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14 Apr, 2009 13:35

Kabardino-Balkaria – a gorge-ous Caucasian republic

A country of snowy peaks, difficult gorges and picturesque valleys, the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria is a mecca for alpine skiers and snowboarders, and a strong economic center of the North Caucasus.

Some time ago it was only mountains that rose above the skyline of the Russian Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. Now the economy of the republic is ready to rise just as high.

While the hands of many Kabardin and Balkars still toil with traditional tools rather than computers, it is now out of choice rather than necessity.

Jeweler Zaur Lakunov restores antique knives and jewelry. Customers come to his house from all over Russia and neighboring countries. His items, he says, don’t attract people as weapons any more, but rather as works of art.

“The highest mastery for me is when I take one small detail from an antique thing and make an exact copy of the pattern. I do my best, so that even a professional would not tell the difference between the old and the new,” Zaur says.

Designer Madina Khatsukova says demand for her clothes is higher than ever.

“In the last few years brides were preferring traditional national dresses to the European ones, and men now wear sheep fur hats not only to stage performances, but also when going to theatre, to concerts. There’s a lot of work for me here,” Madina says.

Turning the world into a more beautiful place is in the blood of both Kabardin and Balkars. The region boasts a Mediterranean climate and agriculture, but it’s the proximity of the troublesome Caucasian regions which keeps the republic off the list of investment-attractive places.

Paulo Batistelli came to Kabardino-Balkaria from Venice two years ago and stayed. He helped local entrepreneurs set up greenhouses, which are now the biggest tomato gardens in Europe. He says the republic’s climate is absolutely similar to Italy.

”We’re on the altitude of Rome. We don’t speak the same language but we have the same proverbs, the same stories of our grandfathers – we don’t feel any difference from these people,” Paulo says.

Paulo keeps a close eye on each and every tomato in his computer-run wonderland. No chemicals or insects get through. The short-term plan is to get an EU certificate to export tomatoes to the West. However, he is unhappy that the republic’s economy still heavily depends on subsidies from Moscow.

In addition, the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria boasts a powerful horse breed. The Kabardin breed was made to live in extreme conditions. It can withstand the cold, mountain showers and doesn’t panic in a rock slide.

Recently a rider on a Kabarda horse climbed the 5600-metre Elbrus Mountain though even helicopters cannot get there.

It is no wonder that with such hardy characteristics the Kabardin horses are the republic’s hottest export. Indeed, the image of a dzhigit – a skilful Caucasian rider – on a horse with mountains as a backdrop could become the republic’s trademark.