ETHNIC CONFLICTS CAN’T BE EXTINGUISHED WITH MONEY

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Ingushetia: this is not the right way to encourage Russians to return

Islamist terror, directed specifically against Slavs, could destroy the widely-promoted policy program encouraging ethnic Russians to return to Ingushetia. Before all the post-Soviet wars in the Caucasus, 12% of Ingushetia’s 500,000 residents were ethnic Russians.


The latest public statement from President Murat Zyazikov of Ingushetia has coincided with yet another brutal murder. In the town of Karabulak, where the population was 90% ethnic Russian in the Soviet era, gunmen broke into the home of schoolteacher Vera Draganchuk and killed several members of her family. Zyazikov called on the public not to seek a nationalist subtext in these events. The speech was followed by more bombings in Ingushetia, which killed several police officers and Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel.

Zyazikov’s arguments are clear: Islamist terror, directed specifically against Slavs, could destroy the widely-promoted policy program encouraging ethnic Russians to return to Ingushetia. Before all the post-Soviet wars in the Caucasus, 12% of Ingushetia’s 500,000 residents were ethnic Russians, who mostly lived in the Sunzhi and Malgobek districts and the town of Karabulak. The latest census showed no more than 5,500 Russians left in Ingushetia; other sources give a figure of just over 2,000. The Ingushetian government realizes that without Russians, Ingushetia’s economy will collapse entirely (this is already one of Russia’s five poorest regions). The government has allocated 12 million rubles for a program which aims to persuade 200 Russian families to move back to Ingushetia by 2010. However, given the smouldering Islamist terrorism in Ingushetia, the program’s prospects of success are doubtful.

Any analogy is only relative, but doesn’t present-day Ingushetia share at least a few common features with Kosovo, for example: what would happen over there if someone forced a policy of “encouraging Serbian families to return”? Or what if white settlers who escaped being slaughtered by the Mugabe regime were encouraged to return to Zimbabwe; after all, the former Rhodesia’s economy depended on the whites. What if former French settlers were returned to Algeria, or Greek Cypriots to Turkish Northern Cyprus, or Israeli settlers not expelled from the Gaza sector.

Ingushetia isn’t Gaza, and it certainly isn’t Zimbabwe. Ingushetia is not a Russian colony: it became part of the Russian Empire voluntarily 236 years ago, and throughout most of the 20th Century Ingushetians and ethnic Russians lived side by side quite peacefully. But this is no reason to ignore the fact that present-day Ingushetia (like almost all the ethnic republics in the Caucasus) has some mono-ethnic formations where Russians have been or are being forcibly expelled. Even the relatively stabilized Chechnya has only 30,000 Russians left; and, very sensibly, Chechnya isn’t attempting to launch a program of bringing back the Russians en masse by offering them President Kadyrov’s guarantees.

A situation with mono-ethnic formations requires a far more flexible approach than simply providing state funding for relocating Russians and implanting them in an environment that isn’t always friendly. No amount of money can turn back the clock to the “glorious” Soviet part. Even Marshal Tito, a “master” of interethnic relations, didn’t attempt to force a return of Serbs to Kosovo after they had been driven out by Albanian ethnic cleansing during World War Two. There are some historical and demographic trends that can’t be countered, not even with vast amounts of money. Sometimes it’s necessary to wait a while, and return to the problem from a qualitatively different standpoint.

It seems to me that the program aimed at returning Russians to Ingushetia ought to be revised, if it’s not to be discredited entirely. The emphasis should be on achieving political stability in Ingushetia. Next, it would probably be worth considering a return to the practice of concentrating Russians in separate towns or villages. These may be compact enclaves, similar to Cossack villages; they may be free enterprise zones, promoting economic growth for all of Ingushetia (and the Caucasus) by setting an attractive example. Under present-day circumstances, the return of ethnic Russians should not take the form of a few isolated teachers and doctors being given money to buy homes and placed within Ingush villages – armed with nothing more than a well-meaning but futile selection of words about the all-conquering power of friendship between peoples and interethnic brotherhood.

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