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NGOs Orchestrate Grandiose Show Of Suppport For KBR President

KBR President Arsen Kanokov

KBR President Arsen Kanokov

NGOs in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) convened a meeting in Nalchik on August 6 under the slogan "For peace, for concord, for unity," at which speakers proceeded to demonize the republic's Balkar minority for allegedly seeking to destabilize the political situation. At the same time, participants praised KBR President Arsen Kanokov's success in galvanizing the republic's stagnating economy, and called on the republic's 900,000-plus population to close ranks in his support.

The meeting, which was reportedly attended by several thousand people, was clearly intended as a riposte to one convened 10 days early by the Balkar community of the KBR to protest years of perceived discrimination. The most recent manifestation of that perceived repression was the counterterror operation conducted in the predominantly Balkar-populated extreme western part of the republic in early July that reportedly inflicted considerable economic damage, but in the course of which not a single suspected militant was either apprehended or killed.

But speakers at the August 6 meeting were quoted as condemning not only public organizations formed on ethnic lines that "try to play the national card" (a clear allusion to the unofficial Council of Elders of the Balkar People), but also "the remnants of the armed underground " who "continue to target police officers," meaning the Kabarda-Balkaria-Karachai jamaat of the North Caucasus resistance headed by Doku Umarov.

In some cases, the statements of condemnation expressed at the August 6 meeting were phrased in such a way that it was not clear whether the object of that criticism was law-abiding Balkars who simply sought to air their grievances within the existing political system, or die-hard Islamic militants out to overthrow that system. Mukhamed Shikhobakhov, for example, chairman of the republican war and labor veterans' council, affirmed that "we are sick of hearing and seeing attempts by isolated destructive forces to destabilize the situation in the republic and the south of Russia as a whole."

True, the Balkars may account for a higher percentage of the armed Islamic resistance compared with their share of the KBR population (11-12 percent at the time of the 2002 Russian census). Of the 58 young men currently on trial for their imputed participation in the multiple attacks by the armed resistance on police and security facilities in Nalchik on October 13, 2005, 10 are Balkars, one is Russian, and the remaining 47 are Kabardians.

But the ambiguity of Shikhobakhov's statement, whether deliberate or unintentional, is disturbing insofar as it could be construed as implying contacts or complicity between the Balkars as a whole and the Islamic underground, and thus furnish a pretext for blanket reprisals against the Balkar community.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.