Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s Unpopular Governor Says Popular Elections Unnecessary

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 116

Rashid Temrezov, head of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On May 28, the Caucasustimes.com website published the results of the survey in Karachaevo-Cherkessia that was conducted earlier in April. The poll revealed highly critical attitudes towards the regional and national authorities. Eighty-six percent of those polled agreed with the statement that socio-economic issues were the most alarming, especially citing corruption and youth unemployment, while 69 percent expressed concern about security issues such as terrorism and crime. The responses were surprising for a republic that has not been known as a hotbed of insurgency in the North Caucasus. In addition, 65 percent skeptically viewed the return of gubernatorial elections in the regions, while 56 percent of the respondents negatively assessed Moscow’s policies in the North Caucasus and only 23 percent assessed them positively. Interestingly, more respondents approved the policies of the national authorities than those of the republican authorities, and 68 percent disapproved of the leadership of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (https://caucasustimes.com/article.asp?language=2&id=21147).

No wonder the head of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Rashid Temrezov, stated that he was in favor of abolishing elections in his republic. Temrezov made the statement just days after President Vladimir Putin signed the law allowing Russian regions to decide whether they want to hold elections or have Moscow appoint their governors. The head of Karachaevo-Cherkessia specifically cited ethnic diversity of the republic, which he said had nearly led to “serious clashes” during the 1999 presidential elections. “We should not hold onto elections as a panacea,” Temrezov told the newspaper Kommersant (https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2165076).

Rashid Temrezov, 37, is one of the youngest regional governors in the Russian Federation. He insists that his openness to the public and willingness to engage in direct dialogue with businesses have resulted in a thriving republican economy and a stable political situation (https://www.kchr.ru/news/detailed/7605/). The latest poll results, of course, undermine this optimistic depiction of the situation in the republic. Temrezov is widely perceived as a man of the former president of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Mustafa Batdyev (2003–2008), whose son-in-law was implicated in mass killings in 2004. Temrezov’s immediate predecessor, Boris Ebzeyev, resigned from his position in 2011 before the end of his first term, reportedly for failing to control the republic.

Karachaevo-Cherkessia has a population of just under a half million, but it is one of the most ethnically diverse republics of the North Caucasus. The largest ethnicity, the Turkic-speaking Karachays, occupy commanding positions in the republic, comprising about 41 percent of the total population. Ethnic Russians currently make up 31 percent of the population in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, the largest proportion of ethnic Russians among all the republics of the North Caucasus except for Adygea, where Russians are a majority of the population. In comparison, according to the 1959 census, ethnic Russians once made up 51 percent of Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s population while ethnic Karachays were a mere 24 percent (https://demoscope.ru/weekly/ssp/rus_nac_59.php?reg=12). The 1959 census probably reflected the skewed ethnic picture in the republic after ethnic Karachays were deported to Central Asia in 1943 by Stalin’s government for alleged collaboration with the Germans, and were allowed to return to their homeland only in 1957 (see EDM, April 20, 2011). The large ethnic Russian population of contemporary Karachaevo-Cherkessia is also explained by the fact that until 1990, it was part of the larger, neighboring ethnic Russian region of Stavropol.

On June 13, Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s parliament voted for a legislative proposal to criminalize denial or justification of “genocide.” The proposal was designed to defend the interests of ethnic Karachays, as a people who were deported to Central Asia by the Soviet government in 1940s but are still grappling with the consequences of the deportation. According to legislative procedure, the proposal should go to the Russian State Duma, where it will be accepted for consideration or rejected (https://??????.??/news/kavkaz/1671188.html). Even though the initial objective of the authors is very limited, it will certainly apply to other cases, such as the deportation of the Chechens, Ingush, Balkars and a number of others. Ethnic Circassians may also benefit from the new legislation as they press ahead with demands for the recognition of the Circassian “genocide” at the hands of the Russian Empire. Russian legislators are unlikely to adopt the amendments to the Russian Criminal Code, which will probably create some friction between the republic and Moscow.

Karachaevo-Cherkessia is set to benefit from the project to build ski resorts in the North Caucasus, but with some important caveats. While the grandiose plans for the construction of world-class ski resorts across the North Caucasus have gradually subsided, Karachaevo-Cherkessia has seen some successes in this regard. The reason for the relative success of the tourist industry in the republic is simple: tourism infrastructure in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, on Mount Elbrus’ western slopes, dates back to the Soviet period. Also, unlike the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria, the mountainous areas of Karachaevo-Cherkessia are not plagued by ethnic rivalries, and the situation in the republic is relatively calm. The planned Arkhyz resort, which is to be built in the mountains of the republic, will consist of four villages that can accommodate 30,000 tourists at a time. It will also have 63 ski lifts and 264 ski slopes of varying degrees of difficulty. Arkhyz will be able to host 500,000 visitors per year. The reality, however, looks far simpler. The Northern Caucasus Resorts Company recently hailed the construction of two hotels in the Arkhyz area with a joint capacity of 102 rooms (https://www.ncrc.ru/ru/news/gostinicy-arhyza-gotovyatsya-prinyat-pervyh-turistov-v-seredine-leta).

Earlier, on April 26, the Russian Ministry for Regional Development put the Northern Caucasus Resort Company in charge of the management of the special economic zones in the tourist areas in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and North Ossetia. The Northern Caucasus Resort Company received management rights over land and property not only belonging to the national government, but also to the local municipal authorities (https://www.ncrc.ru/ru/news/minekonomrazvitiya-rf-peredalo-v-upravlenie-oao-ksk-zemli-oez-v-karachaevo-cherkesii-i-severnoy). As the central government has barred regional management of large swaths of land, it is likely that conflict will increase, since the regions will seek some form of rent from what increasingly resembles a Russian tourist monopoly.

The results of the polling among the population of Karachaevo-Cherkessia suggest that there is a significant discrepancy between the official view of the situation and the view of the public. The differences show that despite the outwardly calm situation in this republic, there is still the potential for a rise in instability because a vast majority of the population is dissatisfied with the socio-economic conditions in the republic. Public discontent is accompanied by political gridlock because the government seems poised to reject popular elections for the region’s governor.