A COUNTRY STUDY: THE REPUBLIC OF ADYGEYA

POLICY OF POSITIVE DISCRIMINATION FOR THE TITULAR NATION AND ITS IMPACT ON THE LOCAL POLITICS IN THE REPUBLIC OF ADYGEYA OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION

By Zeynel A. BESLENEY
MA in RUSSIAN STUDIES
The School of Slavonic Studies,University College London

 

Since the re-establishment of the Russian state as a reformed asymmetric federation, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the acceptance of Federal Constitution of 1993 a number of ethno-republics within it have come into the limelight for the tensions within them between the titular and non-titular nations, such as the Republics of Bashkortostan, North Ossetia-Alania, Adygeya and Tuva. 

The language laws that put Russian and the language of the titular nation of the republic concerned on equal footing or the laws that are designed to lure members of the Diaspora of the titular nation to settle in the homeland to tilt the balance of demography to the advantage of the titular nation have created much controversy. 

Among all these cases, Adygeya has attracted the greatest attention of the Russian national media as well as specialists in the Russian Caucasus. A number of articles have appeared in the Russian newspapers in the last few years that even accused the republican government of conducting an “apartheid policy ” towards the Russian majority[1]

This paper is aimed to explore the local politics in the Republic of Adygeya in the light of the local conditions of ethnic relations as well as the nationality policy of the federal centre in the last decade.

Part I is to provide the necessary information on Adygeya and the history of its titular nation, the Adyge. This is essential if one wishes to understand the motives behind the strong desire on the part of the Adyge intelligentsia elite to continue with the Soviet ‘policy of positive discrimination towards the titular nation’ within the local political and legal realms even after the Soviet state collapsed.

Part II is concerned with the contentious issues and the political actors of the republican politics. Consequently, the role of the nationalist organisations the Adyge Xase and the Union of Slavs of Adygeya will be investigated. 

In the last part, the recent developments with regards to the latest presidential elections in Adygeya and Moscow’s role in the future of this republic and its multinational people. 

 

PART I: THE REPUBLIC OF ADYGEYA AND THE ADYGE
  

The republic of Adygeya, extending from the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains to the Kuban Plain in the Northern Caucasus, lies landlocked in the middle of Krasnodar Krai[2]. Adygeya, which is a small republic with 7800km2-land area, has no borders with any other North Caucasian republics. According to 1995 figures, the population of the republic is 541.000 of whom 22 % are Adyge. The Russians and the other Eastern Slavs who make up 68 % of the population are in the absolute majority in Adygeya[3], making the republic demographically the most “Russianized” national unit of the whole Northern Caucasus. However, there are around 40.000 more Adyge living in the adjacent areas of Krasnodar Krai, apart from their ethnic kin the Cherkess, the Abaza and the Kabardians living further east.

Adygeya was founded as an autonomous region in 1922 and until it was upgraded to republican status in July 1991 it had been subordinate to Krasnodar Krai. Because of their coexistence for more than 50 years within the same administrative unit, there are close economical, cultural, historical and ethnic ties between Krasnodar and Adygeya both for the ethnic Adyge and the Russians including the local Cossack population.  

The Northern Caucasus region as a whole is home to the poorest republics of the Russian Federation. Economically, the republic is one of the weakest among the Russian regions. In 1997, % 55.3 of the republican population was living below the poverty line, which made Adygeya 8th lowest ranking in the Federation.[4] With the current growth trend persisting, it will take15 to 30 years for Adygeya to reach the national average level of per capita GRP[5]. However, among all the national republics of the Northern Caucasus, which have been for years the scene of ethnic conflicts, social instability and constant military operations, Adygeya, according to many socio-economical indicators, is the most economically developed and stable republic. This is helped by the relative political and social stability on the republican level.  

The Adyge are a subdivision of the Circassians along with the Cherkess of Karachai-Cherkessia, the Kabardians of Kabardino-Balkaria and the Shapsough of the Lazarevsk region along the Black Sea Coast. The Circassian language, which is related to the Abkhaz of Abkhazia and the Abaza of Karachai-Cherkessia, is part of the Northwest Caucasian language family and native to the Northern Caucasus.

The Circassians, as did the Chechens and the Dagestani peoples of Northeast Caucasus, fought with the tsarist Russian armies for more than 30 years in the 19th Century. Only the fall of Circassia in 1864 marked the end of the Caucasian War whose impact on the region and its people is still felt.[6] “It is impossible to over-emphasise the significance of the Russian conquest in the history of Circassia. Beyond doubt, it was the single most cataclysmic event that changed the destiny of the nation and almost led to its extinction”.[7] The Russian conquest led to the exodus of almost  % 90 of all Circassians to the Ottoman Empire. Today there is a Circassian Diaspora of around 3 million people in Turkey and the Middle East. Their land was colonised by the Cossacks and Russians and other settlers and became modern Adygeya, Krasnodar and parts of Stavropol Krai. Today the bulk of the Slavic population of Adygeya are the descendants of these colonists.

During the Soviet rule, the Circassians were divided, thanks to the Stalin’s ‘social engineering experiments’, into four categories as the Adyge, Cherkess, Kabardian and the Shapsough, which were placed in four different administrative units. “The historical injustice” of being dispersed as a result of the Russian imperialism of 19th Century and being divided and isolated by the Soviet policies became a powerful argument of the various Circassian nationalist organisations across the Northwest Caucasus in the Glasnost era. It is therefore not surprising that the Adyge Xase, which has been an influential actor in the republican politics since the late 1980s, is one of the first nationalist organisations to emerge in the Northern Caucasus.

  

PART II: REPUBLICAN POLITICS: ‘MAJORITY OPPRESSED BY MINORITY’   
 

The controversy surrounding the political developments in Adygeya since the upgrading of its status to republic in 1991 centres on the efforts of the Adyge intelligentsia to create conditions of positive discrimination for the Adyge minority and its language, which has long suffered from the imperialist conquest and colonisation of the 19th Century, in opposition to the wishes of the public organisations claiming to represent the interests of the Slavic majority to have a parliamentarian democracy in its classical form where the majority rules. In other words the question that has arisen is that is the current picture of Adygeya a positive discrimination of a marginalized native population in the context of the post-Soviet Russian Federation or the political and economical dominance of an ethnic minority, in a republic that bears its name, over the majority? 

To find an answer to this question and also to be able to follow the republican politics in Adygeya, one must first identify the local political leadership and the other influential socio-political organisations the Adyge Xase and the Union of Slavs of Adygeya and what they stand for. 

Aslan Alievich Dzharimov, an ethnic Adyge, has been the president of Adygeya since its becoming a national republic in 1991. He had been the First Secretary of the Communist Party’s Regional Committee in Adygeya as well as being a People’s Deputy of the USSR between 1989-1991, representing Adygeya. He won two presidential elections, in 1992 and 1997. In the 1997 elections, when he competed against two other Adyge candidates, he gained 57.88 % of the valid votes. In the all-federation level politics, he is known to have been a supporter of Our Home is Russia and later the Unity Movement. He is a Soviet–era apparatchik as the likes of Mintimer Shaimiev of Tatarstan and Murthaza Rakhimov of Baskhortostan who after the collapse of the Soviet Union have turned into moderate nationalist leaders who reigned in the more radical nationalists within their own ranks but, nevertheless, also challenged Moscow on the issues of the rights of the republics vis-à-vis the Centre. 

The Adyge Xase as an organisation is an all-Circassian nationalist movement with branches in the Republics of Karachai-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria and the Shapsough populated areas of the Krasnodar Krai. Although these branches are independent establishments, they are nevertheless part of the wider Circassian umbrella organisation the International Circassian Association (ICA), whose declared aim is to protect the rights of the Circassians wherever they live and to facilitate the return of the substantial portion of the Circassian Diaspora to the Circassian inhabited lands of the Northwest Caucasus to change the demographic structure where the Circassians constitute the minority of the population.[8] Although the Xase has lost considerable strength in Adygeya and Kabardino-Balkaria, it still is a very powerful public movement in the Republic of Karachai-Cherkessia which it wants to break up into separate Circassian and Karachai national units. 

In the early 1990s, the Adyge Xase was the most powerful opposition movement to the leaderships of Dzharimov, whom radicals within the Xase even labelled an enemy of the Adyge nation[9]. However, once Adygeya was upgraded to republican status and the rights of the Adyge as the titular nation were enshrined in the republican constitution it became a staunch supporter of the president and the status quo, to the extent that its current chairmen Ruslan Peneshov has served in the successive republican governments under Dzharimov’s presidency. The organisation’s major objective is to keep the “positive discrimination” for the Adyge secure and to attract the members of the large Circassian Diaspora to Adygeya so that the Adyge can become a majority in the republic. 

The Union of Slavs of Adygeya led by Boris Karataev and Nina Konovalova was created in 1991 as a counter-balance to the Adyge Xase but failed to gain much prominence.[10] However in the early 1990s it categorically opposed the separation of Adygeya from Krasnodar Krai and later the upgrading of its status to a republic. At various times the Union advocated a referendum on the return of the capitol City of the republic, Maikop, which is overwhelmingly inhabited by Russians, to Krasnodar Krai. 

The local branch of the Communist Party of Russia is another powerful political force in Adygeya. It enjoys the majority in the republican parliament and has two deputies in the federal state Duma. However, its capacity in the local politics is limited and does not play a major role.

Therefore, the most contentious issues of the local politics from the point of the Adyge intelligentsia can be summarised as:

· The “reluctance” of the Union of the Slavs of Adygeya to recognise the special status of the Adyge as the titular nation of the republic which is the result of the recognition by the Lenin’s nationality policy of the tragic “history of imperialism” in the Northern Caucasus,

 · The way the Russian media is portraying Adygeya is feeding the ‘unsubstantiated’ belief that is prevalent among the Russian nationalists in the Northern Caucasus that all Circassians are ‘conspiring’ to create a ‘Greater Circassia’ uniting all the Circassian inhabitant lands of Adygeya, Karachai-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria and parts of Krasnodar Krai, thus forming a [Muslim] greenbelt to surround the traditional Orthodox Slav regions of Krasnodar and Stavropol. Then, they argue, the Circassians will force the Russians and the peoples of other nationalities to leave the republic[11],

· The fact that the main base of support for the Union of Slavs is the local Cossacks makes the Adyge population uneasy about the real intention of this organisation. The calls made by some populist Russian politicians for the revival of the traditional Cossack paramilitary forces, which are seen by the Adyge as the embodiment of the oppression and the colonisation of the last century by the tsarist Russia, are spreading fear among the Adyge that this would lead to the creation of an authoritarian society. [12]

However, the issues from the Union of Slavs’ point of view are as follow:

· The election law, which dictates that all presidential candidates must be fluent in the both official languages of the republic, namely Adyge and Russian [13],

· The way the electoral constituencies are defined (which ensures parity between the Russians and the minority Adyge),

· The local immigration law that grants special settlement and taxation rights to the persons of Circassian descent who desires to settle in Adygeya while the residency rights of the people of non-Adyge origin are tightly controlled and restricted,

· The dominance of the Adyge elite in the republican economy that was facilitated by the privatisation programs carried out by the Adyge leadership as part of the economic reforms in the early 1990s.

 

CONCLUSION
 

Despite all the criticism and the cries of ‘apartheid’ regime, the Republic of Adygeya has been an island of peace and relative stability in a region that has in the last decade seen armed conflicts in Chechnya, Abkhazia, North Ossetia, Daghestan, ethnic unrest in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachai-Cherkessia as well as economic recession and a sharp increase in criminal activities affecting the whole federation.

In this paper, I intend to draw attention not to what has happened in Adygeya after the collapse of the Soviet Union but, on the contrary, to what has not occurred, which was expected to occur, that is no major rallies or protest meetings have occurred in Adygeya for years and that there has been no talk of the Adyge Xase or the Union of Slavs creating paramilitary forces in preparation for a ‘coming’ conflict. Instead, multicultural dance and art festivals attended by the representatives of the Russians, the Adyge and the other peoples of the Northern Caucasus are regularly organised. President Dzharimov’s every public speech is addressed to “the multinational people of the Republic of Adygeya” not to the Adyge people, which is a sign of a new republican identity emerging against all the odds.[14] Traditionally, the Adyge and the Russians have shared the governmental posts. The current Prime Minister and the chairman of the upper wing of the local parliament are Russians.

This new republican identity beyond one’s ethnic affiliation seems to have given way to a new voting pattern in the last presidential election that took place on 13 January 2002. For the first time since the foundation of the republic of Adygeya, candidates of different nationalities participated in the presidential election regardless of their knowledge of Adyge language, which was the result of the suspension, for ten years, of the language law which requires the president to be bilingual in Adyge and the Russian.

The local Adyge businessmen Khazret Sovmen, who owns gold mines in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia and is known across the whole federation as a philanthropist, won the election, as was expected, by taking 68 % of the valid votes by securing the support of the bulk of the population, Russian and Adyge alike, who have been suffering from the economic hardship for years and have been ready to lay their hopes not on his ethnic background but on his managerial skills, to govern the republic. In this race, the old foes, the incumbent president Aslan Dzharimov, and the leader of the Union of Slavs Nina Konovalova received 9 % and 8 % of the vote respectively.

Although no official statement has been made by Moscow about the result of the election, the outcome must also be welcomed by Putin administration for he is more than happy to see Aslan Dzharimov, just as Ruslan Aushev of Inghushetia, leave his post as Dzharimov, like Aushev, has long been an outspoken critic of Putin’s re-centralising policies and an advocate of the rights of the republics vis-à-vis the centre.

Although the success of Sovmen will evidently surpass the ethnic boundaries for the near future, in the long term, however, Moscow should take into account the local conditions of the Northern Caucasus, especially the case of the Adyge’s ethnic kin, the Abkhaz and the war in Abkhazia that has set an example of how a titular nation, that is made minority in its own country, can resist outside pressure to abolish the positive discrimination for the titular nation. This is a region where the past is not only a distant memory but also an everyday reality. It is constantly reminded and reproduced by local elites.  

Only by allowing to remain intact the above mentioned language law, that has a great symbolic meaning for the Adyge, and thus offering a incentive to the local Russians, who want to hold governmental posts, to learn the language of the titular nation- a decision which may even pave the way in the end for an Adyge speaker of Russian majority to become president-can Moscow ensure that Adygeya can put aside its problems of ethnic nature and instead concentrate on implementing economic reforms and creating a democratic, prosperous society where the particularities of the Adyge are also respected alongside the wider republican population and taken into consideration. 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

1) Alla Chirikova and Natalia Lapina, Political Power and Political Stability in the Russian Regions in Contemporary Russian Politics, edited by Archie T. Brown, p. 384-397, Oxford University Press, New York, 2001

2) Alla Chirikova and Natalia Lapina, Regional Elite: A Quiet Revolution on a Russian Scale, Center For Security Studies and Conflict Research, Zurich, 2001 

3) Alexei M. Lavrov and Alexei G. Lakushkin, The Fiscal Structure of the Russian Federation: Financial Flows Between the Center and the Regions, East West Institute, New York, London, 1999 

4) Amjad Jaimoukha, The Circassians: A Handbook, Curzon Publishing, London, 2001 

5) Andrei S. Makarchev, Islands of Globalisation: Regional Russia and the Outside World, Center For Security Studies and Conflict Research, Zurich, 2000  

6) Anna Matveeva, The North Caucasus: Russia’s Fragile Borderland, The Royal Institute Of International Affairs, London, 1999 

7) Aslan Dzharimov, Ozerklikten Cumhuriyete Adigey (From Autonomy to Republic: Adygeya), in Turkish, Turkiye Isbirligi ve Kalkinma Ajansi, Ankara/Turkey, 1996 

8) Liz Fuller, ‘Adygeya’s Slavic Majority Protests Discrimination’ in RFE/RL Caucasus Report, 16 April 2001, Vol.16

9) Martin Nicholson, Towards a Russia of the Regions, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999 

10) Nana Kitsmarishvili,‘Prizrak Natsionalizma Bradit Po Evrope’ in Novaya Gazeta on 4 May 2000, no: 17     

11) Paul Henze, Circassian Resistance to Russia in The North Caucasus Barrier, page 62-111, C. Hurst & Co., London, 1992  

12) Robert V. Daniels, Democracy and Federalism in the Former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation in Beyond the Monolith: The Emergence of Regionalism in Post-Soviet Russia, page 233-244, The Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington, 1997  

13) Tamila Lankina, Local Government and the Ethnic and Social Activism in Russia in the Contemporary Russian Politics, page 398-414, Oxford University Press, New York, 2001 

14) Valery Sharov,Adygeyskii Paritet’ in Novaya Gazeta, 11 January 2000,no. 1. 

15) Valery Tishkov, Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict In And After The Soviet Union: The Mind Aflame, Sage Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, 1997  


 

[1] See Liz Fuller, ‘Adygeya’s Slavic Majority Protests Discrimination’ in RFE/RL Caucasus Report, 16 April 2001, Vol.16, www.rferl.org. See also Nana Kitsmarishvili’s article, ‘Prizrak Natsionalizma Bradit Po Evrope’ in Novaya Gazeta on 4 May 2000, no: 17 or Valery Sharov, Adygeyskii Paritet in Novaya Gazeta, 11 January 2000,no.1. The TV programme “Itogy2by Yelena Mashuk was broadcast on Russian National TV, NTV 2 April 2000.               

[2] Anna Matveeva, The North Caucasus: Russia’s Fragile Borderland, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 1999, p.82

[3] These 1995 population figures are taken from Robertson’s Russia &Eurasia Facts &Figures Annual, volume 22,1997, pp 20-23 as cited in Anna Matveeva, The North Caucasus: Russia’s Fragile Borderland, page 82.     

[4] Regiony Rossii, Moscow: Situatsionny tsentr pri Presidente RF, FAPSI, 1997 as cited in Matveeva, p.82.

[5]Alexei M. Lavrov and Alexei G. Lakushkin, The Fiscal Structure of the Russian Federation: Financial Flows Between the Center and the Regions, East West Institute, New York, London, 1999, p.xxiii. 

[6] Matveeva, page 5.

[7] Amjad Jaimoukha, The Circassians: A Handbook, Curzon Press, London, 2001, page 12.

[8] The ICA’s own web site, which is in need of updating, can be viewed at http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Park/1170/ListE.htm

[9] Aslan Dzharimov, Ozerklikten Cumhuriyete Adigey (From Autonomy to Republic: Adygeya), in Turkish, Turkiye Isbirligi ve Kalkinma Ajansi, 1996, Ankara/Turkey, page 16. In this book, Dzharimov re-evaluates the political events of the early 1990s in Adygeya.

[10] Matveeva, page 83.

[11]See the article titled “What is there in the ICA’s Dossier” published in the Russian Language bulletin of the Union Of Slavs, Za Kubanye in Adygeya in its October 2000 edition, No: 21. This argument is especially powerful in Krasnodar where Zhrinovskii’s Liberal Democrat Party of Russia and the Communist Party are the leading political forces. In 1998 when the Adyge authorities proposed a land exchange plan to the Krasnodar authorities, that would have brought into the jurisdiction of Adygeya some areas of Krasnodar Krai inhabited by another Circassian subgroup the Shapsough, whose national autonomy had been abolished in 1945, in exchange for some arable areas, it was the local LDPR that put up a fierce resistance to this proposal arguing that it would be the first step for the creation of ‘Greater Circassia’.

[12] Valery Tishkov, Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict In And After The Soviet Union: The Mind Aflame, Sage Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, 1997, page236.

[13] This law, which was in force for the first two presidential elections, has now been suspended for ten years to provide the opportunity for the potential candidates to learn Adyge language.

[14] Among the Dzharimov’s statements, see especially the one titled From Millennium to Millennium, which was published in the Adyge language newspaper Adyge Mak on 29 December 2000 where he evaluates the past, current political situation in the republic.


The Republic of Adygheya




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