Islam, oil and blood/the Chechen issue – between myths and reality

Author: Alexandar Todorov

Publishing house: “Kama”, Sofia 2003

Even the most superficial analysis of problems in the Caucasus generates much more questions, rather than providing answers. Why should Chechnya, which possesses much more autonomy than, say, the Land of Basques, serve so often as an illustrating example for the unchanging nature of the Russian “imperial” policy towards the Caucasus, while nobody blames France (for its attitude towards Corsicans and Bretons, which have no autonomy) for similar sins? To what extent is the conflict in Chechnya due to the “natural aspiration for national liberation” of the Chechen people and to what extent does it pertain to the geopolitical strategies of certain outside forces, interested in strengthening their positions in the region after the collapse of the Soviet empire? What is the genesis of the allegedly centuries long juxtaposition between the Chechens and Moscow and is the implementation of a sustainable modus vivendi between them possible? Does a Chechen nation exist and what are the parameters of the principle for the right of each and every people to determine themselves their form of government in the case of North Caucasus ethnic groups? What is the role of radical Islam in the two Chechen wars and to what extent do the Russian operations against the Chechen separationists pertain to the war on terrorism, proclaimed by the international community after September 11th? Could it be that the presidential elections, held in October 2003 in Chechnya and won by Moscow-supported Ahmad Kadyrov, mark a turning point in the attempts for finding a lasting solution of the Chechen problem, or we witness once again the calm that precedes the storm?

These are only some of the questions, which the Bulgarian politologist Alexandar Todorov attempts to answer in his book, published in December 2003 in Sofia. Starting with a brief review of the background of the Chechen issue, the author states that among the major reasons for the long-lasting conflict between the Chechen ethnos and the Russian state are: the differences in terms of values and ideology between the concepts, values and way of life of the Chechens and the values, which Russia tries to impose in the Caucasus, and which generally coincide with the European ones; the dissatisfaction the ethno-political and other ambitions, relevant to their former status, of some Chechens, who are deprived by Moscow of the chance to enrich themselves by means of plunders and wars with neighbouring clans and tribes; the anti-Russian identification of several generations of Chechens, who identify themselves not with the Russian state, history and culture, but rather with their own “great” ancestors and contemporaries – the leaders of opposition against Moscow (such as Sheikh Masur, Imam Shamil, Djohar Dudaev, etc.); the social-status contradictions, related to the discontent of the anti-Russian part of Chechen elite (the clans and religious communities of the “tariqats”, who dominate in the mountainous region of Chechnya) due to their removal from authority mechanisms in the Soviet period; as well as the discontent of a no small number of ordinary Chechens due to the impossibility to become “hegemony people” in the Caucasus even while the region remains within the boundaries of Russia.

Indicating that the Russian colonization of the Caucasus, which started with General Ermolov (i.e. the beginning of 19th century), was to a large extent a reaction to the repetitious raids of Chechen clans against prospering settlements in the North Caucasian plains and the transformation of the whole region into an enormous slave market with an annual turn-over of 1500 – 5000 people, the author follows the developments in the Chechen issue in 19th and 20th centuries, analyzing both the mistakes of Russian (and Soviet) administration and the successful measures taken, which enhanced the partial integration of Chechens into the Russian political, economic and cultural space. Special attention is given to the abrupt aggravation of the Chechen issue in the beginning of the 90ies in the 20th century, as well as to the role in this respect of the economic and demographic processes under way in the republic at that time; the establishment of a significantly large “grey economy” and the related to it organized crime. The author analyzes the inadequate and highly contradictory Moscow-led policy on Chechnya since the beginning of the 90ies, which made possible the actual coup d’etat , performed by Dudaev; the consequent disarmament of the separationists; the ethnic purges, in result of which 250 thousand people (predominantly Russians) where evicted from the republic; the gradual adoption of militant radical Islamism by the regime and the transformation of Chechnya into a center of aggression and terrorism.

In this respect, special attention is given to the detailed analysis of the relations between traditional Muslim institutions and the penetrating in Chechnya radical politicized Islam, which is mainly represented under the form of “Wahabism”. Its spreading is enhanced not only by the evident weakening of traditional Islam during Soviet times and the dissolution in the beginning of the 90ies of the common Spiritual governing of the Muslims in the North Caucasus, but also by the position, adopted by the new Chechen authorities. The lighting-like spreading of Wahabism was made possible because the circle around Dudaev openly declares that it wishes to establish an Islamic state, which needs a common “state” ideology. Such an ideology they find in Wahabism, which is related to the hopes Chechen independency would be supported by the rich Arab states, where this form of Islam is predominant (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE); by the veteran Wahabits, who survived the hell in Afghanistan; and the conviction that the imposing of the “strict”, “initial” Islam would iron down the inter-clan and religious discords not only inside the republic but the whole of the North Caucasus. In addition, Wahabism attracts part of the population and mainly the religiously-minded young Chechens, i.e. the people who not only seek in religion the answers to the most important questions of existence, but who have the burning desire immediately to proceed with the reformation of society in compliance with their ideas. The peculiar “rationalism” of Wahabism allows its preachers to overcome the elitarity and esoteric nature of the Sufi Islam, which is traditional for the Caucasus, and liberate it from mystics, superstitions and patriarchal traditions, which are being denounced by the contemporary mind. Quite naturally, the thus achieved personal freedom in actual fact proves to be rather relative and fictional, because the discipline of Wahabi “jamaat” restricts it no less than family or clan traditions.

Analyzing the process of gradual “wahabization” of Chechnya, the author points out that in the circumstances of North-East Caucasus it is by no means accidental that the Wahabites claim that their worst enemies (apart from the Russians) ate the representatives of the traditional for this regions Sufi Islam, thus turning the republic into a based for aggression against the neighbouring, Muslim-populated regions. On their turn, it is the representatives of the traditional Islam who are the first to pay attention to the dangerous spreading of radical Islam in Russia. The spiritual leaders of Chechnya and Daghestan, as well as of the whole North Caucasus, appeals to the federal and republican authorities to cooperate in stopping the activity of both foreign preachers, who spread Salafism and form “Wahabi enclaves” in the region, and of their local supporters. It is precisely on this basis that after President Putin steps into power the union of Moscow with traditional Islam was established, which made it possible to end successfully the Second Chechen War and to have quite practically-viable chances for finding a solution of the extremely complicated Chechen issue. In any case, the development of the crisis in the Caucasus in the last ten years makes it possible to draw certain conclusions as to the phenomenon of radical Islam. First, it is clear that any attempt to politicize Islam (even the traditional one) or using it for the recognition of a particular ethnic identity, bears the enormous risk of its becoming radical and of the imposing of one or other fundamentalist tendency. Second, traditional Islam has undoubtedly lagged behind the changes within the Muslim community and without being modernized, as well as without receiving the indirect support of the state, it is doomed in the battle with Islamism, which in its turn provides certain answers, though faulty but still answers, to the questions asked by contemporary Muslims. Thirdly, purposeful preventive actions on the part of the state bodies are necessary to hinder the infiltration of Islamism, all the more that behind the activity of islamists there always are certain foreign political-economic and geopolitical interests. Not to mention that Islamism often cooperates closely with the structures of international organized crime. It is clear that within the international struggle against terrorism and the opposition against extremist politicized Islam it is necessary to implement actual cooperation with those Muslim states, the secular governments of which are the first objects of powerful attacks by the islamists. Furthermore, it is necessary not only to identify but also to isolate those regimes, which provide funding and support an all possible ways fundamental Islam. In this respect, the book gives special attention to the geopolitical dimensions of Chechen crisis. It is a well-known fact that the Caucasus is a traditional sphere of geopolitical conflict of Russian and Western (initially those of Great Britain, later those of the USA as well) strategic interests. After oil acquired special importance in the 20th century, being the driving force of industrial civilization, the key role of the Caucasus became even more important, due to its proximity to the rich in energy resources Caspian region, the oil reserves of which are lesser only in comparison with those of Saudi Arabia. Within the geopolitical competition between Russia and the West (the USA) are formulated the aims of the players in the so called “Great Game” in respect to the Caucasian region. Moscow strives to strengthen the centripetal tendencies and to retain the Caucasian space under its own strategic control, as well as to establish a sustainable structure, which would continue to conduct the geopolitical traditions of Tsarist and Soviet Russia and by means of a sufficiently flexible control system and multi-factor methodology to preserve and widen its influence and strategic presence. The West, on the contrary, strives to “liberate” the Caucasus from the influence of Moscow and, disrupting the established geopolitical balance, to re-constitute the Caucasian territory in a self-beneficent manner. What is specific about new version of the “Great Game” (which began after the collapse of the USSR), which differs significantly from the former competition between the Russian and the British empires for control over Central Asia and the Caucasus, is that from the very beginning there is a third “player” from the East, in result of which the very game transforms more and more into a trilateral clash. This “third force” form the East is the Wahabism, behind which stay the interests of the Saudi oil elite. In this new “Great Game” it is the Caucasus that proves to be the key to Caspian oil and the threat for the Arab “oil weapon” respectively, which has repeatedly and successfully been used against the West and against the former USSR as well. Therefore, while the West and Russia strive to achieve control over the oil traffic from the Caspian region view the Caucasus, the aim of the “third player” is the stopping (be it fully or partially) of this traffic, which would by all means increase the importance of the Arab oil wells and the worldwide role of Saudi Arabia respectively. Analyzing the various turns and major stages in the geopolitical “Great Game” in the Caucasus, the author convincingly demonstrates the way in which the winner in the first stage of the “game” becomes Saudi Arabia, the symbol of which are the cut down heads of the British oil engineers, exhibited at the central square of a Wahabite-controlled settlement, as well as the attack of islamists against neighbouring Daghestan, which provoked the beginning of the Second Chechen War in 1999. Thus, the Wahabites managed to accomplish their aim, which was the reason why their Saudi protectors sent them to Chechnya and funded their stay there – to eliminate the Chechen oil complex and to hinder to the maximum extent the export of Caspian oil during the larger part of the 90ies in the 20th century.

Of course, in spite of these partial successes, the Saudis do not manage to win completely the “Great Game” over the Caucasus, nor to eliminate totally their Russian and Western competitors. When President Putin steps into power, Russia assumes a much more determined and adequate to the current circumstances policy on Chechnya. Thus, while the federal forces deliver a serious blow to the islamist detachments, Moscow manages to turn the opponents of Wahabism within Chechnya into its ally, thus changing radically the very nature of the conflict and further isolating the extremists. On the other hand, the essentially new situation in the world after September 11th 2001; the war on international terrorism, declared by the USA, and the established strategic union between Moscow and Washington led to a very serous change in the balance of power in the Caucasian region, where recently two of the “players” in the new Great Game – namely, the West (including the USA) and Russia have practically teamed up against the third on (the East, i.e. Saudi Arabia). Key role for this change in the situation in the region played the successful construction of the oil pipeline between Tengiz and Novorossiysk, which goes entirely through Russian territory, bypassing Chechnya. An indirect confirmation of this was the visit of the Saudi heir to the throne, Crown Prince Abdullah, in Moscow in September 2003, as well as the presence of a Saudi delegation at the ceremony for stepping into power of the Moscow-supported new Chechen President, Ahmad Kadyrov.

Closely related to the geopolitical aspects of the Chechen crisis is the issue of foreign interference with the conflict in North Caucasus. It is a well-known fact that from the very onset of his political career Djohar Dudaev has been counseled by several representatives of the radical, anti-Russian nationalistic circles form the former Soviet republics in the Trans-Caucasus, the Ukraine and the Baltic regions, who in practice formulated his first programme for the building of an independent Chechen state. At the same time, immediately after the withdrawal of Russian troops from Afghanistan in 1989 and the final fall down of bans on religious propaganda in the course of Gorbachev-conducted “perestroika”, in Chechnya appeared the first Islamic preachers from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan and other countries and several dozens of Chechen veterans, who fought in Afghanistan on the side of the Mujahideen, return to the republic accompanied by “colleagues” – citizens of various Muslims, mostly Arab countries. It is under the disguise of charitable Muslims foundations that representatives of the infamous “Muslim Brothers Association” penetrate in Chechnya. Later, the country becomes the seat of one of the governing bodies of the Association – the so called “Special organization”, dealing with military diversion and intelligence operations. Through it the Chechen Islamists establish a direct contact with the network of Bin Laden – Al-Qaida. With the help of “Muslim brothers” the Chechen separationists establish close contacts with islamists organizations , mostly related to and funded by Saudi Arabia and acting in Russia, the Trans-Caucasus, the Ukraine, Middle Asia, Turkey and a number of European countries (among which are Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and France). Serious financial support to Dudaev’s regime was provided by the large and influential Chechen communities in Turkey and Jordan. Apart from financial support, the established contacts were used for the recruiting of mercenaries as well as for the provision of additional arms deliveries from abroad. The western sources point that among the mercenaries, who fought on the side of the separationists in the two Chechen wars there were citizens of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Qatar, Kuwait, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, the Ukraine, Algiers and Morocco, as well as fighters from Bosnia, Albanians from Kosovo Liberation Army and even Afro-Americans with US passports. The recruiting of mercenaries was done by a great number of “public organizations”, acting in the Near East, Europe and even the USA (among them are the German Committee of Caucasian-Chechen solidarity, the Chechnya Support Committee in Paris, the Chechen Information Center in Krakow and the American International Charity Foundation, which is directly related to Al-Qaida). On their turn, the Israeli intelligence services claim that in the recruiting and transfer of mercenaries were involved the Service for general intelligence of Saudi Arabia and the Inter-ministerial intelligence service of Pakistan, while the actual transfer of the mercenaries into Chechnya was implemented along three main routes.

Special attention in this analysis is given to the close contacts between the separationists in Grozny and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, as well as with Al-Qaida. Thus, at the first half of the 90ies the Chechen “terrorist No 1” Shamil Basaev underwent military training in Bin Laden’s bases on Afghan territory, where he met the future leader of foreign mercenaries in the Caucasus – the Jordanian Hatab. According to Western experts one of the aims of the Taliban regime and Al-Qaida was the provision of comprehensive support to the radical Muslim movements in the Near and Middle East, which would consolidate their own authority and seize new positions in the Islam world. On their turn, the Chechen separationists estimated highly the acknowledgement of independent Ichkeria by the Taliban government and on this basis in the second half of the 90ies Grozny and Kabul established extremely close and friendly relations, which enhanced the transformation of the rebellious republic into one of the key bases of Al-Qaida in the war with the “infidels”.

Ultimately, in spite of the fact that in the course of the Second Chechen War the Russian army managed to destroy considerable numbers of the foreign mercenaries in Chechnya (many of which were transferred to Palestine), the consequences of their presence in the region are still felt even today. In the country, destroyed by continuous military actions and in which all traditional social values are under threat, Hatab and his cooperators managed to infect with the virus of radical Islamism the young Chechen generation, who consider it as reference point and justification for their actions. This is the reason why there were almost no suicide bombers in the First Chechen War, while in the Second one they made their presence felt and today are the last hope of separationists to change the course of events in their own favour. The credit for the transformation of radical Islam into a mighty factor, making even the struggle for independence recede into the background, goes entirely to the foreign intervention in Chechnya.

The two Chechen wars, as well as the attempts to explain the Chechen phenomenon, have given birth to quite a number of myths and stereotypes, the acknowledgement of which in actual fact helps aggravate the problems in the North Caucasus. One of the leading approaches as to explanation of the events in Chechnya is the so-called “civilizational-ethnographic romanticism”, prone to which are a lot of scientists (including Russian ones) and politicians. Its underlying notion is generally either the concept for the clash between the Islamic and Christian civilizations, launched some time ago by Huntington, or the concept for the incompatibility of differing ethnic systems and the inability of Russian politicians to perceive “the particular specifics of Chechen society”. The Chechen crisis generates and re-invents a rich range of pseudo-scientific mythology of the history and contemporary nature of the people. By means of academic and literary-publicist texts, it is gradually implanted in the perceptions of the public, including in those of the Chechens themselves. One of these prevailing myths is the legend for the extraordinary and deeply inherent love for freedom and nobleness of the Chechen people, which it allegedly demonstrates throughout its whole history and especially during the two-century long struggle against “Russian colonialism”. Thus, the works of the Russian and Western “academic romantics” (such as Arutiunov, Chesnov, Lieven or De Vaal) are sprinkled with the thesis that “no mountain man can live without a weapon”, for “war, being part of the national Chechen culture”, or for the lack of the tradition in submission to official authority and written law as well as for the decisive role of clan leaders in the Chechen community. Another, persistently implanted myth is the one, concerning the allegedly “extraordinary antique origin” of the Chechen people, on the basis of which Djohar Dudaev formulated his concept that the Chechens, “being the most ancient people in the Caucasus” are called upon to play the role of the leader in the region. The truth, though, is that the similarities between the Chechens and the rest of the population of Russia are greater than the dissimilarities between them and this unity of value orientation, individual strategies and even cultural behaviour was in place both before and after the conflict started. No matter how paradoxical it may seem, it is not the Chechens (with the “help” of the Russian army) that gave rise to the bitter conflict on the territory of the republic, but the war built up that image and role of Chechens, which have been presented to the outside world (for which until recently Chechnya was a completely unknown name) in the last few years.

The reification of the “Chechens” took place in the specific circumstances of conflict and radical social transformations, pertaining to the era of Gorbachev and Eltsin. What is more, this reification acquired an extremely dramatic and mythologized form, construed on the basis of the available historical-ethnographic material (which more often than not is not quite reliable), of literary and para-scientific fictions and openly politicized ideological postulates. Thus, “the appurtenance to the Chechen nation” grows into more than just primordial identity –it becomes a specific role, based on a number of elements: open ultra-nationalistic “narcissism”, the inferiority complex of the victimized people and the Chechen concept for being the chosen people who are “the grave-diggers of empires”, “liberators of the Caucasus”, and “the vanguard of authentic Islam”. Construed under the circumstances of conflict and global outside influences, the “Chechen identity” as a cultural image destroys all those aspects, which (though absolutely real) cannot be brought into unison with such an ethnographic construction, elaborated in such a semi-artificial way. Thus, at a certain point this Chechen reality, totally eroded by ideology, was “complemented” initially by militant appeals at square demonstrations and later on – by an actual war. The responsibility thereof is of those circles, which my means of superficial historicism and cultural fundamentalism, managed to transform an otherwise absolutely normal nation (the Chechen one) into some “pre-modern nation” and “society of military democracy with an unique soldierly morale”, imposing this image to the world and depriving the very Chechens from the chance to implement in a peaceful way the necessary social changes, which would ensure their prosperity and security.

In fact, the actual reasons for the collapse of Chechen independency and the consequent chaos in the war-devastated society are related not to ethnography or history, but to contemporary factors. Firstly, too large a number of Chechens have been exposed to the ultra-nationalistic ideology, rendered even more influential by the romantics and logics of armed struggle, and to the “great victory” of 1996. The pseudo-heroic mythology played brilliantly its role in the First Chechen War, but proved helpless in the course of the efforts for post-war re-establishment of the country and utterly useless for the establishment of the necessary normal relations with Moscow. Secondly, the attempt to re-formulate the concept for Chechen identity on the purely religious basis of Islam this time, encountered insurmountable barriers. Led into the trap of war, the Chechen society finds itself in the dramatic situation to seek for the formula of its future existence on the basis of fictional images from the past or in accordance with the prescriptions of outside forces, which are utterly foreign to Chechnya and its inhabitants.

Another myth, analyzed by the author of the book, is the one of Chechnya as “the Caucasian Palestine”, based on the parallels between the Palestine – Israeli conflict and the one in the Caucasus. He considers that if the political-juridical method constitutes the basis of the comparison it would become clear that the two are of absolutely opposite nature, as the Palestine-Israeli conflict is of an immanently international nature, determined by Resolution No 181 of the UNO General Assembly as of 29th November 1947, referring to the establishment of a Jewish and an Arab state on the territory of Palestine. Unlike it, the Chechen conflict is entirely internal and the Russian policy in Chechnya aims at “the re-establishment of constitutional order” in one of the subjects of the Russian federation, defined as such in the Constitution of the country. Unlike the Palestinian autonomy the so called “independent Ichkeria” has been acknowledged by nobody and cannot, therefore, play any independent role in the international relations. It can only perform the functions of a second-rate instrument in the hands of those circles, which perceive Russia as a dangerous rival, but after 11th September 2001 it has become clearer and clearer that Chechen separationists cannot be used even for that purpose.

On the other hand, the comparative-historical method of the analysis of the two conflicts actually shows a certain similarity between them to the extent that both the history of Russian invasion in the Caucasus and the Jewish colonization of Palestine are the histories of fatal inevitability as major factor for the Chechen and Near East conflicts. This, namely, is the situation in which not to start the conflict (in this case – the colonization) is simply impossible, because it is a matter of survival of the own state or nation, while to start the conflict presupposes that by all means you will get involved in a continuous conflict, the outcome of which resembles the scheme of a popular Russian anecdote: to get inside you have to pay 1 ruble, to get outside you have to pay 2.

The above scheme, by the way, poses the question about the character and purposes of the terrorist attacks, performed by Chechen separationists after their defeat in the Second Chechen War on Russian territory. It is a fact that the terror in Moscow and some other Russian cities has gradually acquired the dangerous features of an everyday routine, which people should get used to in the same way in which the Israeli citizens have become used to everyday suicide bombings by Palestinians. The truth is that in spite of the declaration of the Chechen terrorists and their leaders, their actions are not aimed at the incurring of physical losses to the enemy, nor can they be regarded as a retaliation for the actions of “Russian imperialists” in Chechnya itself, nor can they believe to generate in the Russian society any particular disposition against Moscow-led policy. They are mainly aimed at bringing back the Chechen issue in the focus of public attention, which in itself it the least desired thing by the Russian government, because if it enters such a trap it would necessitate either the re-opening of military actions in Chechnya, which is by all means undesirable for Kremlin, or the intensification of the “political process” in Chechnya and the granting of maximum autonomy to the republic, even though it would be autonomy within the Federation. This is why apart from the expected police measures for the prevention of future suicide bombings, the authorities will make all necessary effort to refer any current event to the already chosen political context. In the future, Chechnya will be less and less regarded as a special case, as a political subject that exists separately from Russia and needs specific “regulations”. On the contrary, from now on the republic will be regarded more and more as simply one of the subjects within the federation, in which the public order and security are less stable than in the other subjects. In other words, the conflict will be finally “interiorized” and will become an internal Russian problem, the solution for which will be sought in parallel with the solutions for any other problems, not as a special and differentiated case. Along these lines, it can be expected that the anti-terrorist policy of Moscow will become more and more rational and prudent. This implies the availability of a reliable barrier, stopping any emotional reactions – and such could only be the legislative regulation of the struggle against terrorism.

On the one hand, the very transformation of the former guerilla war tactics of the Chechen separationists into an open and suicidal terror attacks manifests their weakness and the loss of support on the part of local population. On the other hand, though, the youth of Shahid -suiciders shows that to a large extent they represent that Chechen generation, the socialization of which coincides with the period of the First Chechen War and the chaos that characterized the doomed attempt to establish the Ichkerian quasi-state. The numerous women-Shahids are an indirect proof for the facts that Islamist separationists can still rely on significant reserves and that terror will continue to be a part of the lives of Chechens and Russian for quite a long time. The compulsorily long-term character of the anti-terror policy requires that it should be based on a strategy and legislation, which are absolutely transparent and understandable for the Russian population. On the other hand, the reactions to suicide bombings on Russian territory show that in this country there already are in place those elements of the civil society, which in most of the developed Western states play the decisive role both in the struggle against terrorism and in surmounting such phenomena as separationism and religious radicalism. Of course without the use of force it would be impossible to curb the fervent ethnic-clannish “guerilla”, nor would it be possible to ensure even the basic degree of security of the Chechens or the replacement of clannish-tribal laws by state-imposed law. The evolvement of this situation, though, and the further steps to the establishment of a truly democratic and lawful system would be rendered impossible without the availability of efficiently functioning institutions of the civil society. It is also clear that in the circumstances where such institutions are either not in place at all or have been established only in some initial form, they can be fully developed only with the active support of the state. Without institutional changes, initiated by the central and local authorities and aimed at the establishment of the necessary public support for the dismissal of the so called “mountain model” of democracy, as well as actual (not abstractly theoretical) liberalization, the speedy establishment of peace in the Caucasus and the prospects for transition into civil society in the region would remain highly improbable.

In this connection the author considers the probability of implementation in Chechnya of the so called “consocial democracy” model, in accordance with which the representation in the governing authorities is based on the ethnic social unions whereas each group has its dedicated place in the governing process. Barriers to its implementation are the unsolved family and clan inter-dependencies as well as the discrepancy with the constitutional principle of the Russian Federation for equality of all its citizens before the law. What is more, the implementation of a similar model in the Caucasian region would seriously hinder the formation of the much needed foundation of any civil society – namely, the civil nation - not to mention the fact that such a project would artificially reduce the social mobility of the population as the filling up of the local elites is performed in an utterly artificial manner. According to the author no less utopian is the concept, discussed by certain circles (both in Russia and in the West), about the replacement of the existing Caucasian republics by ethnic cantons, because the implementation of this concept would raise the issue about the inter-canton borders and would provoke the establishment of new canton “elites”. The latter, given the lack of the necessary culture of the political compromise, would push them into the quagmire of the internecine conflicts for domination within the canton and would in parallel hinder the establishment of the civil nation (or, to use the formulation in the Constitution of the Russian Federation, “the multinational people of Russia”).

The proposed solution is the development of an overall liberal-nationalistic doctrine (the so called “civil nationalism”), which considers the Russians not as “chosen people” but as a state-forming ethnos, which links together the multinational Russian Federation and is called upon to implement in practice the notorious principle pluribus unum and to help stop the inter-ethnic struggles and facilitate the transition to a civil society of equal opportunities.

In this respect a number of Western (and Russian) analyzers take as an axiom the thesis of liberal policy as alternative to “the approach from the position of power”, adopted by Moscow in the region. These analyzers find the underlying reason for the Chechen conflict in the exceeding commitment of the state to it, failing to realize at the same time the defensive role of the state and its role as a barrier against chaos, anarchy and omnipotence of the crowd. Thus they make a number of methodological mistakes, though, which lead to utterly erroneous and anti-liberal assessments of the situation in the North Caucasus. The truth is that in the 90ies of the 20th century the political liberalization in the Caucasian republics coincided with other parallel processes such as the ethnic, tribal and clan mobilization, which led to an unparalleled boom of traditionalism and political archaism, especially in the North Caucasian region. In result, it was not the liberal values (liberty, property, lawfulness) but the blood-relation (ethnic, tribal, clan) mechanisms filled in the vacuum, created in consequence of the weakening of the state institutions. History has repeatedly proved the impossibility to form and impose peacefully the liberal values in North Caucasus. At the same time no society or state, proclaiming their will to establish civil lawful order, can afford the luxury to encourage “the cult to the ethnic” and neither to listen to the dictating “voice of blood” in their social-political life. The implementation of the liberal principle for equality of all people before the law presupposes subjection to the Constitution and the state (in the particular case of Chechnya this is the Russian one) legislation, not total dependency of clerks, deputies and local administration leaders on their family or clan appurtenance. The imposing of the “blood-relation” type of political culture erodes from the inside and weakens not only the state, but the liberal values themselves. Those liberal theoreticians outside Russia, who still regard etatism as the major threat for liberalism, obviously undermine the traditionalistic threat for their cherished values and do not take into consideration the simple fact that, if we look objectively, a state (be it “conservative” or “liberal”) with strong institutions, which keeps down the traditionalistic political-legal ideas, has always performed the role of key factor for liberalization of society even if it has been doing this unintentionally. Thus, establishing political structures in the Caucasus, the Russian state makes them equal before the Russian law, which is the most important prerequisite for the establishment of the rudiments of actual statehood (not blood-relational or local) social consciousness. After all liberalism is generated not on the base of tribes, clans, blood revenge or family feuds, but it rather emanates from the foundations of statehood as such. Therefore, the accusations of certain liberal circles for “imposition of peace and security in Chechnya from the position of power” are not only groundless but hypocritical as well.

Today and especially topical issue is whether the model for peaceful solution of the “Chechen issue”, adopted after the end of the Second Chechen war, can result in the successful re-integration of the rebellious republic into the Federation. In his book Alexandar Todorov considers in detail the pessimistic and optimistic scenarios for the future of Chechnya, pointing out that it is of crucial importance that the above-described model proves adequate to the specific socio-economic and socio-cultural situation in the republic in order to be able to function not in accordance with idealistically typified constructs and abstract political-legal schemes and not only in the spirit of the “liberal-democratic” or the “national-state” concept but rather situation-wise. In this sense the efficient authority in a new Chechnya would have to focus its efforts in the searching for solutions for the main “challenges”, set before the Russian state system, such as separationism, terrorism, nepotism and privatization of authority by one or other Chechen clan, as well as the imposition of purely corporate (in this case –clannish) interests with the help of the state authority apparatus, inter-clan feuds and on-going spending of considerable financial means; legal particularism and dominance of the common instead of the state law; non-integration of Chechen socium in the Russian political-legal and socio-cultural space.

Analyzing the arguments in support of the “pessimistic” scenarios for the future of the North Caucasus, the author declares that they can be summed up in several major points. The first one is that any blind copying of the liberal-democratic constructs in the traditionalistic political context of Chechnya can only accelerate and make legitimate the access of the current regional elite to the republic’s government and resources, which would be utilized by the representatives of this elite for their own interests that differ from the Russian ones. The second point here is that the process of “power privatization” will be given an exceedingly strong impetus by the election procedures. The third point is that without accusing openly the new Chechen leadership in separationist aspirations, the adherents to the pessimistic scenario consider that by itself the weakening of (no matter what the reasons) of the positions, held by the federal center in the Caucasus will sooner or later push the current Chechen leaders to raise new demands (of essentially different character at that).

At the same time, though, the fundamental changes that occurred worldwide and statewide render the mechanical parallels, drawn between the period after the end of the First Chechen War and the current situation, highly questionable and give precedence to the optimistic scenarios for the future of the republic. The latter are based on the essentially different attitude, adopted by the West, to the Chechen issue after the events of 11th September 2001 and the beginning of the war on international terrorism, proof of which was the inclusion of Chechen separationists into the American list of terrorist organizations, related to Al-Qaida. Further to that, the will of Kremlin (after the defeat of separationists in the Second Chechen War) to stake on a more liberal approach to the solution of the Chechen issue, avoiding the imposition of direct control over the rebellious republic, has been appreciated abroad in spite of the attempts of certain circles there to question the democratic character of the presidential elections, held in October 2003.

Of course, much more important than the blocking of the external channels for the provision of support to the separationists is the adoption of the Moscow-chosen model for the solution of the crisis in Chechnya by the Chechens themselves. In this respect the successful course of the Second Chechen War gave a number of strategic advantages in support to the success of this model, the most important of which are: the deep-rooted breach within the Chechen elite and mostly between the adherents of Wahabism and its opponents, some of which shifted to the Russian side; the disillusionment of many ordinary Chechens with the very concept for “independent Ichkeria” and their growing fatigue and despair, caused by the chaos and the widespread criminality and terror in the republic; the rejection of the imposed from the outside radical Arab Islam by the majority of traditionally minded Chechens; the inability of Chechnya in its current situation to establish a wholesome governing system let alone efficient statehood without Russian involvement; the disappointment with the anti-Russian ideologems and stereotypes, artificially imposed onto the Chechens and the implementation of which led the republic to utter catastrophe; the marginalization and disintegration of the very foundations of traditional Chechen culture, which led not only to an enormous number of negative social consequences but to significant weakening of the underlying motivation for opposition to Moscow, which in itself made the dialogue and peace-making with Russia possible.

All things considered, the solution to the “Chechen issue” requires the re-establishment and strengthening of the “subjecthood” of the Russian state and the establishment of an efficient and socially oriented market economy (to the expense of the “grey economy-and-oligarchy” model, imposed during the Eltsin era). The current Russian leadership is obviously aware of all this and strives to work in this particular direction, which gives precedence to the optimistic scenario for the future of Chechnya as an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation, under the condition that the process of “autonomization” of Chechnya does not run significantly ahead of the processes of political regulation and social-economic re-making of the republic. After the end of the Second Chechen War, the constitutional referendum and the presidential elections in Chechnya, the problem with the future of this republic no longer refers to its remaining within the boundaries of Russia or to its being an independent state formation. It refers only to the possible optimum model for its functioning as an integral part of the Federation, being granted at the same time a sufficiently wide range of cultural and administrative autonomy. In this respect, the seemingly risky experiment with the constitutional referendum and presidential elections, held in 2003, is the only possible way for the Chechen issue to come out of the dead-lock, into which it was thrust by separationists and islamists, and to find its overall and successful solution. The latter would be of key importance for the stabilization of the whole Caucasian region. In order to achieve this it would be necessary that some party comes as a guarantor of the peace process. Such party in this case could only be Russia. Not because of its traditional interests and presence in the region, but because in the new global situation after 11th September 2001 not only the USA but the other great poles of power must demonstrate the necessary political will, without which any discussions on the actions against extremism and terrorism would be rendered useless.

Todor Kondakov

President of the Institute for Balkan and European Researches

Secretary of the Bulgarian Geopolitical Society