Russian Government and Public View North Caucasians With Suspicion

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 50

On March 10, the independent union of the Dagestani police and prosecutors petitioned President Dmitry Medvedev, asking him to dismiss the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin. The union members accused Bastrykin of inciting ethnic hatred and undermining basic human rights as described by the Russian constitution and laws. In particular, the authors of the petition referred to Bastrykin’s controversial proposal to fingerprint all inhabitants of the North Caucasus to improve fighting crime in the region, which he made at a meeting of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s office in Moscow on March 4 (EDM, March 5). His petitioned stated that Bastrykin had “developed behavioral and psychological patterns which equate certain ethnic groups of the population (indigenous peoples of the Northern Caucasus) with “bad people, like criminals, terrorists and extremists” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, March 10).

Apart from fingerprinting the North Caucasians, Bastrykin also proposed to take DNA samples, reregister all vehicles in the region to fight car theft and set up a rigorous patrolling network using interior ministry troops (RIA Novosti, March 4).

Heavily dependent on Moscow’s benevolence, Kremlin-selected leaders of the North Caucasus republics normally approve of all proposals from Moscow with alacrity. This time, however, only the president of Ingushetia, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, succumbed to Bastrykin’s menacing proposal about fingerprinting (RIA Novosti, March 4). This may be another indicator of Yevkurov’s low political savvy and complete dependence on Moscow.

Even those forces in the North Caucasus that are utterly loyal to Moscow reacted with an uproar upon hearing the discriminatory proposal. Rights activists, and even well-known Russian statesmen like the head of the Russian State Duma’s committee for legislation, Pavel Krasheninnikov, criticized Bastrykin. As a result, the Investigative Committee’s spokesman, Vladimir Markin, was forced to retract his boss’s statement the next day by saying that he meant fingerprinting not only the North Caucasians, but all Russians (Kommersant, March 5).

Despite the fact that Bastrykin’s idea was an immediate fiasco, the problem of distrust toward the North Caucasus appears to be deeply rooted in Russia. Having polled its audience, the well-known liberal Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy found that 57 percent of its listeners, who are among the most democratic-oriented people in the country, approved the idea of fingerprinting people from the North Caucasus (http://www.echo.msk.ru/polls/661419-echo/result.html, March 5). Some restrictions have in practice been imposed on the North Caucasus. The newspaper Kommersant recalled that since January 2009, all flights arriving from the North Caucasus undergo special security checks at Moscow airports (Kommersant, March 8).

The heads of Russian law enforcement agencies harshly criticized their colleagues in the North Caucasus at a special meeting of the interior ministry, Federal Security Service (FSB), Prosecutor-General’s office and the Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics (FSKN) on February 25. Russian Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika said that a third of all criminal cases in the North Caucasus were suspended, and that the rate of suspensions was 40 percent in Ingushetia and up to two-thirds in Chechnya up to two thirds. According to Chaika, especially grave crimes were often attributed to dead militants and were subsequently closed down. The prosecutor-general also noted that the number of crimes committed with the use of arms increased by 92 percent in Ingushetia, by 65 percent in Dagestan and by 43 percent in Karachaevo-Cherkessia last year (Kommersant, February 26).

Russians’ and North Caucasians’ differing understanding of historical facts also continues to create waves of discontent in the region and contributes to the rifts between them.

Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhadzhiev, condemned the authors of the new Russian encyclopedia that in its entry on Chechnya, he said, “gathered all negative stereotypes about the Chechens that have ever appeared in print since the times of the tsarist colonization.” Nukhadzhiev asked Russia’s prosecutor-general to launch a criminal investigation into the case and confiscate volume 58 of the encyclopedia, which includes the entry about the Chechens (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, March 10).

Even events dating back to the Russian conquest of the North Caucasus in the nineteenth century and related symbolism are still hotly contested. In October 2008, the city of Mineralnye Vody (Mineral Waters), which is located in the Russian-speaking Stavropol region bordering Chechnya, erected a monument to commemorate the nineteenth century Russian general Aleksei Yermolov. After the monument was put up, the press minister in Chechnya’s pro-Moscow government, Shamsail Saraliev, lodged a protest, saying the move showed “disrespect for the Caucasian people, who endured Yermolov’s genocidal policies” (www.rosbalt.ru, October 20, 2008).

Mineralnye Vody is located within a few miles of Pyatigorsk, which in January was designated by the Russian government as the seat of the presidential envoy in the newly created North Caucasian Federal District. Meanwhile, there is also a monument to Yermolov in the city of Stavropol, which is the principal city of the Stavropol region, to which both Pyatigorsk and Mineralnye Vody belong. Yet another monument to Yermolov in Grozny was blown up and vandalized on numerous occasions, presumably by Chechens.

As commander-in-chief of the Russian army in the Caucasus, Aleksei Yermolov was known for his brutal and merciless tactics in suppressing the resistance of the Caucasian peoples during the Russo-Caucasian war in the nineteenth century. It is remarkable that Yermolov, who was a hero of the Napoleonic wars and other Russian military campaigns, is mainly remembered by the Russian communities in the North Caucasus and adjacent territories for suppressing the North Caucasus. It indicates how pervasive the traditional Russian reliance on cruelty and terror in the North Caucasus is, and how it has survived through many historical turns.

The collision between ethnic Russians and ethnic Chechens, Avars and others over the view of the past certainly remains a factor in politics, inhibiting the present with additional strife.