The scandal over the brutal dispersal of a lawful protest in the Dagestani capital city of Makhachkala on October 3 is growing. On October 10, the organizers of the protest held a demonstration to complain about violations of their rights by the police. Some witnesses reported that the police used electric shockers against the peaceful demonstrators. Of the estimated 500 people who participated in the October 3 protest, 28 were arrested, six of whom were fined and released that same day, while 22 were held until October 4. In addition, the police reportedly did not follow the proper legal procedures when making the arrests (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 11).
The authorities initially did not mind the protest going ahead. However, due to an unexpected visit by Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev on October 3, the Dagestani government may have decided to prevent the protesters from entering Makhachkala’s central square. It remains unknown whether Nurgaliev ordered the police to disperse the protesters or the local police forces acted on their own (http://nr2.ru, October 4). Either way, the incident cast a bad light on the Russian federal authorities, since they were present in Makhachkala at the time of the crackdown on the protestors.
The police attacked the protesters despite the fact they were rallying against corruption, essentially supporting the Russian government’s propaganda campaign about rooting out corrupt officials. President Dmitry Medvedev has tried to make fighting corruption one of his main political traits. The way the demonstrators in Makhachkala were treated undermined once again the Kremlin’s seriousness about combating corruption. Dagestan’s justice ministry devised its own remedy against corruption, publishing an anti-corruption plan for the period of 2012-2014. The plan envisages spending $100,000 a year to power its relentless struggle against corruption in the republic (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 10).
In the North Caucasus, the government’s dismissive attitude towards pressing public issues has perhaps more profound implications than elsewhere in Russia. “We have shown that people do not go to the forests [i.e. join the insurgents] for nothing,” said Kazikhan Kurbanov, deputy head of the Tabasaran district anti-corruption committee. “They go there because they do not see any other way for themselves. The government does not want to talk to the people; it does not care about the people. People are tired of this lawlessness. To win a victory over terrorism, we first need to win a victory over corruption” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 11).
In the meantime, the security situation in Dagestan remains tense. On October 11, an off-duty policeman and two of his companions were attacked in Makhachkala as they were getting into their car. One of the policeman’s companions died in the attack, while the policeman himself and his other companion were hospitalized with injuries (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 11). That same day, October 11, unknown assailants gunned down a policeman in his car in northern Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district (www.riadagestan.ru, October 11).
The increasingly legalistic approach of ordinary Dagestanis to pressing political issues is not limited to protest actions. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has accepted a lawsuit by Makhachkala resident Shamil Sheikhov against Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the notorious leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and member of the Russian parliament. Zhirinovsky is known for regular verbal attacks against North Caucasians and Sheikhov is suing him for an article published in 2010 in which he lashed out at Dagestanis and other North Caucasians. “Those who originate from the North Caucasus do not want to work, because they never worked,” Zhirinovsky wrote in the article. “They always were fighters. This was the case with them 100 years ago, 200 years ago and 300 years ago. A machine-gun for them is like a pen, like a brush to an artist, a theater stage to an actor.” The Dagestani plaintiff lost all his appeals in Moscow courts, which qualified him for an appeal in Strasbourg (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 8).
While it is unlikely the European Court of Human Rights will award Sheikhov the $3 million he is seeking lawsuit by way of compensation in his defamation, if he wins the case it will set an important precedent in Russian politics. For the first time a foreign court could censure a top Russian official, given that Zhirinovsky is a deputy speaker of the Russian parliament.
Dagestan is currently experiencing two conflicting trends. While violence in the republic seems to remain at high levels, non-violent approaches to resolving conflicts, such as lawsuits and peaceful public protests, are increasingly being employed. However, this seemingly positive development for both Dagestanis and the Kremlin may be inconsequential given the dysfunctional state of the Russian legal system, especially when it comes to even slightly politicized issues like ethnic relations in the Russian Federation. Thus, the feeble court system in Russia, which manifestly depends on the whims of politicians, circumstantially contributes to perpetuating violence in the North Caucasus.