Publication: Prism Volume: 7 Issue: 4

By Nabi Abdullaev

The restoration of civilian and business institutions in Chechnya, which Russian officialdom is trying to present as already having been pacified, is inevitably colliding with the absence of qualified personnel around the country as a whole. The problem is not just a practical one: In Chechnya, it turns out to be a political one as well.

Chechnya’s top management should, logically, be Chechen, given that it is an ethnic republic. The legendary ethnic solidarity of the Chechen people means that they will not accept external rule and, short of repression by force, they will ruin the effectiveness of any administration imposed from the outside. On the other hand, Moscow is not ready to hand the levers of political and financial power over to local actors, who could turn disloyal and corrupt by the usual Caucasian practice of granting privileges to one’s own native clan or ethnic group.

The selection earlier this year of Stanislav Il’yasov, formerly prime minister of the neighboring Stavropol region and a Russian national, to be the head of Chechnya’s government was a graphic illustration of the federal center’s helplessness in handling the issue of human resources.

From the perspective of short-term prospects, however, Moscow’s approach seems logical. Funds will soon be transferred to Chechnya to rebuild the republic’s industrial potential and social infrastructure, destroyed during the years of Chechnya’s de-facto independence and two Russian military campaigns. The elite of Chechnya’s competing clans will desperately try to take control of this process and give preference to their own group of political players, thereby destroying the balance of influences inside Chechen society. It is like giving a football player the opportunity to be both a player and the referee at the same time.

In the more distant future, however, the Russian ruling circles will inevitably have to create a loophole in Josef Stalin’s scheming legacy.

The Chechen people have suffered in way that no other peoples of the former Soviet empire have. Once the Chechens returned to their homeland after having been deported to the cold steppes of Kazakhstan by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1944, they found that they were still targeted for political repression. Unlike the other ethnic groups of the Soviet Union and Russian Federation, they were not allowed to have their own ethnic representatives among the republic’s top rulers. Doku Zavgaev, the local Communist leader, was the first Chechen to come to power in Checheno-Ingushetia and did so only in 1989, two years before Chechnya’s de facto independence. Russians occupied the most sensitive ministries in the government of Soviet Checheno-Ingushetia, including the Interior and State Security ministries, and the post of mayor of its capital, Djohar [Grozny]. Most of the Chechens who made careers as Soviet officials or Party activists had Russian wives: This was considered a guarantee of their loyalty to Moscow’s political line by those Party leaders who were choosing and promoting ethnic personnel.

Chechnya’s neighboring republics, like Azerbaijan, Georgia and Dagestan, which are now ruled by former Communist leaders, had decades to train members of the local ethnic elite in political management. Certainly, this method of management had a specifically Communist coloring, but it was the only possible method for promoting ethnic personnel. At the moment of Soviet empire’s collapse, the Caucasian republics were led by people who understood that politics was a game with certain rules and that decisions had to be the result of a careful analysis of a great variety of factors.

Chechnya lacked such a trained elite. It began its independence with a combat general, Djohar Dudaev, at the top. His political approach was part and parcel of his military background, in which he had a clear vision of the enemy and knew how to eliminate him. In 1993, when he found the Chechen parliament too annoying, he and his guards simply threw the legislators out of the windows of the republic’s parliament building.

The elite of independent Chechnya which came into power after Dudaev’s rule was formed during the military conflict with Russia in 1994-1996, not as the result of civilized competition and selection. On the contrary, the most violent and aggressive warlords controlled real political power in the republic.

The further militarization of Chechnya, which ended with the August 1999 incursion by militants into Dagestan and the subsequent Russian military reaction, was to some extent a result of the Chechnya’s leaders’ inability to exist in a peaceful environment. By way of example, Shamil Basaev, one of Chechnya’s most prominent public figures, was made prime minister in 1997 by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Basaev abandoned the post after just several weeks and joined a group of belligerent warlords who were preparing a jihad–“a sacred war against infidels”–to create an Islamic state from the Caspian shores to those of the Black Sea.

Maskhadov himself, a former Soviet general, appeared to be an excellent military tactician when he headed the rebels’ General Staff in 1994-1996. But he failed to carry out political strategic planning for Chechnya’s future as a state.

The vacuum in human resources to administer the future Chechnya will not be easily filled. The Chechen diaspora is largely an economic entity, not an ethno-political one, and its members, having gotten used to living in Russia, in general show no willingness to return to the homeland. The professional skills of those who remained in Chechnya for the last decade are rather questionable given that those years were taken up mainly with biological survival and that some of them had to get involved in criminal activities like kidnapping or the illegal oil trade. These circumstances also preclude the possible employment of such people in Russia-sponsored ventures.

While the timetables for the various federal programs aimed at overcoming the consequences of the military conflict in Chechnya and setting up civil institutions there are measured in years, this may not be enough time. Given that Chechnya was expelled from the Soviet Union’s conditional “civilization” as a result of Stalin’s actions more than a half century ago, and given everything that has happened since, the task of creating a new generation of managers able to oversee Chechnya’s civilized development is likely to take decades.

Nabi Abdullaev is a journalist based in Makhachkala, Dagestan.