Thursday, July 30, 2009

Will Russia fall apart if North Caucasus' problems aren't solved?

The above article was written by Paul Goble on 7-21 and entitled, “If Problems of North Caucasus Aren’t Solved, Russia will Fall Apart, North Ossetian Deputy Warns.” I’ll quote a few lines from Goble’s article and then comment:

“. . . Unless Moscow comes up with and implements a carefully thought out set of policies for the North Caucasus, something it has signally failed to do up to now, a member of the North Ossetian parliament says, then there is a very real risk that Russia itself will ‘fall apart into ‘separate principalities.’”

“. . . According to Gizoyev, the problems of the North Caucasus and of Moscow’s inability to cope with them so far include . . . Moscow officials act as if once violence is stopped, the conflicts are at an end, and the center can ignore providing a legal assessment of who was to blame and bringing them to justice. Such an approach may simplify the lives of officials, Gizoyev says, but it ignores the reality that failure to provide closure simply sets the stage for new conflicts.”

“. . . Gizoyev suggests, one cannot ignore the influence of foreign governments, analysts and communities, some of whom talk about independence for this region and who actively support those in the region itself who, with this encouragement, continue to fight against the existing order of things.”


Sometimes in such notes as these I feel I’ve captured the essence of an article with a few quotes, but not this time. Valery Gizoyev has a long list of grievances, and one should read Goble’s article to take in the entire list, but where is the evidence that Russia will fall apart if these grievances aren’t met?

I have had to guess what Gizoyev’s argument is. To put it in equivalent American terms, suppose Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, demanded that unless the central government in Washington D.C. solved all of California’s problems, the United States was in danger of splitting up into individual states. The States would no longer be “united.” The Union the American Civil War fought over would be lost.

Since I live in California, I know how preposterous that idea is. California is an integral part of the United States and while there are people who would like to see it broken up into two states, no one I know of suggests that it should break away from the rest of the U.S., even if it could. No one is suggesting that California “become independent,” because it is probably as independent as it would ever want to be right now.

But over in the former Soviet Union, there is a history of Socialism where the Central Government “took care” of the individual members of its “Union.” Some of the less well-integrated members of the Soviet Union have become independent, but many opted to become part of the Russian Federation which maintained a certain continuity with the now defunct USSR. Some of the same patterns of thought seem to have survived: We in North Ossetia have a long list of problems and grievances. If you in Moscow can’t solve them for us, then what do we need you for? We may as well become independent. Lots of foreign nations are urging us to become independent. We could do it; so you’d better watch out, Moscow. You’d better get your act together. If we go independent, we will probably be just the first domino. If you can’t solve our problems, then the other elements of the Russian Federation will see that you can’t solve theirs either and want to be independent like us.

If Governor Schwarzenegger were to say something like that to Washington, the answer would come back almost immediately, “solve your own problems.” Nothing on Gizoyev’s list, that I can see, is something that an individual American state couldn’t solve on its own.

There are many national elements in the world, usually distinct ethnicities, that wish to become independent. We could put them on a spectrum. Perhaps Quebec is on or near the mild-end of the spectrum. They debate the subject, but when it comes time to vote, they choose to remain part of Canada. Kurds in Turkey are situated toward the violent end of the spectrum. They fought a separatist wars against Turkey and lost. Is the Turkish border so important that it can’t let the Kurds go, also the Armenians? Obviously the Turks would say that it is.

It is one thing if people like the North Ossetians don’t want to leave the larger governmental entity that controls them, but what of ethnicities that do want to leave. How important is it to Mother Russia, for example to keep these leftovers from imperial times?

And in an absolute sense – an absolutely “democratic” sense, don’t all ethnicities deserve a long list of freedoms that may include independence? “You haven’t treated me lovingly enough,” the North Ossetian wife complains. “Now I want a divorce.”

Wait,” her Russian husband says, “Can’t we talk this over?”

“I’ve had enough of your empty promises,” she sobs. I’d better see some action or I’m moving out.”

What’s the Russian husband going to do. Stalin would pull a gun, point it at her and say, “Get back in the kitchen and shut up.”

How about Putin? What will he do?

1 comment:

Michael Kuznetsov said...


I have just found and read through all the interviews with, and public declarations made by Valery Gizoyev.

He is a good and loyal citizen of the Russian Federation. He warns against the Western Destructivists who want to tear the Caucasus off Russia.

Thus, the Paul Goble's interpretation of the situation is wrong. In fact, North Ossetia is not willing to break away from Russia.

It is simply because they are not madmen, and they can clearly understand that the next day after their would-be independence all the Ossetians will be brutally slain by their immediate neighbours.

So, neither Putin, nor Medvedev has to pull a gun, point it at North Ossetia and say, "Get back in the kitchen and shut up."

Relax everybody!