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Karachais Join Balkar Protest In Moscow

A group of Balkars launched a series of public pickets in Moscow on October 26 to protest perceived discrimination at the hands of the predominantly Kabardian leadership of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) and the failure of the federal authorities to implement the 1991 law on the rehabilitation of ethnic groups deported by Stalin from the North Caucasus in 1943-1944.

Some 100 people gathered on four consecutive days (October 26-29) at different locations in Moscow; the picketers reportedly included some young Karachais, who were quoted as saying they "follow developments in the neighboring KBR with great interest and will not leave the Balkars to face their problems alone."

The Karachais are the largest ethnic group in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and are ethnic cousins to the Balkars. Both nations lobbied unsuccessfully in 1991-1992 for the creation of their "own" republics.

The prospect, however tenuous, of an alliance between them will inevitably fuel the suspicion and animosity of the Kabardians and Cherkess. Those two ethnic groups too are closely related.

Tensions in the KBR between the Kabardians and the Balkar minority have worsened considerably over the past few years. In July, the Balkars convened a rally in Nalchik to protest years of perceived discrimination.

The KBR leadership retaliated by staging a counter-rally in early August at which participants criticized the Balkars for allegedly seeking to destabilize the political situation.

The unofficial Council of Elders of the Balkar People (SSBN) sought to stage a further protest in Nalchik in late August, but was denied permission to do so.

A separate group of Balkars then decided to organize a march from Nalchik to Moscow, where they hoped to obtain an audience with either President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to discuss their demands. More than 300 people, aged from 20-84, signed up for that march.

The marchers initially planned to set out on October 4, but the start was postponed until October 29 after a member of Medvedev's staff telephoned the organizers and assured them that the Balkars' grievances would be resolved by the end of the month.

Academician Mikhail Zalikhanov, a fellow Balkar and State Duma deputy who incurred the displeasure of the United Russia party last year for lobbying the Balkar cause, similarly requested that the march be postponed.

Oyus Gurtuyev, a leading member of the SSBN which is against the planned march, was quoted on October 30 by Kavkaz-uzel as saying that a group of five Balkars, including Zalikhanov, will meet with presidential administration officials in the Kremlin "in the immediate future."

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.


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