Authorities in the north Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria have responded decisively to last weekend’s declaration of a sovereign Republic of Balkaria. Criminal proceedings have been launched against the organizers of the Congress of the Balkar People, which proclaimed the new republic on November 17. In a televised appearance, the president of Kabardino-Balkaria, Valery Kokov, vowed to use "all legal means" to fight separatism and prevent the destabilization of the republic. (Interfax, RTR, November 17-18)
This is the Balkars’ third attempt to create an independent republic. The Balkars and the Kabardins are both indigenous to the northern Caucasus, but they are not related to one another culturally or linguistically. The Balkars make up less than 10 percent of the population of Kabardino-Balkaria. They live in the mountainous territory in the south of the republic and have long complained of discrimination. The Kabardins, who make up 40 percent of the population, live mainly in the northern plain and foothill regions. The Soviet government laid a time-bomb in 1922, when it created two bordering republics of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Neither the Balkars, who are closely related to the Karachais, nor the Kabardins, who are closely related to the Cherkess, were happy with this territorial arrangement. The situation was exacerbated when, in 1944, the Balkars and the Karachais, together with the Chechens and the Ingush, were deported by Stalin. In the 1980s several congresses of the Balkar and Karachai peoples adopted resolutions calling for the creation of their own national republics.
Kabardino-Balkaria is separated from Chechnya by only a few dozen kilometers of North Ossetian territory. If, moreover, there are disturbances in Kabardino-Balkaria, there is a danger that the situation in Karachaevo-Cherkessia will also be destabilized. Professor Musu Shanibov, a member of the Kabardin People’s Congress’ executive committee, told the Monitor that "after the end of military operations in Chechnya, strange things have begun to happen. First, the situation was destabilized in Dagestan, and after that, in Kabardino-Balkaria. A belt of instability is being created around Chechnya. This is especially inspired from the Center [i.e., Moscow]. The ‘party of war’ is not interested in peace coming to the Northern Caucasus." There are reasons, however, to doubt whether the majority of the Balkars living in Kabardino-Balkaria support the call of last weekend’s Congress for independence. Ideally, perhaps, the Balkars would like their own state, but in the past the majority of the Balkars have not supported calls to split the republic.
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