Wednesday, 08 May 2002

THE ADYGEYA REPUBLIC: A LITMUS TEST OF RUSSIAN FEDERALISM?

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By Hasan Kanbolat & Suat Kiniklioglu (5/8/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: One of the major features of the Putin administration is the increasing tendency to stem centrifugal forces within the Russian Federation and strengthen the Center. In response, the federal republics as well as all other administrative units (krai, oblast, federal city, autonomous oblast and autonomous okrug) are using every opportunity to maintain and possibly increase the political, economic, social and cultural autonomy attained during the Soviet and immediate post-Soviet era. The current struggle between these two opposing trends is destined to determine what sort of federalism will prevail in the Russian Federation.
BACKGROUND: One of the major features of the Putin administration is the increasing tendency to stem centrifugal forces within the Russian Federation and strengthen the Center. In response, the federal republics as well as all other administrative units (krai, oblast, federal city, autonomous oblast and autonomous okrug) are using every opportunity to maintain and possibly increase the political, economic, social and cultural autonomy attained during the Soviet and immediate post-Soviet era. The current struggle between these two opposing trends is destined to determine what sort of federalism will prevail in the Russian Federation. The struggle between the centrifugal and centripetal forces in some areas where the titular nation forms a majority - as in Chechnya - the aforementioned tension translated into open political violence, indeed into warfare; or into strong political tensions, as in Tatarstan. In contrast, in areas where the titular nation is a minority, the struggle for or against more centralization primarily evolves around democratic elections between the non-titular Slavic majority and the titular minority. The Adygey Republic (AR), one of the 21 federal republics of the Russian Federation, is a small but interesting example of the ongoing power struggle between Moscow and the regions. 27 percent of the 450,000 inhabitants of the AR are Adygey - an ethnic Circassian people, which emerged as a distinct people in the 13th century. Slavs, including Cossacks, make up 67 per cent. Following a short-lived experience of independence early in the past century, Adygeya became an autonomous region within the Krasnodar krai. When the USSR disintegrated the AR declared its sovereignty in June 1991, which was recognized by the Upper Parliament of the Russian Federation in July 1991. The AR was also recognized as a republic at the signing of the Federation Treaty in March 1992. Hence Adygeya\'s status was elevated from that of an autonomous oblast to a sovereign republic. The AR consolidated its federate republic status and adopted its own constitution in 1995, according to which the Russian and Adygey languages were recognized as official languages of the AR.

IMPLICATIONS: In terms of centralization policies, the Putin era was marked by a number of measures, including the increased scrutiny of the laws and constitutions of the republics and their accordance with the constitution of the Russian Federation. The Putin administration re-organized the Russian Federation on the basis of political, economic and military criteria in July 2000 and divided Russia into seven regions, ruled by centrally appointed governors. Subsequently, the former North Caucasian Federal Region became Southern Russia. Furthermore, the newly-created region\'s borders were extended further towards the north, so that the demographic structure of the region became dominated by ethnic Russians. During Soviet times, titular nationalities could come to power thanks to the \'paritet\' (equal representation) even though they may constitute a numerical minority in a given republic. The paritet system is by and large still implemented in the federal republics of the Russian Federation. Nevertheless, paritet is increasingly being criticized by nationalist elements of the Slavic population (Russians, Cossacks, Ukrainians and Belarussians). The Adygeya Slavic Union does not accept the titular Adygey government\'s legitimacy. Furthermore, some Moscow-based media outlets are actively supporting the Slavic Union. These media outlets dangerously describe Adygeya as a \'second Chechnya in the making\'. The Slavic Union\'s seemingly justified opposition to paritet is in fact anti-democratic on moral and ethical grounds as the Slavic elements were settled there by the imperial Russian government centuries after the indigenous Adygey. The Adygey intelligentsia, which is opposed to the Slavic nationalists, finds it unacceptable that the federal structure of the Adygeya Republic and the Russian Federation is deliberately tainted with. On 13 January 2002 the Adygeya Republic conducted presidential elections. Following intense pressure applied by the pro-Russian Slavic Union before the election a suspension of the language law that requires the president to be bilingual in Adyge and Russian was passed. Furthermore, the candidate of the Slavic Union, Nina Kanalavolava openly declared that she would see to it that if she were elected, Adygeya\'s republic status would be lifted and it would become part of the Krasnodar krai. The Slavic Union also called for the revival of the traditional Cossack paramilitary forces, a symbol of Russian colonialism and oppression of the last century. Such developments raised concerns whether Adygeya could indeed become another hotspot of ethnic conflict in the North Caucasus. Eventually, contrary to such fears, Hazret Sovmen, an Adygey businessman and philanthropist obtained 68 per cent of the votes and was sworn in as president on February 8. The election of Sovmen, who owns one of the world\'s largest gold mining firms, also confirmed a recent trend in Russian politics, namely the election of rich businessmen to the presidency in the Federation\'s republics.

CONCLUSIONS: The Adygey, who lost over 90 percent of their people during the war with Tsarist Russia in the second half of the 19th century through ethnic cleansing and compulsory migration, are conscious of the fact that another confrontation with Russia may wipe out their republic, as happened to the Ubykh people - another Caucasian but now extinct people that lived to the west of Adygeya. Therefore, Adygeya\'s government seeks to strengthen its sovereignty by supporting the federal structure of the Russian Federation. Proud of hosting a mild climate, productive soil, an industry capable of attracting foreign investment and a favorite area for pensioners, the Adygey Republic is a rare safe haven of stability in the northern Caucasus. However, the levels that Adygey-Slavic tensions may reach, and the difficulty to foresee developments after the presidential elections will be critical elements in the future stability of this northwestern Caucasian republic. Undoubtedly, the level of support lent by Moscow to the pro-Slavic organizations which oppose the development of statehood of the Adygey Republic on the basis of an Adygey identity will be the most crucial factors for the viability of stability in this region.

AUTHORS\' BIO: Hasan Kanbolat is a senior researcher at the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies (ASAM), and a former project manager of the Turkish International Cooperation Agency (TIKA) and the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His research interests lie with Caucasian affairs, Russia\'s Caucasus policy and Turkey\'s role in the Caucasus. Suat Kiniklioglu is Coordinator of the Center for Russian Studies at Bilkent University, Ankara. His research interests lie with Turkish-Russian relations, mutual perceptions, Turkish-Ukrainian relations, and Black Sea/Caucasus security issues.

Copyright 2001 The Analyst. All rights reserved

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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