PROTESTORS VACATE PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE IN CHERKESSK
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 134
The October crisis in the North Caucasus republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia continues, but the authorities have managed to mitigate the problem somewhat. On November 11, when angry demonstrators took over the Government Palace, Dmitry Kozak, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, met with 50 anti-government activists who had occupied the office of President Mustafa Batdyev. These people, mostly women, are relatives of the seven Kavkaztsement factory shareholders who were killed on October 11. The protestors said that they would not leave the office until they see Batdyev sign his own letter of resignation.
Kozak arrived in Cherkessk late at night and went straight to the palace. According to Novaya gazeta sources, he met with heads of the regions and towns of the republic first, and only then entered the presidential office to meet the women. A Novaya gazeta journalist present at the meeting said that Kozak started to talk to the women in a firm, but peaceful tone. He said at once, “There would be no resignations [by the officials] and there would be actions only when we return to the sphere of law” (Novaya gazeta, November 15).
Kozak’s main goal seemed to be to persuade the people to leave the Palace without satisfying their demand: Batdyev’s resignation. Kozak initially did not want Batdyev to be present at the meeting, but he agreed to invite him because the relatives of the dead shareholders wanted to see him. According to Novaya gazeta, Kozak said that Batdyev did not want to meet the women, fearing that the demonstrators in his office would just kill him (Novaya gazeta, November 15).
When Batdyev was persuaded to come, he looked pale and seemed to be quivering. The women demanded his resignation; he did not answer and seemed almost ready to say yes. Then Kozak, probably under instructions from the Kremlin, insisted that the discussion be stopped, saying that he was categorically against this solution since “We cannot set a precedent.” This word choice demonstrated clearly the federal government’s strategy: to keep Batdyev in his seat by any means, because his resignation would set a dangerous example for other regions where people are not satisfied with local authorities and have no legal means of fighting against them. Instead of Batdyev, Kozak promised to make the republic’s prosecutor-general resign, and then only after analyzing the findings of the special investigation commission.
Tired and exhausted, the women vacated the building early in the morning of November 11, saying that they believe Kozak’s promises to guarantee an impartial investigation.
During these two days (November 10 and 11), the opposition also tried to initiate Batdyev’s resignation in the local parliament, but with no success. The majority of the parliament, people from the pro-presidential party, ignored calls to convene an emergency session (NTV).
On November 11, when the government restored its control over the center of Cherkessk, the republic’s capital, the authorities launched their counter-attack. About 3,000 policemen and troops had been brought to Cherkessk from neighboring Stavropol region (yufo.ru, November 19). They surrounded the Government Palace and stood ready to prevent the crowd from re-taking it. The authorities also tried to demonstrate that Batdyev had his own supporters. Kozak and Alexander Obukhov, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, said that if Batdyev resigned, thousands of people would take to the streets (Regnum, November 11).
On November 20, Batdyev announced that the authorities had been informed that groups of terrorists were moving to the region from Abkhazia, Chechnya, and Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge (Regnum, November 20).
Batdyev statement has again outraged the population. The leader of the relatives’ movement, Fatima Bogatyrova, the widow of parliamentary deputy Rasul Bogatyrov, said that the relatives, not al-Qaeda, were demanding Batdyev’s resignation. “We are not being manipulated by terrorists,” she declared (Kavkazky uzel, November 20).
The Prosecutor-General of Cherkessk banned a new rally by the opposition (yufo.ru, November 18). On November 20, the pro-Russian president of Chechnya, Alu Alkhanov, visited Cherkessk to meet Batdyev. He hinted to the people of Karachaevo-Cherkessia that they could have another “Chechnya” on their hands if they continue to press their political demands. During his press conference, he warned against repeating the Grozny scenario of August 1991 when Chechen separatist leaders overthrew the pro-Soviet government with the help of a crowd. “Do not repeat a mistake, made by Chechen people,” he warned (Regnum, November 20).
On November 21 there were funerals for the murdered shareholders, whose bodies had finally been located in a mine near the village of Kymish (yufo.ru, November 21). However, the crisis is far from resolved. When the mourning period ends, the relatives and the opposition most likely will return to their political demands.