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Russia: Adygeya Leadership Reaffirms Opposition To Republic's Liquidation

20 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The success of the 17 April referendum on subsuming the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs into Krasnoyarsk Krai is likely to encourage those Russian officials who favor holding a similar referendum on abolishing the current status of the Republic of Adygeya (RA) by subsuming it into Krasnodar Krai, within which it constitutes an enclave.

Adygeya's Russian majority, which accounts for some 70 percent of the republic's total population of 450,000 -- 500,000, and which has for years protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the Adyg minority, may support the proposed merger with Krasnodar Krai. But the Adygs, including Adygeya's top leaders, vehemently oppose it.

So, too, do 52 percent of the population of Krasnodar, according to an opinion poll cited by a member of the RA government quoted by AdygeyaNatPress on 5 April. Evenk Autonomous Oblast leader Boris Zolotarev opposed the planned merger with Krasnoyarsk when it was first mooted in 2002, as did his counterpart in Taimyr, Oleg Budargin, but both men subsequently shelved their objections.

Meeting in early March with members of the International Cherkess Association which represents the estimated 3 million Diaspora, Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen criticized the proposed merger with Krasnodar as "regressive" and a threat to inter-ethnic relations in what he termed an "explosive" region.

At a further meeting later that month with representatives of the Cherkess Diaspora, Sovmen again argued that his republic and Krasnodar Krai should continue to exist as separate regions, but he added that he favors closer economic and cultural ties between them, according to the paper "Shapsugiya" as quoted by on 25 March. (The authorities in Krasnodar Krai have since withdrawn funding for that paper, which was published twice monthly in a print run of some 3,000 for Krasnodar's 12,000-strong Shapsug minority, according to AdygeyaNatPress on 31 March.) Sovmen rejected the arguments adduced by the leaders of Krasnodar Krai that the merger is economically expedient given that Adygeya is less developed than Krasnodar; he said that Adygeya has one of the highest economic growth rates in the entire Southern Federal District.

Within days, however, Krasnodar Krai Deputy Governor Murat Akhedzhak announced that the merger of the two regions was "not far off," and that it would expedite investment in Adygeya, an argument rejected by activist Ali Avgan, who pointed out to AdygeyaNatPress on 5 April that the Shapsug population of Krasnodar needs investment even more urgently than does the Adyg minority in Adygeya. A representative of the AR government similarly took issue with Akhedzhak's argument that Krasnodar is economically stronger than Adygeya. He told AdygeyaNatPress on condition of anonymity that "numerous" rural residents of Krasnodar regularly travel to Adygeya in search of seasonal or casual work.

On 15 April, the national movement Adyghe Khase met in Maikop and formed a Committee to Protect the RA Constitution. Participants further decided to organize mass protests across the republic against the planned merger, including demonstrations and even acts of civil disobedience. Also on 15 April, "Izvestiya-yug" published an interview with Chief Federal Inspector for Krasnodar and Adygeya Anatolii Odeychuk that inflamed passions even further. In that interview, Odeychuk reportedly claimed that that it is he, rather than Sovmen, who controls Adygeya, and he made a number of what were termed tactless and insulting comments about Sovmen personally.

Three days later, on 18 April, Adyghe Khase and the second major national movement, the Cherkess Congress, addressed an open letter to Odeychuk's superior Dmitrii Kozak, presidential envoy to the South Russia federal district, protesting the tone and substance of the interview. Meeting the same day, RA government ministers likewise composed an open letter to Kozak similarly protesting what they termed Odeychuk's recourse to "crude falsification of the facts, lies, and slander," and demanding his dismissal on the grounds that they consider it impossible to continue working with him. (Odeychuk was invited to that meeting and said he would attend, but failed to show up, according to AdygeyaNatPress on 19 April.) The ministers admitted that "there are problems in Adygeya," but argued that Odeychuk's interview was counterproductive, served as an alarm that highlighted "the dangers we face ... and who wants to rock the boat in which we all sit," and "discredits the federal organs of government."

Why Odeychuk should have risked fuelling tensions at this juncture is unclear, given as "The Moscow Times" commented on 19 April a propos the outcome of the Krasnoyarsk/Evenk/Taimyr referendum, "some of the regions slated for eventual merger, especially in the North Caucasus ... will demand far more political finesse than Evenkia and Taimyr." President Vladimir Putin seemed in his comments on the 17 April referendum to be advocating a differentiated approach to mergers, arguing that enlargement "is not an end in itself," but should be resorted to "only if territories ...cannot resolve the problems of their residents independently."

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