A referendum which Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev called for February 28 may not take place. Boris Yeltsin has declared a decree Aushev signed invalid. The decree would have asked the inhabitants of Ingushetia to express their view on the idea of transferring the power of federal courts and law enforcement agencies in the republic to the Ingushetian authorities. The plebiscite was supposed to take place last week, but was postponed while its legality was determined. A Russian Justice Ministry analysis of Aushev’s decree found that the plans of the Ingushetian authorities violated not only the Russian constitution, but also the federal law “On the basic guarantees of the rights of voters and right to participate in a referendum for citizens of the Russian Federation.” The justice ministry decided not to take the issue to court, but to appeal to the Russian president as the guarantor of the Russian constitution. Yeltsin canceled Aushev’s decree (RTR, February 8; Izvestia, February 9). Aushev is trying to initiate a judicial conflict with Moscow in both the “military-political” and ethnographic spheres, basing it on the need to consider the special nature of national jurisprudence in Ingushetia, in particular the phenomena of vendettas and the rite of kidnapping brides. At the end of December Ingushetia’s religious leadership established a single price for bride prices–2000 rubles, around US$100 (Izvestia, February 9). If Aushev’s initiative will be put into practice, it will create a dangerous precedent, inasmuch as it will lead other Muslim republics in the North Caucasus to demand special considerations for local legal practices. Sharia courts, for example, are today functioning unofficially throughout the region. This could lead to legalizing what are essentially medieval systems in a majority of the North Caucasian republics, and mean that these republics will sooner or later slip out from under Russia’s judicial control, as has already happened, de facto, in Chechnya.
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