Plans by the Dagestani opposition to hold a conference in Moscow in late October 2012 was known to the republican authorities in Makhachkala well in advance of the event. The Dagestani authorities tried to dissuade the opposition from holding the conference in Moscow, knowing full well that this alternative conference would pose a strong challenge to the official gathering that was held two years earlier in Makhachkala under the Dagestani government’s auspices on December 15, 2010. The official conference, dubbed the Third Convention of the Peoples of Dagestan, was reminiscent of the good old Soviet days, when conference delegates could only talk about what they were authorized to talk about. The speeches of the delegates in Makhachkala went through a preliminary approval process. The whole purpose of the official conference was to support the republican government and avoid any unintended damage (www.riadagestan.ru/news/2010/12/15/107183/). The conference’s closing resolution declared: “The conference of the peoples of Dagestan that was held at the initiative of the president of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, demonstrated the unity of Dagestani society and confirmed that Dagestanis value their history, culture and choose the path of peace and constructive work alongside the whole multinational Russia. The Russian Federation is our Fatherland, our state” (https://president.e-dag.ru/novosti/article_id=6978&cHash=8bb0d07996). The official conference should have sent a signal from President Magomedov to Moscow that he is in control of the situation in the republic and can lead the people in the right direction.
Well-known people in the republic, such as the ex-chief of the Dagestani branch of the Russian State Pension Fund, Amuchi Amutinov, and the head of the Dagestani branch of the Just Russia party, Gajimurat Omarov, were the organizers of this past month’s opposition conference in Moscow. First, the opposition groups representing various ethnic groups that the authorities do not recognize as legitimate realized that they would be unable to hold their conference in Makhachkala or elsewhere in Dagestan. That was the reason for their decision to move it to the federal capital. One of the buses carrying the delegates from Dagestan to Moscow came under fire in Dagestan on October 23. Another bus was intercepted by police near Tyube settlement in Dagestan’s Kumtorkalinsky district (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/214570/).
In any case, the opposition finally managed to hold the conference in Moscow on October 26. The conference participants bluntly demanded that the Dagestani government and Dagestani President Magomedov resign (https://ug.ria.ru/politics/20121029/82324293.html). “We want to draw the federal authorities’ attention to the desperate situation the republic ended up in today,” the press release stated. “The situation in Dagestan is deteriorating. For the past six months, the republic has experienced a significant surge in the numbers of the military; the military forces have now started to get involved in police special operations. The actions of the republican police increasingly often break the rules set by the Russian Criminal Code. Tensions are growing in society.” Overall, about 200 delegates to the alternative conference of the Dagestani people gathered in Moscow. Moscow residents of Dagestani origin also participated in the conference, but they were given the status of observers, not delegates.
The conference scathingly criticized the republican authorities for their land redistribution policy, which is the most delicate issue for Dagestanis. Also, the delegates were disappointed with the authorities’ failure to take responsibility for the young people who are killed or made to disappear because of their political and religious views, as well as other human right abuses by the government. In the opinion of the forum’s participants, the Dagestani leadership has to be replaced in order to solve these problems (https://moidagestan.ru/blogs/35397/22028). Some conference delegates were so scared by the brazenness of the proposal that they quickly downgraded their delegate status to observer status with no voting rights.
The Dagestani government’s reaction was angry and brusque. Dagestan’s Minister of Information and Mass Communications Nariman Gajiev stated that the meeting in Moscow could not be called a convention because it was “an anti-government get-together that was supported by people who are interested in a redistribution of power in the republic” (https://spb.rbc.ru/topnews/29/10/2012/822209.shtml). Just as in the Soviet period, various Dagestani public figures, leaders of parties and movements, and officials started to address the republican media, condemning the participants and the organizers of the alternative conference. The Dagestani authorities apparently wanted to give the impression that the conference was supported only by a handful of individuals and not by all the people of Dagestan (https://mahachkala.bezformata.ru/listnews/sezda-v-moskve-pitayutsya-predstavit/7467669/). The heads of all the district administrations, party officials, elders’ councils, etc., reacted to the conference in the same way (www.interfax-russia.ru/South/news.asp?id=356325&sec=1672).
It is noteworthy that even some opposition figures in Dagestan who are known for criticizing the republican government expressed displeasure with the alternative conference. The deputy editor-in-chief of the Dagestani weekly Chernovik, Mairbek Agaev, stated that he viewed with skepticism the results of the conference—which, he said, did not achieve much. “There was not enough time, perhaps, not enough resources to streamline the speeches at the conference, even when fairly respected and authoritative figures from various areas [of Dagestan] spoke,” Agaev said. “By the end of the conference the organizers realized that themselves. The republican authorities, whose resignation the opposition demands, will take this into account as well. The expected ‘thunder’ effect failed to materialize after the conference” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/214893/).
However, there was an effect, and the message for the republican authorities was fairly clear: there are ways of putting pressure on them. The fact that the conference was held in Moscow provided a chance for the gathering to get into the Russian media spotlight, bypassing the Dagestani authorities’ restrictions at home.
The convention participants indicated they were opposed to the republican authorities, but not to the federal center. Thus, the opposition’s message involved a certain degree of blackmailing of the Kremlin, trying to show that it is the true alternative to the completely corrupt and clan-structured current political elite in Dagestan.
This opposition, however, is too weak to oppose both the Kremlin and Makhachkala. So it is seeking support from the federal center against the republican authorities. These tactics are not sufficient to dethrone Magomedsalam Magomedov, who is completely loyal to Moscow, so one should not think that Dagestanis would rally behind this type of opposition in the near future. So far there has been only one force that has successfully opposed the Dagestani authorities—and this is the force that is closely connected with the armed underground movement in the North Caucasus.