Republic of Ingushetia President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov is already facing a serious challenge to his authority from many Ingush who expressed approval and optimism at his appointment just three months ago.
Over the past three weeks, the independent website ingushetia.org has repeatedly urged delegates to an "all-national congress of the Ingush people" on January 31 to pressure the republic's leadership to reject proposed republican legislation on local self-government that, the website argues, would be tantamount to abandoning longstanding territorial claims on the neighboring republics of Chechnya and North Ossetia.
Some Ingush have even advocated secession from the Russian Federation and the proclamation of an independent Ingush state.
Public organizations and villages across the republic have elected 3,323 delegates to the congress -- the first such gathering to be held since Yevkurov's now-discredited predecessor Murat Zyazikov came to power in 2002. Three separate cases have been reported of local officials arbitrarily amending the lists of elected deputies to include Zyazikov supporters, according to ingushetia.org on January 19. Twenty-seven Republic of Ingushetia parliament deputies will attend ex officio; former President Ruslan Aushev has been invited, but it is not known whether he accepted that invitation.
Yevkurov's decree of January 8 scheduling the congress proposed that delegates focus on how to stabilize the sociopolitical situation in Ingushetia, where for the past two years armed clashes between police and Islamic militants have occurred almost on a daily basis; on corruption, which evolved into a major problem under Zyazikov; and on the planned legislation on local self-government, which would designate the external borders of the republic and the internal borders between the various municipalities.
The first two issues on the agenda are, however, likely to be eclipsed by the third, which has dominated public debate in the run-up to the congress.
A two-hour meeting on January 20 between Yevkurov and 10 delegates to the congress elected by the Conference of NGOs of Ingushetia failed to reach a consensus over the draft law. Yevkurov continues to insist that it should be adopted in the current form, which states that the Republic of Ingushetia consists of three municipalities -- Nazran, Sunzha, and Malgobek -- but which also contains the proviso that the law does not extend to the territories that in accordance with the April 1991 Law on the Rehabilitation of the Repressed Peoples should be incorporated into the Republic of Ingushetia.
In other words, it leaves the door open for amending the composition of the republic in the future to incorporate more territory.
The 10 congress delegates, for their part, insisted the draft law be amended to stipulate that Prigorodny Raion, currently part of North Ossetia, and other territories regarded as historically Ingush land are part of Ingushetia. Both sides did agree, however, on the need to delineate formally the present administrative border between Ingushetia and the Chechen Republic.
Some other delegates, however, have reportedly prepared a draft resolution for discussion at the congress arguing that the law on local self-government should not be adopted until those Ingush who fled Prigorodny Raion during the interethnic clashes of October-November 1992 have been permitted to return to their homes. To that end, they propose asking the Russian Federation Constitutional Court to declare unconstitutional the federal legislation requiring Chechnya and Ingushetia to adopt legislation on local self-government. National Republic Of Ingushetia
The independent website ingushetia.org, for its part, posted an unsigned statement on January 24 arguing that the congress is set to approve "the sale of a considerable portion of sacred Ingush territory" for 29 billion rubles ($832.6 million) -- a reference to the investment package Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced during his visit to Ingushetia
on January 20.
The statement explained that "adopting the law on the borders of municipalities without including the expropriated and other historic Ingush lands is tantamount to officially relinquishing [any claim on] a considerable part of one's homeland."
Even more categorical in its wording is a draft resolution posted on January 28 on the website in the name of the hitherto unknown Ingush Democratic Party. That resolution argues that over the past two centuries the Ingush nation has been subjected to systematic violence and discrimination on the part of Russia, and more recently, to attempts at its physical annihilation or total assimilation. For that reason, it continues, the congress should dissolve the Republic of Ingushetia and proclaim a sovereign Ingush state -- the National Republic of Ingushetia, that would encompass all historic Ingush lands.
The statement says the congress should form a provisional government and schedule elections to a new parliament within 60 days. It should appeal to the international community to recognize the fledgling Ingush state and establish diplomatic relations with it, and to support it in the event of a military threat from Russia. (That hope seems utopian in the light of the West's failure to intervene on Georgia's behalf during the August fighting in South Ossetia.) It discounts the possibility that Moscow will react to any such declaration of secession the same way as it did in Chechnya in 1994.
Ingush oppositionists have raised the possibility of secession on previous occasions, purely as a tactical move to pressure Moscow. But statements such as this one could still serve as a pretext for rounding up the Ingush opposition en masse and banning the planned congress. Just one hour after it was posted online, Roza Malsagova formally announced she will step down as editor of ingushetia.org.