Could a return to traditional structures stabilize Chechnya?

From RFE/RL Caucasus Report 3 March 2000, Volume 3, Number 9
In a lengthy article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 February, Igor Zadvornov and Aleksandr Khalmukhamedov review the problems facing Chechnya, of which the most crucial are the choice of a new leadership and the optimum administrative structure, and suggest a number of unconventional solutions.

The two authors begin by excluding any future role for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, whom they accuse of "an act of personal capitulation" by "fleeing from Grozny," instead of disassociating himself from his field commanders and welcoming Russian forces into Grozny, as the Yamadaev brothers did in Gudermes. They claim that either the Russian Constitutional Court, or the Criminal Code, could furnish grounds for removing Maskhadov from the post of president.

But having done so, the Russian authorities will be faced with selecting a replacement--a problematic task given that Russian expectations that a successor to Maskhadov would emerge who is both loyal to Moscow and acceptable to all Chechens, whether in Moscow or Chechnya, proved utopian. The authors implicitly exclude Moscow-based Chechens from the lineup of possible future leaders, commenting that the Chechen emigration is more an economic than an ethno-political category. Speaking in Moscow the following day, Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii similarly argued that the new Chechen leadership should be selected from the ranks of competent individuals who have worked for years in Chechnya and won the confidence of the local population. Candidates who fit those criteria include Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov, but not the head of the pro-Moscow State Council, Malik Saidullaev.

In the absence of an obvious and universally acceptable candidate to replace Maskhadov, the authors argue, it would be premature at this juncture to embark on even a gradual transfer of power to local bodies. On the contrary, power should remain in the hands of the Russian military, in the first instance (in the person of military commandants), and of the Russian government's representative, Nikolai Koshman, whose responsibilities center primarily on economic reconstruction.

In addition, a presidential representative to Chechnya should also be appointed, who would be empowered to rule on all administrative issues, including coordinating the work of the power structures. That representative, the two authors suggest, would serve as a surrogate president during the "transition period," which they say should last for about two years. During that time, new organs of state power would be developed in Chechnya.

On the local level, raion administrators are currently named by Koshman in consultation with the raion military commandant. But in the medium-to-long term, a new workable model for local administration in the lowland regions of Chechnya must be devised. That task is the more problematic, the two authors say, insofar as "not even embryonic traces of a civil society have emerged in Chechnya." The new model, the authors suggest, should therefore be based on the traditional patriarchal division of Chechen society and the dictates of the traditional code of behavior and law, that combines historic precepts and prohibitions and elements of Islamic law.

Under the new model which the authors propose, two traditional institutions would be revived and institutionalized. The first of those is local village councils, which would assume the functions of local self-government: such councils, the authors claim, have already emerged in the villages of Shalazhi and Ken-Yurt. The second is the "teyps" or clans, of which there are an estimated 130. Each teyp has its own head, and members of one teyp do not necessarily acknowledge the authority of another. (In an article published in October 1998, Aslambek Akbulatov, who served as state secretary to the late Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev, similarly proposed reviving the teyp system as the most effective way of restoring some semblance of order. Akbulatov also suggested abolishing the post of Chechen president as being "alien to the Vainakh mentality.")

The authors admit, however, that while their proposed model may be appropriate for the lowland and foothill regions of Chechnya, it may not prove workable in the southern mountain districts whose inhabitants are, they claim, more inclined to sympathize with radical Islam. (Liz Fuller)

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