Leaving the Caucasus will make Russia stronger, wrote Igor Averkiev, chairman of the Perm Civic Chamber, in January 2009. Mr Averkiev’s words turned out to be so inflammable that in April 2009, the prosecutor’s office in Perm found that his article contained calls to extremist action. The FSB has now initiated a criminal case against him. Furthermore, the prosecutor has asked a court to recognise Mr Averkiev’s article as extremist and include the article on the federal list of banned publications.
Mr Averkiev regards the accusations as absurd. In Russia, the “fight against extremism” is quite separate from actual extremism, he said. “In effect, what the authorities are trying to do is ban normal, honest discussion about Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime in Chechnya, about the future of the Caucasus, and about Russia’s interests in the region,” Mr Averkiev said. Recent events prove, in fact, that Russia has lost control of the North Caucasus, he concluded.
This is not the first time that Mr Averkiev has been accused of extremism: in December 2007, his article, “Putin is our good Hitler,” published in the Perm Public Chamber’s newspaper, Lichnoe Delo, angered the authorities. Russia’s state censor, Roskomnadzor, found that certain passages in the article could be considered as calls to overthrow Russia’s constitutional order. In the article, Mr Averkiev compared Putin to Hitler before the war. That time, he “got away” with questioning.
Read on for an abridged translation of Mr Averkiev’s original article, “Leaving the Caucasus will make Russia stronger”…
Leaving the Caucasus will make Russia stronger
Russia is no ideal country. Not ideal at all, not even a European one. Yet, even for our non-European, non-ideal country, Chechnya is just too much.
What we are witnessing in Chechnya is the creation of either an “Islamic monarchy,” a “feudal regime,” or a “tribal theocracy.” Today’s Chechnya has nothing to do with today’s Russia. Chechnya is not Russian land. Chechnya is not ours, it is a foreign country; be it under Dudayev or Kadyrov.
Our own country, however, under its current leadership, is not some antediluvian empire, which needs to hold on to pieces of useless, foreign, and incredibly costly territories, the population of which do not regard Russia as their homeland.
What is happening today in Chechnya does not fit into any norms or perceptions of normality that would be generally accepted in Russia. A list of these “Chechen abnormalities” will sound utterly xenophobic: attitudes towards women as to inferior beings; excessive, fanatical religiosity; obsessive veneration of those in power; and the totalitarianism of clan sentiments.
The question is not, however, about xenophobia. Xenophobia per se, as a natural rejection of those who are alien, is just one of man’s strategies for survival, one method to guarantee one’s own safety and that of one’s family. Xenophobia turns bloody and lethal in the hands of politicians, states, and young do-nothings like our “fascists” and “anti-fascists.”
Ordinary people in “little Russia” have no hatred towards Chechens. There is distrust, suspicion, a wish to insulate oneself, not to have anything in common. Many are simply afraid. Yet ordinary Russians do not wish Chechens dead or that Chechens be wiped off the face of the Earth. “Leave us in peace, do not turn to us” — that is all.
It is quite stupid to play the role of a “Big Brother” if there are no brotherly feelings on either side. It is even more stupid to support a whole nation in exchange for sham loyalty. It is utterly unbearable to burden oneself with responsibility for an alien way of life, for something that is unjust and horrifying to us, but quite normal to others.
As long as Chechnya is marked as being part of Russia, we are all — not just Medvedev and Putin — responsible for Kadyrov with his golden pistol, for the oriental despotism called the Chechen Republic, for the unquenchable fountain of religious fanaticism, for the criminal gangs in police uniform, and for the endless political assassinations.
What do we need all this for? We have enough problems to solve in our own country, Russia, even without the “excesses” in Chechnya. In our own country, — for the very reason that it is our own, — we have a lot in our powers, we can actually do a lot, if only we had the will (which, for now, we have little). In Chechnya, however, nothing depends on our wishes by definition: it is a foreign country. Why pretend that it is not so?
Chechnya needs Russia more than Russia needs Chechnya. Chechnya is using Russia to its maximum advantage as an inexhaustible source of all kinds of resources. Russia has no advantage in using Chechnya for any purpose whatsoever. Chechnya is useless and, in fact, harmful for Russia. It has always been so.
Consider the strange outcome of Russia’s supposedly victorious Second Chechen war: having vanquished Maskhadov and Basayev, Russia, in the end, lost Chechnya. In exchange for “no war” and “no separatism,” Putin’s regime handed Chechnya over to the total political control of one of the Chechen clans, the Kadyrovites. Chechnya gained informal independence. “Do as you like, we will pay for everything,” Moscow told Kadyrov. “Just do not make a noise.”
The Russian constitution does not, in fact, apply in Chechnya. Yes, there are all the necessary electoral rituals; criminal, tax, and administrative legislation do formally apply, but they apply only as far as they do not conflict with the interests of the Kadyrovites, pacts between clans, and so on.
This small country gained a lot, but what did we get in return? Problems, problems, and more problems. Problems in the past, problems in the future. What does Russia need all this for? So that less Russian soldiers would die? That is only until the next war. All in all, the last Chechen war ended in political absurdity: with gains for the side that lost.
Supporting Chechnya — a foreign country — is a humiliation for Russia. Today’s Russia has ceased to be an empire for the reason that it can conquer but cannot absorb foreign territory, cannot include it in its “macroeconomic complex” on conditions that would be beneficial to itself.
The main point to understand is that this is not about Chechnya. This is about the whole of the mountaineous region of the North Caucasus. Everything I said about Chechnya, goes for all of the mountaineous territories: Ingushetia, Dagestan, and the rest. It just so happens that history placed Chechnya at the helm of the “Caucasian Renaissance.”
It is not our business to stop this process. It is not our responsibility what they are doing in their own country and with each other. It is not our job to reform the mountaineers; their way of life is their own choice. Russia’s task in the Caucasus today is to minimise the damage to Russia from the “Caucasian Renaissance.” Minimising the damage means to leave the North Caucasus.
Russia can never leave the Caucasus in geopolitical, economic, and cultural terms, neither does she have to. What is more, when the mountain peoples finally gain the right to actual statehood, this will allow Russia to increase the efficiency of its economic and cultural presence in the Caucasus significantly.
When nations — like people — gain independence, they develop a new, higher level of responsibility for their actions. An independent nation has a lot more to lose than a subjugated people.
I do realise of course that the political and geopolitical risks of an “exit” would be very high for Russia. Yet the risk of a new Caucasian war is even higher. Bestowing independence on the peoples of the Caucasus, even by forcing it on them, gives us a chance to avoid a new war. Armed militants can fight with whomever they want, however they want, and whenever they want, but states should wage war seldom and with caution.
The danger posed by Russia’s exit from the Caucasus that is brought up most often is that the North Caucasian republics will turn into fundamentalist Islamic states. We must realise, however, that Russia cannot control the Islamisation of the North Caucasus, and that the attainment of statehood decreases the likelihood of nations to go down an extreme path of development.
The mountaineous territory of the North Caucasus is an endless geopolitical provocation for Russia. Yet everything there is in our hands, — not in the hands of the mountaineers. If we fail to do anything, there will be war, make no mistake about it. I feel sad that it is all so predetermined. Things will turn out as they always do, only worse.
For Russia to leave the Caucasus now would be to do it from a position of strength. Leaving the region after having burned oneself in yet another war would be to show weakness. Leaving the Caucasus now would force the regional elites to act in a responsible manner in the eyes of their people and the world.
What will the North Caucasus become in the next few years if nothing changes? In population settlements throughout the Caucasus and in Russian cities, we can see the emergence of a new generation of “Caucasian hoodlums,” fed on the Dudayev and Basayev saga. In British and Swiss universities, a “golden generation” of Caucasian youth, eager to fulfil their ambitions, is taking shape. In Russia itself, a Caucasian “fifth column”, contaminated with a sense of national imperative, is flourishing.
When the time is ripe, these three generations will unite in another ecstasy of national liberation. Given their primaeval greed, passionate rage, and impression of Western weakness, the new generation of mountaineers will want more independence and “native land” than they can swallow.
Russia, unfettered by nothing but its new grand role in the collapsing West, will respond harshly (there is no longer any other way), with carpet bombing and with hundreds and hundreds of aerial raids. In such a world, there is nothing to stop us. Israel, Europe, and America are already going through the furnace of barbarically defending their eroded interests. Why do we need this on our conscience?
To support a foreign country is to sell one’s own people. To feed a foreign country is to neglect one’s own civilisation. Leaving the Caucasus is our responsibility to our own civilisation.
The ability to contain oneself is the most important ability of countries and peoples of the 21st century. Our planet has become too crowded under the pressure of differing and powerful interests for us to be able to want too much and give in to each and every temptation.
Leaving the Caucasus would allow Russia to limit itself geopolitically in favour of strengthening its geopolitical might. Only a country which finds itself in the peak of modernity, is capable of such an accomplishment.
There are many projects and alternatives as to how and when Russia could leave the Caucasus. The responsible part of Russia’s civic society simply needs to take these alternatives under public discussion, evaluate and improve them.
I think I am aware of all of the main arguments against my proposal: the humanitarian, liberal-democratic, rational-bureaucratic, and imperial-nationalist.
The counterarguments are various, many of them quite rational, but most of them have one thing in common: none of them want any radical change, neither to the political status of the North Caucasian region, nor to the quasimetropolitan role of Russia in the region.
Almost all of the counterarguments are, in the end, in favour of maintaining the status quo, with various caveats. Yet the problem is that we cannot afford not to change. We cannot avoid crossing the Rubicon.
Russia cannot afford not to leave the Caucasus, because our presence in the Caucasus is tantamount to endless conflict. Staying in the Caucasus is equal to a black hole in our economy, responsibility for the obscurantism of others (we have enough of our own), and a perpetual provocation to our “dark side.” The North Caucasus is the most alien and useless part of our country.
Finally, the Caucasus is a source of many social and political infections, from religious fanaticism to despotism. What may be good for Caucasian villages is bad for Russian cities. The Caucasus is like a weight on our feet. How can we not get rid of it?
Igor Averkiev, 25 January 2009
[Translation: Kerkko Paananen]
Original article in Russian:
Уйдём с Кавказа – станем свободней и крепче
Игорь Аверкиев, 25.01.2009