On March 10, Russian President Boris Yeltsin will meet with clan elders from the North Caucasus. Yeltsin says the meeting will not be "merely ceremonial" and that he intends to have "a frank discussion about the problems of the region." Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has ruled, however, that Chechen elders will not take part in the meeting. Maskhadov’s press service explained the decision by saying that, first, the institution of elders does not exist in Chechnya and, second, it is the president’s job to conduct negotiations with leaders of foreign countries. (NTV, March 6)
Maskhadov may resent Yeltsin’s decision to discuss relations between Moscow and Grozny in this forum, but he may also doubt the effectiveness of bringing the elders into politics. The Kremlin aides who initiated this meeting apparently think it is the elders who determine the political preferences of the region’s largest clans. Today, however, the institution of elders has become an ethnographic anachronism. Elders no longer have a significant influence on the political situation. Those with influence in Chechnya are relatively young: Shamil Basaev and Salman Raduev are both under thirty-five. In other North Caucasus republics, the old political elite left over from Soviet times is coming under challenge from criminal bosses — most of them, too, relatively young people — who entered politics during the perestroika period of the late 1980s. In these circumstances, Yeltsin’s upcoming meeting with the elders seems unlikely to bring real results.
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