ROAR: Dialogue “key factor” in solving North Caucasus’ problems

As the Kremlin continues to develop a new strategy for the North Caucasus, President Dmitry Medvedev discusses the region’s problems with human rights activists.

Medvedev chaired a meeting of the presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights and representatives of North Caucasus’ public organizations on May 20. This third meeting of Medvedev with human rights activists was devoted to the situation in the region.

Clan-based corruption in the region threatens the national security, the president said. Realistically, corruption “is becoming an ally of murderers and separatists that are active in the region,” he stressed.

According to Medvedev, the situation in the region has improved over the past 20 years and now it is “not perfect,” but still “different.” At the same time, the armed gangs operating in the region have become “a part of the international crime network,” he noted. “These terrorists lure various people, young people, into their activities.”

Poor social organization, high unemployment and very low living standards have led to many problems in the North Caucasus, Medvedev said. He added that the leadership of the North Caucasus Federal District that had been created in January was empowered not only to strengthen law and order, but also “to take action to improve the social and economic situation and organize public dialogue.”

Commenting on the meeting, Vedomosti daily stressed in its editorial that “uncertainty is one of the main factors leading to increasing corruption.” Uncertainty in the North Caucasus, including that regarding human rights is supported by both “local power clans and a great number of regional branches of federal departments,” it added.

Human rights activists said on Wednesday that the financing of militants to a great extent comes from inside the region sometimes in the form of “coercive taxes imposed on local businessmen and officials,” the paper said. They also stressed that arbitrary actions of law enforcement agencies were playing at the hands of militants, it added.

Last week, the government approved a special system of management of territorial structures of federal bodies of power in the North Caucasus Federal District, the paper said. Their activities will be co-ordinated by the Ministry of Regional Development.

“The new authorities of the presidential envoy in the district, Aleksandr Khloponin, are actually increasing the certainty of taking decisions in the region and can reduce the level of corruption,” the daily noted.

However, it may take a lot of time before the work of representatives of federal departments “is changed and put into clear, understandable legal frameworks,” the paper noted.

The development of social and economic strategy and the strategy of the youth policy for the North Caucasus Federal District have not been completed. Ideological factors in these strategies and building dialogue with representatives of different ethnic and religious groups are extremely important, the paper said, adding that in this work, representatives of human rights groups will be helpful for the state.

“However, they should have the possibility to argue with representatives of the authorities and, doing so, should not be accused of extremism and aiding terrorists,” the paper stressed.

During the meeting, human rights activists presented the head of state with their vision of the situation in the region, Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said. “Medvedev did not agree with all the arguments of the council’s members, and, in particular, he defended judges working in the region.”

The president also promised to establish another body – the council of elders – and summon a conference with the participation of representatives of law enforcement agencies.

But Ella Pamfilova, the chair of the Civil Society Institution and Human Rights Council, said that the current authorities in the region have been losing the battle for hearts and minds to militants and ideologues of radical Islam.

Local elites often use militants to remove competitors in the fight for positions in power structures, Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted Pamfilova as saying. “The war for posts is being waged at all levels from lower ones to ministerial positions in local governments,” she added.

Pamfilova noted that the very fact of the meeting with the president was important, the paper said. Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alekseeva agreed, but added that a constant forum under Medvedev or Khloponin is needed where human rights activists could meet with representatives of law enforcement agencies.

“We do not have [these kinds of] contacts with the leadership of law enforcement structures in the North Caucasus,” Alekseeva said. Medvedev noted that such a conference may be helpful and the work with human rights and youth groups may contribute to the restoration of people’s confidence in the authorities.

“It is important for Medvedev to know a different opinion,” Aleksey Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies told the paper. “There is the opinion of officials who are oriented to the power, but there is a different opinion,” he said.

No doubt, the Kremlin is not going to be guided by this different opinion, but “it is ready to hear it and take into account while making decisions,” the analyst believes. There is a dialogue between society and the authorities, he said.

The public draws the authorities’ attention to the problems, including those connected with corruption, the independence of courts and others, Makarkin said. “However the community cannot always propose technological options to solving a problem. So, it is the authorities’ task to formulate the option it believes is optimal, taking the council’s opinion into account, the analyst added.

During the meeting, Pamfilova presented proposals formulated after her trip to the North Caucasus and consultations with human rights activists, Kommersant daily said. Among them is stopping pressure on human right activists and journalists and encouraging honest police officers, the paper noted.

So far, according to her explanations, “corruption mechanisms in the region are stronger than human rights activists,” the daily said. “The president supported many proposals of the head of his council, including one concerning the creation of the council of elders,” it added.

However, he did not agree that the idea that the North Caucasus is increasingly “falling out” of the entire Russian space and categorically spoke against any statements about “discredited courts,” Kommersant said.

The meeting lasted more than three hours, the paper noted, adding that all the participants spoke in favor of such gatherings. “Only those who were not invited expressed their discontent.”

“Of course, the conversation could have been much sharper if more human rights activists from the North Caucasus had been present, who could speak without looking back at local authorities,” Alekseeva told the daily.

At the same time, the participants expect that the meeting may be helpful in solving several concrete problems. Maksim Shevchenko, a member of the Public Chamber told the president that schools and rural health centers in small villages of mountain areas were being closed.

Another problem is a great number of checkpoints in the region, Shevchenko said. Now militants are bypassing them, and the checkpoints work rather as customs posts, taking money from people who have to spend hours trying to access to a neighboring region, he told journalists. According to Shevchenko, Medvedev ordered an examination of these issues.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review