Russians for North Caucasus like bread or air

In recent years there has been an outflow of Russian-speakers from Russia’s North Caucasus. But the presidential envoy to the region considers Russian language to be like bread or air, a link between various republics’ coexistence in the area.

­Presidential Envoy to the North Caucasus Aleksandr Khloponin spoke to RT.

RT:Mr. Khloponin, thank you so much for being with us today.

Aleksandr Khloponin: Thank you.

RT: President Medvedev said that one of the key problems many countries, including Russia, face today is interethnic tension and criminality. Many Russians associate the root of these problems with the Caucasus, which you were entrusted to supervise. What can we do about it?

AKh: I strongly object to your putting it this way – that the Caucasus is the epicenter of ethnic crime. Unfortunately – and it has repeatedly been stressed – crime has no national identity. I would support those of the opinion that the criminal group in question is of no particular ethnic origin. And another important issue we have to tackle today is migration. Migration, unfortunately, or perhaps, on the contrary, luckily, is an economic process. Strictly speaking, Modern Russia has two major centers today – Moscow and St. Petersburg, perhaps another two or three cities, agglomerations that abound in competitive business opportunities, jobs and everything related to this. These centers attract people from the republics of the North Caucasus, Siberia and the Far East, stimulating migration towards big cities. This is the first issue, and I repeat it is of purely economic nature. But the same can also be said about education. Today, the most popular and prestigious higher educational institutions are the universities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, therefore, it is only natural that young people are eager to enter these universities above all others. We should focus on the issue and take all the necessary steps at government level to provide for similar, competitive educational facilities in the North Caucasus and many other Russian cities, if we want to develop our vast country. Another really grave problem is the unrestrained inflow of cheap labor from the former Soviet Union. This is a huge problem today. We are getting a cheap and uncontrolled workforce that is not always civilized and cultured and cannot always adapt to living in the capital and other cities. We should concentrate on this problem.

RT: I have two interconnected questions for you. The first one is about the outflow of the Russian-speaking population from the North Caucasus. In fact, it is not only students that migrate to the big cities, but also all types of common citizens. We can't compare this process to that of Siberia of the Far East, because unlike these regions the Caucasus has to deal with ethno-cultural insulation as a result of internal Russian migration that could eventually split up the country. What can be done to reintegrate this population back into the North Caucasus?

A.Kh: Let's look at this problem at another angle: who benefits from migration of the Russian-speaking population? If you think that the Republic of Dagestan, or the Chechen republic, or any other constituent entity benefits from it, you are fundamentally wrong. They need Russian-speaking population like they need bread or air, because the Russian language is a link between various nationalities coexisting in the North Caucasus. There is another thing here – you know the notion of population mobility, and the Russian-speaking population is far more mobile than the Caucasians, who are more devoted to their homes and roots, land and traditions. The state should deal with this by creating new competitive jobs. We believe that the state development program for the North Caucasus should focus on creating conditions that would facilitate an inflow of the Russian-speaking population to the region. It is in our immediate interest to work on this. And what is particularly encouraging, the republics are interested in creating such conditions too.

RT: In August a high ranking French delegation visited the North Caucasus and announced their decision to invest considerable funds in developing tourism there. Could this result in building a cluster of tourist resorts disconnected from the rest of the region where misery and lawlessness still persist?

A.Kh: Are you saying that there will be a zone where law and order will be installed, and chaos and misery everywhere outside this zone?

RT:I am asking if this scenario is possible.

A.Kh: Of course not. I want you to understand that we are not reinventing the wheel here. We are not inventing constructions that have never been heard of. It is perfectly obvious that unless the local population is integrated into the of the tourism cluster development, process all our attempts to build ski lifts and five-star hotels will inevitably fall flat if we disenfranchise the indigenous population.

The local population must be involved in all these developments. How do we do that? First of all, we must gather what I call the “Starship troopers"; that's up to 10,000 young people who will be employed in the tourism and service sector. Those people must be local and living in the areas where those mountain-skiing clusters will be developed. Second, from any residential areas located around those skiing clusters, we are going to select young people, teach them, and do our best to help them set up small and medium businesses – sometimes with the help of the state. They may open small hotels for tourists. We want people to be able to make money. If people feel involved and integrated in this process – I see no problems at all. Austria had the same experience a while back. Austria's Vice Chancellor said at the conference that there were also explosions in Austria while infrastructure was being built. The local population, he said, was also terribly upset until authorities managed to involve locals in what was going on. Before that, the project had incurred great difficulty.

RT: Mr. Khloponin, you have said that peaceful civilians, businesspeople, and even state officials pay terrorists to ensure their safety, and that money later is used to finance terrorist attacks. What can be done about that, when even state officials and civilians have to pay terrorists?

A.Kh: First of all, I would say it has to do with a certain lack of trust that businesspeople have in the ability of federal authorities to protect them from criminal extortion network, which has recently been active in the Caucasus. This situation, however, is changing now. We are working actively to explain to people that aiding and abetting terrorism is a crime just as destructive as terrorism itself, and that any money given to terrorists can be seen as a crime equal to carrying out a terrorist attack. Today, we have many cases of local citizens and businesspeople co-operating with law enforcement. The results are improving gradually, but again, this is long process.

RT:I have talked to several leaders of North Caucasus republics and their opinions differ. Some of them say negotiations with terrorists are necessary, while other think that there should be no talking to terrorists. Do you think authorities must negotiate with terrorists?

A.Kh: I believe there's nothing to negotiate with terrorists. But we should talk and negotiate with parents of those children who have left for the woods and haven't committed any crimes yet. If there's a change to bring them back from the woods with help of our religious leaders, or their parents and families, elders’ councils and any other social institutions, we should be doing our utmost to take it. We should encourage those who report to us and inform on these people; those who are willing to lay down their arms and start living a peaceful life. We should consolidate our efforts. But once they take a gun and commit a crime, there is nothing to talk to them about.

RT: How many terrorists operate throughout the North Caucasus today?

A.Kh: We like giving numbers, but it's actually very difficult to make a difference between bandits and terrorists. The overall number that I usually give to media agencies, for both small groups of five or six members, and large groups of 20-30, is up to 1000 people in all the North Caucasus republics. We are aware of these gang leaders, and we've been working thoroughly on their cases.

RT: Are they funded from within the country, or by other countries?

A.Kh: Recent analysis shows that the abroad/domestic funding ratio is about 10 to 90, the latter being Russia. They don't need the support of international organizations and other worldwide terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda. The money they extort from the business representatives can fund them. This actually means that it's not so much terrorism as banditry. At the same time, I want to stress again that there is indeed a funds inflow from Western foundations, charities and human rights organizations. These funds are used, among other things, to finance radical religious literature, and a number of bandit leaders who exploit children for profits in the Caucasus.

RT:Mr. Khloponin, many North Caucasus residents go to Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to study. By the time they return home, where is this subtle line for them between their spiritual freedom and a realization that they're citizens of a secular state?

A.Kh: Unfortunately this line becomes blurred. We are indeed facing this problem. Until recently, we were unaware of the number of young people who traveled for religious education to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, and a number of other countries. Having lived and studied for five years in a country like Saudi Arabia which is an absolutely a non-secular state, a person returns to our country of secular authority institutions and laws, and feels lost amid these realities. These people require a special approach and an adaptation program, in essence. Various countries have different ways of working on this matter. For instance, Turkey and particularly Azerbaijan have practically made a decision on providing active adaptive work for these people. Until these people are really fully adapted to secular laws and to particular rules and principles of behavior, until they’re prepared to follow these laws, they have no right of taking any position in any state, municipal or regional structure, nor to do business. They have to go through a certain adaptation system first.

Unfortunately there's no legislative base for this. This is a very complicated process. It requires a lot of patient and tedious work on the part of families, for example, on relations with parents. We need to keep track of children who travel abroad to study, as we cannot prohibit them from receiving religious education. At the same time, we should certainly develop our religious institutes to train experts of Islamic studies in the North Caucasus. I believe the key aspect will be to establish a secular Islamic institute through the North Caucasus Federal University or another regional institution.

RT: A lot has been now said about democracy and its development in our country, and most people believe that sooner or later, we will reach the Western-style democracy. In the Caucasus, for centuries there have been institutions which are very difficult to be rooted out. These institutions are totally incomprehensible for the Western mentality, such as the teip system, Islamic jamia and particular law systems. Does this kind of a society really need a Western-style democracy?

A.Kh: I don’t know what a Western-style democracy is. The West itself has various kinds of democracy. In the political interpretation of democracy, everyone wants to impose their vision of democracy on other countries. I'm totally against it; I believe Russia has its own form of democratic development. As for our republics, I wouldn't dramatize the situation regarding their peculiarities at the North Caucasus. There is perhaps one significant difficulty which we should gradually give up; this is a certain atavism which over the past 20 years was re-imposed in the Caucasus for some reason. I'm talking about the fact that the executive power structures of our regions are being established according to the ethnic identity. This is the most acute issue which subsequently brings up speculations about clans and corruption. The executive power bodies should be staffed according to professional rather than ethnic principles. As for ethnic features, traditions, culture, and religion, these aspects should be manifested in the Parliaments where people should create laws and reflect this diversity that exists in the republic and in the Caucasus generally.