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Russia: Kabardino-Balkaria President Encourages Dialogue, Especially Among The Young

  • Liz Fuller

(RFE/RL) After young militants launched multiple attacks on police and security agency targets in Nalchik in October, Kabardino-Balkaria Republic President Arsen Kanokov has made efforts to reach out to the younger generation.

Within days of his confirmation as president in late September, Kanokov, a Moscow-based businessman, was arguing the need to revitalize the economy, attract investment, create new jobs, end what he termed the "war" between the republic's senior Muslim clergy and young believers, and promote transparency within the government apparatus as a means of precluding cronyism and corruption.


The October attacks, which officially claimed more than 140 lives, have been blamed on entrenched corruption within the republic's leadership, appalling social and economic conditions, and the systematic and indiscriminate harassment by local police of practicing Muslims.


Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel said on 15 December that more than 40 suspects have been charged and more than 60 people arrested in connection with the raids.


New Youth Movement


The Youth for Kanokov movement emerged in late November, and launched its own website (http://www.kanokov.org) intended to serve as a vehicle for discussions as to how the problems facing the republic could/should be solved.The site reportedly registered 540 visits on its first day and an average of 150-200 visits per day on subsequent days, kavkazweb.net reported on 29 November.


The movement already has branch organizations in Nalchik and 10 districts. It is unclear, however, whether it reflects a spontaneous initiative, or whether it was the brainchild of the presidential apparatus. Having been based in Moscow for several years prior to his appointment as president, Kanokov does not have a power base in Nalchik.


The fact that people wishing to attend the founding congress of Youth for Kanokov were required to e-mail their names beforehand to the organizers is likely to have precluded the participation of many of the impoverished and alienated rural residents.


Most members of the organization are students -- they also include businessmen, journalists, lawyers, and social workers. To judge from photos of the gathering posted on the movement's website, however, practicing Muslims are by no means excluded: one of the participants is a young woman wearing the hijab.


More Dialogue


Kanokov is not just concentrating his attention on youth. He is also encouraging greater dialogue between the authorities and the population at large.


Shortly after the Nalchik raid, he gave an interview to Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in which he deplored the total absence of such dialogue. The fact that Kanokov agreed to talk to Politkovskaya, whose reporting of abuses by the Russian military in Chechnya has almost cost her life on at least one occasion, sets him apart from both his predecessor Valerii Kokov and many of his fellow heads of North Caucasus regions.


In a bid to promote dialogue, Kanokov appealed to both parliamentary deputies and government officials to "go out and talk to people," annews.ru reported on 5 November. He reasoned that without doing so it is impossible to tackle the festering problems that helped trigger the Nalchik raids.


Kanokov delivered a similar message three weeks later at a meeting with heads of the republic's media outlets, his website prezident-kbr.ru reported on 25 November. Kanokov said on that occasion that not only the state-controlled media but privately owned media outlets should give the maximum coverage to the workings of the republic's government, which should in turn make the maximum amount of information available.


The media should, in turn, provide "feedback" from the population in the form of criticism and suggestions. Then, in early December, Kanokov convened a meeting to discuss setting up a presidential consultative council that, in Kanokov's words, would serve as a "bridge" between the republic's leadership and the public, rian.ru reported on 7 December.


And in December a confidential telephone hotline went into operation that citizens may use to inform the presidential apparatus of suspected criminal offenses or abuses of office by bureaucrats, Interfax reported on 15 December. During the first week the line was operational the presidential apparatus fielded a total of 437 complaints, 75 percent of which were about delays in payment of wages; only 2 percent focused on instances of corruption.


Much of the analysis of the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria in the wake of the October Nalchik attacks focused on perceived opposition to Kanokov within the republican leadership, especially the "power" ministries, which have reportedly engaged in systematic reprisals over the past couple of years against anyone suspected of sympathizing with, or of contacts to, Islamic radicals.


Those reprisals are believed to have contributed in no small measure to the emergence of the djamaats that constitute the underground opposition to the regime. But the Kabardino-Balkaria parliament, too, is now flexing its muscles, having proposed separate amendments to Russian legislation that would toughen the penalties for "terrorism" and "religious extremism," according to Interfax on 30 November and regnum.ru on 1 December.


Whether the police and Prosecutor-General's Office would go so far as to adduce that legislation in a future crackdown on isolated members of Youth for Kanokov in a bid to discredit the entire organization remains to be seen.

Nalchik In Pictures

A slideshow look at the October 13-14 violence in Nalchik, capital of the Russian North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria.
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