POLEMICAL NOTES ABOUT THE CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM IN CHECHNIA: WAS IT ANOTHER KHASAVIURT?

Sergey MARKEDONOV


Sergey Markedonov, Ph.D. (Hist.), head, Department of Ethnic Relations Problems, Institute of Political and Military Analysis (Moscow, Russia)


The so-called Chechen question has already produced mountains of books and other writings the authors of which, their diverse theoretical, methodological, and political positions apart, are driven by the common aim—to find the best way out from the Chechen impasse. They all concentrated on the transfer from the military to the political stage of crisis settlement in the “mutinous republic.” I have undertaken to discuss the problem using as an example President Putin’s initiative to introduce democratic procedures in Chechnia (the referendum on the constitution and elections of the republic’s head and to the representative body of power). This was the Kremlin’s most important step toward political settlement since the Khasaviurt agreement that completed the so-called first Chechen war. This agreement between the federal center and the Chechen insurgents signed in 1996 was destined to become a symbol of Moscow’s failure to bring peace to Chechnia by purely political means. Will Putin’s initiative become a breakthrough in the process of political settlement or will it turn out to be another Khasaviurt, this time in the legal sphere?

When dealing with the Chechen issue the Russian leaders have to adequately respond to the challenges of separatism, terrorism, nepotism, privatization of power by certain Chechen teips, promotion of narrow corporate (teip) interests through official decisions and norms, teip squabbles, corruption and embezzlement, legal particularism, domination of customary law over the laws of the state, and continued separation of the Chechen society from the all-Russia political, legal, and sociocultural expanse.

This prompts several questions: Can the Kremlin initiative to introduce democratic election procedures in Chechnia help improve the situation if not resolve the problems enumerated above? Can that part of the Chechen elite that calls itself pro-Russian, if given legal powers, at least diminish the wave of terror and cement Chechen society with the idea of a “wide autonomy within Russia”?

The Chechen Issue: End of Story?

The Chechen crisis is the largest and most prolonged in Russia’s domestic policy: it cropped up in August 1991 synchronously with the birth of the new Russian statehood. This explains why Russia’s political elite spares no effort to turn this page of Chechen history. President Putin’s decree on the referendum signed on 12 December, 2002 (on the Constitution Day in the Russian Federation) has been already called a document of historic importance. According to Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, an ombudsman in Chechnia, “the decree offers a radical solution to the so-called Chechen problem” since “it will be for the first time in its history that the Chechen people will independently decide its future.”1

Numerous experts lost no time in describing the president’s initiative as a new turn in the Chechen issue. Nearly all of them pointed out that the decree was signed on the day when, several years ago, the nation adopted the Constitution of the Russian Federation at a referendum. In this way, Putin’s initiative acquired a symbolic meaning and was designed to demonstrate that force was not the only instrument used in Chechnia to bring law and order to the republic and that the process of formulating the uniform “rules of the game” started in December 1993 was going on. Chechnia was invited to follow in the footsteps of the federal center: to carry out the referendum and adopt a fundamental law of its own. Vladimir Putin has described the main aim of the decree in the following way: “We are very close to completing the important task of power delimitation and we shall use this basis to strengthen local self-administration and the authorities in the RF subjects, including in those where the situation is very complicated, such as Chechnia.”2

On the New Year eve separatists blasted the building, which housed the Chechen government, together with the optimism of those who believed that an “end of the Chechen story” was round the corner. This cynical and highly symbolic act demonstrated that law and order had not yet been established while the official authorities that had to express the interests of the Russian State “did not catch mice,” to borrow an expression from Deng Xiaoping. As the date of the “historic” referendum was drawing closer, optimism of the Russian establishment was soaring higher and higher. Viktor Kazantsev, the plenipotentiary representative of the president in the Southern Federal Okrug, for example, has said: “The referendum will show those who are still hiding in the mountains that they are fighting against their own people.”3

On 16 March, 2003 President Putin himself put into words the optimistic theses about the “historic referendum” as “the demiurge of reality.” In his TV address to the people of Chechnia he said: “The referendum means another step toward putting an end to destitution. It is a step toward order. I am convinced that the Constitution approved by the people will lay a firm foundation for a political settlement in Chechnia. Its adoption will give an opportunity to elect genuinely democratic bodies of power relying on people’s trust… The Constitution will provide people with an opportunity to organize themselves life in Chechnia and to realize the wide autonomy within Russia of which so much has been said. With this aim in view the Federation and the Republic will jointly draw and sign a special treaty.”4

On 23 March, 2003, after the voting the president of Russia said: “We have resolved the last serious problem connected with Russia’s territorial integrity.” The final figures presented by the election commission of Chechnia seem to confirm the above: 95.97 percent of those who came to the polling stations voted for the Fundamental Law of the “mutinous” republic. Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Administration, shares the president’s optimism. He believes that by voting for the Constitution the Chechen people have chosen peace and rejected confrontation with the federal center.5

The desire of the Russian elite to put an end to the Chechen crisis is quite understandable, yet can one agree with the opinion that “the Chechen story” has come to an end? It is too early today to share the official opinion. To uncover numerous snags that may impede the progress of political settlement one has to analyze the following: what forced the federal center to seek peaceful solution; how the declared democratic principles correlate with the sociopolitical and sociocultural context within which the principles are expected to work.

From “Killing on the Spot” to “Political Settlement” Plans

The federal center resolutely pushed away the words “political settlement” as the so-called second Chechen campaign was unfolding. I believe that the Kremlin had to alter its political course for three reasons: the desire to base its political strategy on public opinion polls and the presidential popularity ratings; world public opinion and comments coming from international institutions; shifted accents in regional policies according to the newly coined formula: “electoral support and administrative resource at the 2003/2004 elections in exchange for political and legal concessions.”

The change of landmarks in the Chechen sector became obvious at the threshold of another election cycle. According to Igor Bunin, the “Chechen issue” that raised Putin to the crest of popularity is turning into an obvious trap: according to public opinion polls, “the antiterrorist operation” causes the deepest plunge of positive estimates.6 In 2002, this trend continued until the terrorist act in Dubrovka that revived the “hawkish sentiments” and aggravated them. I have already written elsewhere that public opinion and its attitude to the Chechen issue cannot serve as a firm foundation of any long-term strategy.7 The public sentiments on the Chechen problem are more changeable than on any other political issue. To keep the rating high the authorities have to promptly response to any changes in public opinion. I have already said that in 2002 people were less and less inclined to approve of the use of force in Chechnia while a search for political settlement was accelerating. On the eve of the elections the Kremlin could not afford to lose points because of the Chechen problem.

In August 2002 head of the general council of the Edinaia Rossiia Party Alexander Bespalov supported the idea of a referendum in Chechnia; it was approximately at the same time that the heads of the permanent mission of the Chechen Republic in Moscow informed the journalists that “the Ministry of Justice had completed pre-examination of the draft that can be offered for people to discuss.”8 Shortly before the tragic events in Dubrovka Evgeniy Primakov made public his plan under which the use of force in Chechnia was to be abandoned as the only means of bringing peace there. It appeared in the main official newspaper, Rossiiskaia gazeta, and was intended to sound out public sentiments on changing the Kremlin policies. One is tempted to ask: Why did the “Nord-Ost” factor fail to revive the “hawkish sentiments?” I think that it was softened by both domestic and outside reasons.

The decree was published on the Constitution Day. However, another remarkable coincidence remained unnoticed: the decree appeared on the eve of an anniversary of the beginning of the first campaign (in December 1994 detachments of the Russian Army entered independent Ichkeria). I believe that this was more than a mere coincidence in the same way as the statements Chairman of the Central Election Commission Alexander Vishniakov made immediately after the decree had been published. He said that the Chechen refugees and migrants could take part in voting and that international observers would be invited to supervise the procedure. It was for the first time that the Russian side practically completely agreed with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the larger part of Western politicians and analysts. In my earlier works I have already pointed out that European and, to a lesser extent, American public opinion first showed its interest in the Chechen problem in December 1994 when Russian troops and units of the internal forces entered the “mutinous republic”9 and completely ignored the events of 1991-1994. The Russian propaganda machine failed to change this trend either in 1994-1996 or in 1999-2002. A State Duma commission headed by Stanislav Govorukhin gathered an impressive body of facts of how Russian speakers and, in general, those who did not belong to the title nation, had been driven out of “independent Ichkeria;” how Djohar Dudaev had become the absolute ruler, and how the republic had become completely criminalized. The materials were not used as they should have been because of the conflict between the Duma and the presidential administration during the “first Chechen war.”10 The PACE, OSCE and other European organizations concentrated on the facts of violation of the human rights in Chechnia by Russian power structures and on the problems of those who fled Chechnia in 1994-1996 and 1999-2002.

Meanwhile the question remains whether over 200 thou people who were driven out of the republic when the Ichkerian separatists came to power are allowed to take part in the referendum. Indeed, they had to leave their homeland and, according to laws and the principles of democracy, have the same right as those now living in the refugee camps in Ingushetia to decide the future of their republic. The Chairman of the Central Election Commission proceeded from the European “idea of peace in Chechnia” and the “history of the Chechen war” accepted by PACE, OSCE and other European structures when he dated the Chechen problem back to December 1994. Meanwhile, in his TV address to the people of Chechnia President Putin has said: “We should never forget that the constitutional process that started in 1991 was cut short and this was the beginning of the Chechen tragedy. At that time, when the Supreme Soviet of Checheno-Ingushetia had been disbanded, the republic found itself on the threshold of a civil war. Later, it was plunged into an armed conflict that lasted for many years.”11 If we reject the European periodization of the conflict’s history and date its beginning back to September 1991, that is, if we admit that continuity of legitimate power in the republic was disrupted, we have to allow the refugees and forced migrants who left the republic after the events described by the president to take part in the referendum. Any other decision would amount to an acceptance (actual and legal) of the results of ethnic cleansing while Chechnia would be regarded as a monoethnic region of Russia.

The Russian authorities that hasten to agree with the European community and accept its arguments leave out of sight the fact that among those now living in the camps in Ingushetia there are those who in August-September 1991 displayed slogans “Russians should go to Riazan, Ingushes, to Nazran, and Armenians, to Erevan” in the streets of Grozny. By doing this they invited the final and bloody end not only for the non-title nations but also for themselves. I do not mean to say that acts of retribution can solve the problem—they lead nowhere, yet it would hardly serve the cause of justice to be too “politically correct” when dealing with the Chechen nation’s responsibility or even guilt for the events of 1991-1994 and 1994-1996.

This shows that when calling a referendum and putting a considerable accent on a political settlement the president had in mind the Russian public and also the politically correct European and, to a lesser extent, American partners. When the rebels in Dubrovka had been destroyed, time came to show to the “civilized world” that Russia did not reject outright peaceful political methods of crisis settlement. It wanted to show that it could do more than “kill on the spot” or stifle with gases in a theater—that it knew how to use referendum as the most democratic procedure. According to Akhmad Kadyrov, “the president’s decision to conduct a referendum shows that the course toward a political settlement is a firm one.”12 Our European and American partners are expected to appreciate Russia’s initiative—they have already done this. The PACE Bureau appreciated the referendum “to the highest degree and believed that this would be a considerable step forward toward a political settlement.”13 Alvaro Hil-Robles, Human Rights Commissar of the Council of Europe, had the following to say: “The referendum on the constitution of Chechnia scheduled for 23 March of this year is one of the means of relieving tension in the republic.” He said that the republic had been completely destroyed, therefore continuation of the war is “absurd.” He also pointed out that a political dialogue among the Chechens should be restored. In his opinion the referendum may become one of the means of resolving the problem and would become a beginning of “rebuilding the Chechen Republic.”14

PACE refused to send its observers to Chechnia to supervise the referendum for security considerations, not for political reasons. According to Mikhail Margelov, Chairman of the Committee for International Affairs of the Federation Council of the RF Federal Assembly, “the European parliamentarians never doubted that their security would have been ensured, yet they decided that they had no right to endanger the lives of Russian soldiers for the sake of their own safety.”15 One should say that on the eve of the referendum the Russian authorities were as enthusiastic about all-round cooperation with the international human rights organizations as never before.

It is not quite correct to explain the shifts in Chechen policies of the Kremlin by foreign factors alone. It is not frequently that the Chechen problem is discussed in the regional context, and this waters down such analysis. Chechnia is undoubtedly the most problem-ridden subject of the Russian Federation, and it calls for the most profound analysis. At the same time, the Chechen issue is nothing more but the most obvious symptom of the total crisis of Russia’s regionalism at the turn of the 21st century. When he became president, Vladimir Putin was confronted with such problems as an absence of a single legal expanse that could be described as an absence of a single system of power and administration, particularism of power and a system of authoritarian regional regimes.

The newly elected president had to choose between unification of the legal expanse of Russia with the help of wider power resources and higher popularity rate than those of his predecessor (that is, to overcome “fragmented federalism” and strengthen the “vertical of power”) and political expediency (that meant that he should never forget about the next presidential elections and leave the regional leaders alone). When describing the epoch of Vladimir Putin future students of this period of Russian history will surely divide it into two stages: that of strengthening the “power vertical” and the “post-vertical” stage divided from one another by a decision of the RF Constitutional Court of 9 July, 2002 according to which the number of governors’ terms should be counted starting with October 1999. On 24 June, 2002, at a press conference that predated the decision Vladimir Putin said that it was for the electorate to decide how many terms in power are allowed to regional leaders.

The Russian president chose political expediency and returned to Yeltsin’s “whip and carrot” policy in his relations with the regional leaders. He did not want to quarrel with political “heavyweights” who wielded considerable electoral resources; the president demonstrated that he placed his second term above the need to wipe away “fragmented federalism.”

Putin’s Chechen policies belong to the “post-vertical” period: he has staked on political expediency and legal particularism again. During his visit to Grozny head of the presidential administration Alexander Voloshin said that the federal center and Chechnia should sign an agreement that would delimit their powers. “We do our best to cut down the number of such agreements in the rest of Russia, but Chechnia is a special case.”16 The previous, “strengthening of the vertical” period started with a sharp criticism of the practice of signing agreements that was described as a product of Yeltsin’s “sovereignization policy.” Meanwhile Art 1 of the Chechen constitution offered for the referendum says: “Sovereignty of the Chechen Republic is expressed in possessing exhaustive powers (legislative, executive, and judicial) on issues outside the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and competence within joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic and is an inalienable qualitative state of the Chechen Republic.”17 The same article describes Chechnia as a component part of Russia, yet back in June 2000 (during the “strengthening of the vertical” period) the Constitutional Court ruled that the term “sovereignty” could not be applied to the subjects of the Russian Federation, even the term “limited sovereignty” could not be regarded as a prerogative of the republics of the Russian Federation. Here we are dealing with double standards in the legal sphere.

The term “sovereignty” is not the only legal contradiction in the Chechen constitution. Arts 29 and 30 operate with the term “citizens of the Chechen republic,” meanwhile back in 2002 the president of Russia signed a new Federal Law on RF Citizenship that recognizes only Russian citizenship for the people of Russia. I believe that the term “citizens of the Chechen republic” deserves special attention. I have written above that the problem of the refugees of 1991-1994 from Chechnia was mainly ignored by Russian politicians and experts. Can one take the formula “citizens of the Chechen republic” as a more or less camouflaged legal acceptance of the present ethnic and demographic situation in Chechnia that emerged as a result of the failed attempt at independence?

The draft constitution could not appear if not supported and approved by the Kremlin. I believe that the provisions registered in it that contradict the Russian laws and the rulings of the Constitutional Court are fraught with more troubles. First, they damage the authority of the Constitutional Court the decisions of which can be sacrificed to political expediency. Second, the efforts to have the constitution accepted will increase the Federation’s asymmetry and lay the foundation for ethnocratic sentiments in other subjects. Third, the legal norms accepted under political pressure may later work against those who wrote the constitution. When approved the constitution that speaks of “sovereignty” and the “citizens of the Chechen Republic” will open wide horizons in front of the local political elite: politicians will be able to plunge into political and legal speculations to extend powers and obtain more preferences. This will hardly stabilize the situation in Chechnia and fortify Russia’s integrity. Meanwhile, the special status of Chechnia received material confirmation: on 28 February, 2003 Premier of Russia Mikhail Kasianov signed a document under which Chechnia received part of the federal property on its territory (82 objects). In this way the republic acquired over 60 percent of the total federal property found on its territory.18

In this way, none of the reasons that brought about the turns in the Chechen policies can be described as leading to an efficient system of power in the republic.

First, by promptly responding to the public opinion fluctuation the political leadership has deprived itself of a possibility to follow long-term strategies designed to improve the situation in the republic. Such strategies obviously cannot be limited to humanitarian actions alone—terrorism can and should be countered with adequate use of force.

Second, it is highly doubtful that the European standards and European approaches to the Chechen crisis can be used with any effect in the republic. All attempts to liberalize the situation will go on within the context of local traditions. The federal center will be forced to talk to those who were raised outside European political culture and, therefore, have vague ideas about European tolerance and compromise. In any cases, they will take any concession of the federal center for a sign of their own strength. This has already happened more than once in the republic’s recent history.

Third, by accepting December 1994 as a reckoning point and by pushing aside the problem of ethnic cleansing of 1991-1994 Russia tacitly, and indirectly, agrees to accept the results of the “Ichkerian revolution” of 1991. The policy of legal particularism that expects political loyalty from the political elite is fraught with many losses which, in the final analysis, may reduce to naught the expected advantages. In fact, this policy offers Chechnia a special legal status that moves it to the margins of the Russian legal expanse. If skillful enough, the present republican elite will extend the limits of what is allowed while avoiding a direct confrontation with Moscow and turn the republic into another Kalmykia or Bashkiria of the 1990s with a Caucasian accent.

The Formal and Actual Constitution

The very principle of a democratic settlement in the most difficult of the republics of the Russian Federation contains no threats, yet abstract principles and their implementation in the definite sociocultural and political context are two different things. In other words, one should formulate a clear idea to which extent the principles readily accepted in Europe and North America can be equally readily embraced in a republic in which tradition dominates both politics and laws. Whether we like this or not, Chechnia is not the best testing ground for democracy. Intentionally or unintentionally Abdul-Khakim Sultygov was not quite right when he said that the Chechen people had never been given a chance to decide its future. In 1991 this people voted for sovereignty. Was there any force that could interfere with this expression of free will? Obviously neither the dying Union center nor the Russian center busy fighting it could do this. The fact that free will took ugly forms speaks of the degree to which Chechen society is ready for sovereignty. G. Zaurbekova who studies Chechen separatism comments: “More and more people over time hanging on their hands wanted bread and spectacle. It was a patchy crowd that changed political loyalties easily and that was going berserk because there was no work and no wages. Finally this Brownian movement on squares, in streets, and villages produced an idea that since the authorities were doing nothing for the people they were not more than an illusion and the people could take their lead from them.”19 On 27 October, 1991 the Ichkerian “revolutionaries” conducted presidential elections in 70 constituencies out of 360 that brought to the polls from 10 to 12 percent of registered voters.

After Khasaviurt the Chechen people acquired freedom and the right of choice once more. At the elections held in January 1997 Aslan Maskhadov received 60 percent of votes, his main rivals Shamil Bassaev and Zelimkhan Iandarbiev 20 and 10 percent, respectively. The following illustrates to which extent the elected president turned out to be an effective leader in a country that could be hardly called an effective state. When answering the question how he would fight hostage-taking the newly elected president answered that the killed British and a New Zealander (who worked with the Chechentelekom company) had been murdered not on the territory of his teip. On 20 October, 1998 the Ministry of Shari‘a Security of Maskhadov’s government issued a three-day ultimatum to kidnappers. When the term expired, none of the hostages was released. Moreover, on 25 October the head of the Ministry’s department for fighting hostage-taking was murdered.20 The present head of the Chechen administration Akhmad Kadyrov who in 1997-1998 was working side by side with Maskhadov can say a lot about the degree to which Maskhadov controlled the republic: “The Urus-Martan District was totally controlled by bandits. There were prisons in which terrorists kept and tortured their hostages. The things have gone too far: the president himself did not dare to travel along the highway going past Urus-Martan. In 1998, when Maskhadov and I were driving, heavily guarded, to Sleptsovsk (in Ingushetia.—S.M.) we had to go in a roundabout way. Was this right?”21 In 2002, Maskhadov himself summarized the sad situation: “If we did not hasten to set up staffs, fronts, the Shura, and congresses, we would have been able to build up a state… Instead of joining forces with the legitimate authorities of Ichkeria (A. Maskhadov referred to himself.—S.M.) Udugov remains beyond the sea and says that he is fighting alone.”22 According to Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, “in fact Maskhadov was doomed to remain a spokesman of the chaotically coexisting centers of military-political power and to balance between a threat of an open civil war and a direct military conflict with Moscow. The rule of the field commanders turned out to be fertile soil for totalitarian-theocratic structures that appeared in the republic: military bases, punitive structures and ideological centers of the regime of religious extremism, militarism, and aggression.”23

Society in the Caucasus is living according to traditions. This is the reality we have to deal with: there are blood kinship ties, therefore ethnic and blood feud will accompany all attempts to bring abstract democracy according to Western patterns. The social institutions of the Chechens and their identity are vast subjects that should be treated separately. I shall limit myself to their most basic principles. Teip is the main social cell among the Chechens: “they have become closely knit units”24 because they had to fight against other belligerent mountain tribes and the Russian Empire and because the Chechens had no state. In an absence of a state—a structure that could dominate the teips and lead to a supra-teip identity and a single nation in distant future—the Chechens have always regarded and continue to regard their teip identity as more important than their affiliation with the “Chechen people.” Czarist and Bolshevist modernization changed the teip structure: identities were imposed on the people from above. Until 1917 they were subjects of the Russian empire and a “new historical community of people,” the Soviet people from 1917 to 1991. Still, affiliation with the teip was the key one at all times: “Soviet power remained in the memory of the Chechens as a cruel form of subjugation and never promoted either evolution or political awareness of Chechen society that would have helped it acquire a psychological mechanism of law abidance and civil discipline… Having rid themselves of the Soviet ‘uniform,’ the Chechens returned to where they had started minus their positive potential. They have never been introduced to the civilized norms of citizenship.”25 In the Caucasus the period of the 1980s-1990s coincided with the processes of ethnic (clan, teip) mobilization. This “determined reverse trends in the social and political life in the republic in the last ten years. The situation was aggravated by the fact that it was the senior generation with no theoretical knowledge and with traditionally uncontested authority that defended archaic ideas.”26 While in 1991 the majority of the Chechen teips stood together to confront Moscow and to pursue a common aim—sovereignty—after 1991, when the enemy and the aim disappeared, teip differences moved to the fore.

It is interesting to note that in 1991-1994 even Dudaev, a charismatic leader of independent Ichkeria, who tried on the garbs of a Chechen Bismarck or a Chechen Cavour, failed to consolidate his power over all teips of the republic. The Nadterechniy District in which the clan of Zavgaev, Dudaev’s opponent, was playing the leading role remained outside the reach of the first president of Ichkeria until the federal troops were moved into the republic. The situation repeated itself when the Khasaviurt agreement had been signed. Second president Aslan Maskhadov could never aspire to gain the authority of his predecessor and remained “first among equals,” one of the field commanders. Here is not an idle question: Can one guarantee that Akhmad Kadyrov, a pro-Russian candidate, will be able to consolidate all the teips around the idea of loyalty to Moscow? He himself belongs to the Benoi teip.

There is no doubt that democratic culture and civil society should be created in Chechnia and the Caucasus as a whole, yet the methods employed should differ greatly from those prescribed by the West. To be planted in the Caucasian mountains these principles require more than hastily written constitutions: the “call of the blood” as the main administrative principle should be downplayed together with nepotism as the main criterion of personnel administration; in order to integrate all ethnic and confessional groups under the banner of the Russian Federation and to lower the still high level of xenophobia and strife Russia should increase its presence in the republic. In his time, Ferdinand Lassalle, a German thinker and politician, formulated a thesis about a formal and actual constitution. No matter how brilliant, the principles detached from real life, administration practices and political culture will never bear fruit. Chechnia today needs an actual constitution rather than a set of empty legal principles. Back in 1996 Doku Zavgaev won the elections, yet his victory did not save Russia from the disgraceful Khasaviurt agreements.

Will Russia profit from the electoral success of Akhmad Kadyrov, the present head of the Chechen administration? It takes no wisdom to guess that during the next elections the official structures will support “our man in Chechnia:” the present head of the Chechen administration can hardly hope to win genuinely free elections. It seems that Moscow is not too concerned over the past of “our present man in Grozny:” as distinct from “our men” Doku Zavgaev and Salambek Khadzhiev Kadyrov has never been an ardent supporter of Russia’s policies and even sided with the separatists. He has never tried to conceal this fact: “In April 1995 at a congress of the Chechen people in Shatoi I called on those present to fight (against Russia.—S. M.) in the name of Allah. Together with others I vowed never to spare either myself or my property and fight till I fall dead. In this way I launched a jihad.”27

One can say that Zavgaev and Khadzhiev did not serve the Kremlin with total dedication. Political scientist Lilia Shevtsova believes that Moscow had to stake on Zavgaev for want of better candidates. In fact, any politician is free to choose which side to take. The main thing was that those on whom the Kremlin relied in the past had nothing to do with the separatists and were not responsible for the revolutionary experiments of the past. Presidential candidate No. 1 is closely connected with his teip. In January 2001, former head of the Naurskaia District of Chechnia Sergei Ponomarenko has the following to say about the present “pro-Russian” Chechen leaders: “Today, all key posts in the administration and the ministries are filled with Kadyrov’s relatives. One can easily understand this: he has to rely on those whom he knows well. At the same time, he becomes dependent on his teip and this will do nothing good to the republic. Many of the officials unsure of the future enrich themselves as fast as they can. Common people are disappointed.”28 One can ask: did any of official Russian representatives analyze or comment the above? If Ponomarenko was wrong, the honor and dignity of the Chechen elite should be defended. If he is right, then the conflicts between Kadyrov and Ponomarenko, Kadyrov and Iliasov, Kadyrov and Babich, Kadyrov and somebody else are much more than personal conflicts. They are conflicts between the carrier of the clan-teip political culture and the federal culture (all the people mentioned above were working for the federal center that sent them there).

Can the Kremlin be sure that the president of Chechnia elected with Moscow support will remain loyal to the federal center? An appointed head of the republican administration and a president elected according to the constitution and the Russian laws are two different things. Can those who are now busy organizing the referendum and presidential elections be sure that the newly elected president will not demand more powers and will not go against the Kremlin? Meanwhile, on 17 January, 2003 deputy head of the administration of Chechnia Uslan Massaev declared that the republic had enough money to completely restore the republican infrastructure without federal help.29 He refers to oil profits earned in three years—allegedly, the republic earned more than what the federal center can give to Chechnia. We have already heard this: at the very beginning General Djohar Dudaev, then head of the United Congress of the Chechen People, promised to turn Chechnia into another Kuwait. Massaev’s statement appeared when the local political elite had not yet acquired legitimacy—what can we expect when the republic gets a legitimate president? We can well expect calls to the world community to help expel the Russian troops and accusation of Moscow-incited genocide. These questions are prompted by the support of the referendum that comes from former separatists. According to Nadirsolta Elsunkaev, who in 1991 to 1995 served in the Security Service of Ichkeria, “sooner or later Chechnia will become an independent state. This will not happen soon. The republic will not revive without Russia.”30

Preliminary Results

1. It seems that democratization according to the Euro-American patterns (referendum and elections) is the not the best possible option. In Chechnia, the instruments of customary law, tradition, and blood kinship are stronger than in other federation subjects.

2. Any formal legal constructions (the Fundamental Law, president, and the parliament) will inevitably be adjusted to the local political, social, and cultural conditions. From this it follows that being in form contemporary democratic and legal instruments they will turn into a shell of the already existing archaic structures.

3. The republic’s post-Soviet experience demonstrated that the alternative elections, political rivalry, a constitution and elected structures by themselves cannot free the republic from teip rivalry, blood feud and antidemocratic measures used by the authorities and the opposition.

4. The latest Kremlin initiative is based on an overestimation of the formal legal and on an underestimation of the factual sides of social and political life in Chechnia. Hence the doubts raised by the entire construction based on an absolute recognition of the referendum and the constitution as stabilizing factors.

Untimely Recommendations

The referendum took place on 23 March—the Constitution was adopted together with its errors, omissions, and contradictions to the federal laws. The Constitution of Chechnia became a political and legal reality. I believe that I should not limit myself to criticizing the Russian political establishment without trying to outline constructive suggestions. I believe that Chechnia today is suffering not because it has no constitution or an elected president: it suffers because power is thinly spread between the administration of Kadyrov, the rivaling law enforcement structures and the Ministry for the Affairs of Chechnia. There are also informal structures in Chechnia (fighters, shadow businesses). Russia should stop bothering about the ratings of “our Chechen friends” and try to consolidate state power. The Chechen problem can be resolved only if we combine military and social and economic approaches and entrust the task to one, rather to many competing centers.

Being aware that the “democratization mechanism” has been already started and that my suggestions cannot stop it, I would like to offer several thoughts for further discussion. I am convinced that the rating and the abstract liberal constructs cannot be a priority—we should concentrate on creating an effective system of power. This suggests that the system should not be headed by an ethnic Chechen: as a representative of his teip he will inevitably be forced to promote its interests; by the same token, being Russian authorities’ representative, he will wittingly or unwittingly inspire mistrust of other teips toward them. From this it follows that the regime of the presidential republic headed by an ethnic Chechen looks doubtful. The republic should not be headed by a representative of the law enforcement structures because their main task is fight against terrorists and separatists rather than administration. Man in a military uniform is always inclined to simplified and too straightforward decisions. Such people should not be invited to administration because of competition among the Ministry of the Interior, the Federal Security Service and the Defense Ministry that today is interfering with the settlement. None of the power structures should be allowed to dominate in the bodies of administration. Chechnia should be headed by a responsible politician who enjoys complete trust of the president of Russia and of the state structures, he should be vested with real powers to control the money that comes to the republic; to coordinate actions of the power structures and to organize efficient local self-administration with the widest possible involvement of the local people. This person can be either the president’s special representative or a vice premier of the Russian government—the status is not important. In fact, this will be a post of a governor who will represent the federal center. Chechnia is indeed a special region, therefore the administration models should differ from those used in other republics, regions, and territories. The methods and means of administration of Chechnia apart, the main aim is not to preserve its special status but to finally fit it into the framework of Russian state law. Back in the early 20th century Russian viceroy in the Caucasus Prince Illarion Vorontsov-Dashkov wrote: “Public life (in the Caucasus.—S.M.) is very special and cannot but create very special administrative tasks different from the general administration norms in the Empire. These local specifics should not be ignored and should not be fitted into the imperial frame by force. They should be used and organized in the direction that answers the interests of state integrity.”31 “The interests of state integrity” are the key words—not creation of another sinecure.

I am convinced that the Kremlin-initiated project of “pacifying” Chechnia on the basis of democratic elections and adding legitimacy to the regional authorities will not create an efficient administration system in the most problem-ridden region. What is more, Putin’s “pacification” project will turn into another Khasaviurt, this time in the legal sphere.

The Kremlin proceeds from the following wrong prerequisites: “political settlement” based on the presidential rating; encouragement of the regional regimes in a hope that they will help in 2004 during the presidential elections; the desire to plant the norms and ideas of Western democracy amid traditions and archaic norms.

This explains why in the nearest years the Kremlin will not formulate adequate answers to the challenges of terrorism and political extremism in the republic and will not stabilize the situation. Without this the referendum and the elections that will come after it are devoid of political sense. Obviously, the legitimate post of Akhmad Kadyrov will not stop terror and raids of separatists. The attempts to copy the liberal-democratic constructs to plant them in the traditionalist political context are fraught with efforts of the local elite to employ legal rhetoric to get access to power and resources of the republic and use them against Russia’s interests. The process of privatization of power in the republic will go on. I do not mean to say that the present republican leaders are separatists, yet if the federal center abandons its positions in the Caucasus for any reason, the republican leaders will try to formulate new demands, probably on a qualitatively new level. Having opted for formal loyalty of the regional political elite instead of working toward an integral system of power in Chechnia, the Kremlin chose a road leading to a Khasaviurt in the legal sphere the results of which are hard to predict.


1 [http://www.top.rbc.ru/index.shtml/news/daythemes/2002/12/12].
2 Ibidem.
3 S. Ofitova, “Kazantsev uveren v chechentsakh,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 14 March, 2003.
4 “Obrashchenie Prezidenta RF V. Putina k zhiteliam Chechenskoi Respubliki 16 marta 2003 goda,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, 18 March, 2003.
5 See: Kommersant-Daily, 24 March, 2003.
6 I.M. Bunin, “V Rossii—epokha Putina,” Politia, No. 5, December 2001, p. 24.
7 See: S.M. Markedonov, “Chechnia. Voina kak mir i mir kak voina,” Ab imperio (Kazan), No. 4, 2001, pp. 263-292; idem, “Chechenskiy krizis,” in: Terrorizm i politicheskiy ekstremizm: vyzovy i poiski adekvatnykh otvetov, Moscow, 2002, pp. 161-195.
8 M. Glinkin, “Kadyrov khochet sest’ po-tatarski,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 27 August, 2002.
9 See: S.M. Markedonov, op. cit.
10 Komissia Govorukhina, Moscow, 1995.
11 Obrashchenie Prezidenta RF V. Putina…
12 [http://www.top.rbc.ru/index.shtml/news/daythemes/2002/12/13].
13 [http://www.lenta.ru/vojna/2003/03/10/pase].
14 [http://www.top.rbc.ru/index.shtml/news/daythemes/2003/02/15].
15 [http://www.lenta.ru/vojna.2003/03/10/pase].
16 I. Sukhov, “Osoboe mnenie,” Vremia novostei, 14 March, 2003.
17 “Konstitutsia Chechenskoi Respubliki. Proekt,” Vesti Respubliki, Special issue, No. 3, 19 December, 2002.
18 See: M. Muradov, “Kreml’ daet chechentsam nezavisimost’. Esli oni ostanutsia v sostave Rossii,” Kommersant-Daily, 1 March, 2003.
19 G.V. Zaurbekova, Separatizm v Chechne, Moscow, 2000, p. 37.
20 See: V.V. Marushchenko, Severniy Kavkaz: trudniy put’ k miru, Moscow, 2001, p. 81.
21 Akhmad Kadyrov: “Bandity budut prokliaty svoim narodom.” Kak otsenivaet segodniashniuiu situatsiu v Chechne glava administratsii etoi respubliki,” Trud, 15 February, 2001.
22 A. Chuikov, “Maskhadov obnaruzhil prichinu chechenskikh bed,” Izvestia, 16 January, 2002.
23 Nezavisimaia gazeta, 7 July, 2001.
24 Chechentsy: istoria i sovremennost’, Compiled by Iu.A. Aydaev, Moscow, 1996, p. 188.
25 B.B. Nanaeva, “Politicheskaia kul’tura chechenskogo naroda kak istochnik politiki,” Severniy Kavkaz: geopolitika, istoria, kul’tura, Moscow, Stavropol, 2002, Part 1, p. 95.
26 Ibidem.
27 “Cherez referendum Chechnia prozreet,” Parlamentskaia gazeta, 26 February, 2003.
28 Izvestia, 21 January, 2001.
29 [http://www. kavkaz.strana.ru/economics/news/169161/html].
30 “Politicheskaia tselesoobraznost’. Byvshie protivniki sobiraiutsia golosovat’ za chechenskuiu Konstitutsiiu,” Vremia novostei, 20 March, 2003.
31 I.I. Vorontsov-Dashkov, Vsepoddaneishiy otchet za piatiletie upravlenia Kavkazom general-ad’iutanta grafa Vorontsova-Dashkova, St. Petersburg, 1910.

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