council of the Republic of Dagestan which existed from 1994 until 2006.
Unfortunately, the Makhachkala commentator says, “the extent of violations and falsifications during election campaigns rose sharply in the mid-2000s after the elimination of the population elections for heads of regions, the introduction of a proportional electoral system (elections by party list) and the elaboration of the vertical of executive power.”
And as a result, “under the pretext of restoring order, increasing control and improving the governance of the country and regions, the idea of popular power was discredited, and we now have what is called administered or hybrid democracy” and not the real thing of the kind in evidence in Scotland.
But all may not be lost, Uruzayev says. On the very day of the Scottish vote, President Vladimir Putin declared that moving forward “depends not only on the government but on the heads of the regions.” That suggests he “knew that in the referendum in Scotland, the number of supporters of independence would be greater where unemployment was higher and incomes lower than average.”
And Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev only shortly before that said that he was preparing legislation that would simplify the process of transferring authority from federal organs of power to regional ones because there is a fundamental “contradiction” in the fact that “the authority on which the investment climate in the regions depends is held by the federal authorities which do not bear responsibility for the result of their actions in the localities.”
Many commentators have pointed out, Uruzayev says, that “in developed democratic countries, the most effective factors restraining [moves toward independence of regions] are a strong economy and a reliable financial system which in times of troubles can lead individuals to conclude that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
Where democracy is not developed, he continues, a far greater role is played by “political and historical factors and force.” Typically, “separatist movements are hardly suppressed by the central authorities. But the weakening of central power can lead to a strengthening of organizations seeking independence – and then developments become unpredictable.”
In neither Scotland nor Dagestan today, “financial and economic issues of interaction with the central authorities have greater importance” than any nationalist agenda. That is something the two have in common. What they don’t share is similar levels of democracy and economic development.And
Uruzayev concludes his article by quoting Winston Churchill’s aphorism that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others which have been tried from time to time.” The Scottish vote is clear evidence of this: “under democracy there is the chance to openly discuss a problem and to find an optimal way for its resolution.”
That is “a plus” which peoples and countries without effective democratic institutions clearly do not have.