Why did Russian President Dmitry Medvedev name Yunus-Bek Yevkurov as president of Ingushetia?
Noted Russian journalist and expert on the Caucasus Yulia Latynina has speculated that Yevkurov has been given the same task as the president of the neighboring Republic of Chechnya: to suppress the armed resistance (in terms of the intensity of that resistance, Ingushetia is now the most dangerous place in the North Caucasus) and to take the situation in the republic under firm control.
Latynina has named this process "Kadyrovization" -- in honor of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov -- and has said there is no more effective type of management for a region that is constantly threatening to spin out of control than strict central command.
Yevkurov's first steps don't seem to contradict or confirm this theory. So far the new president has been able to produce a general elation through a spate of populist statements and actions. Immediately after his inauguration, he went to a mosque and joined in the prayers. In the following days, he held several meetings with members of the opposition, visited the parents of the slain journalist Magomed Yevloyev and expressed his condolences, and sent a delegation to the Nalchik remand prison to investigate the conditions under which Ingush prisoners are being held.
But he got the loudest raves among his constituents with his demonstrations of the means by which he plans to rein in the siloviki, bureaucrats, and influential local businesspeople that his predecessor did not dare to touch.
During ceremonies marking the professional holiday for the police, Yevkurov -- instead of joining the chorus of voices lauding the professionalism and courage of the officers -- delivered a harsh and unexpected rebuke. He accused the police of cowardice, saying that it is impossible to find a single officer out on the streets at night. His statement that "anyone who is afraid of the bullet shouldn't be a police officer" roused a particular furor in Ingushetia. Yevkurov's speech also made it clear that he does not consider all those currently being held on suspicion of cooperating with the resistance to be guilty, and he urged officials to examine each case carefully.
Another very popular initiative was Yevkurov's call for restoring state ownership of land around Nazran that has been illegally privatized by bureaucrats in recent years. The officials took advantage of the lack of a Land Code and clear regulations on land distribution to take ownership of the parcels, and this issue was particularly controversial because of a severe shortage of good land in Ingushetia.
Yevkurov also ordered the dismantling of a fence illegally erected by Ibragim Malsagov -- one of the richest and most influential people in Ingushetia -- around his house that was blocking an entire street in downtown Nazran. This story goes back to the presidency of Ruslan Aushev in the early years of this decade. Local residents have been complaining constantly about the fence for years, but the authorities never reacted. Aushev simply did not want to cross the influential Malsagov family.
Yevkurov's most ambitious move so far has been his promise to help thousands of displaced Ingush from the Prigorodny Raion of Northern Ossetia return to their homes. With just these few phrases, he acquired tens of thousands of supporters from among the displaced and among other Ingush who have viewed the ban on return as a harsh and painful form of discrimination.
Taking His Message To The People
Who is Yevkurov counting on for support? It seems clear that his statements have been directed primarily toward average citizens of the republic and to informal structures within Ingush society, going over the heads of the bureaucracy, the siloviki, and avaricious business. During meetings with the elders of Ingushetia, he spoke in fluent Ingush and spoke only about what he was sure of. And Yevkurov is sure that it is necessary to create the order that must prevail in the republic under his leadership.
The new president has achieved quite a lot in a short time. However, in the kaleidoscope of his words and deeds, one can see a genuinely harsh leader who tends toward an authoritarian style. He clearly doesn't give much credence to democratic ideas and values. He did not come to Ingushetia to give the people civil liberties (and, more, that isn't what they are asking for).
Ingushetia most of all needs security and the resolution of problems connected with corruption, unemployment, low living standards, and displaced persons. The opposition in the republic has not gelled into a political force with its own complex and finalized program. It remains an elemental force, criticizing the authorities and conveying the needs of the population. It is already becoming clear that it will not be difficult for Yevkurov to win the sympathies of such an opposition.
He will need strong methods to cope with two tasks: To suppress the active, armed underground (which Moscow demands) and to protect the populace from the whims of federal security units (which the people dream of). So far it is hard to say how he will cope with these tasks and what methods he will adopt. Will Yevkurov follow Kadyrov's path and replace federal violence with his own, more loyal to the local population? Or will he try to rely largely on the traditional institutions of Ingush society?
The program that he has articulated so far is largely conceptual -- outlining only the main goals. As for the means -- the new president of Ingushetia, it seems, will have to figure them out as he goes along.Andrei Babitsky is a broadcaster for RFE/RL's Russian Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL