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Daghestan Denies Floating Initiative To Rename Russia's 'Ethnic' Republics

Daghestan's presidential press service rejected on November 16 as untrue an article published earlier that day by "Izvestia" claiming that the republic of Daghestan leadership was preparing recommendations to the federal leadership to rename Russia's national republics.

If implemented, that proposal could have resulted in Chechnya being renamed the Mountain or the North Caucasus gubernia, thus facilitating the merger of one or more neighboring federation subjects into a mega-Chechnya and formalizing the expansion beyond Chechnya's borders of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov's personal power.

"Izvestia" claimed to have been informed about the planned initiative by an unnamed source close to Daghestan's government. The paper quoted Abdul-Nasir Dibirov, rector of Daghestan's Institute of Economics and Politics, as arguing that since all the republics are multiethnic, it was wrong to refer to them by the name of just one of the ethnic groups that live there. Doing so, Dibirov said, effectively lowered the status of the nontitular nationalities.

Daghestan, which means "land of mountains," is the only one of the 21 national republics not named for the dominant ethnic group(s).

Dibirov suggested that Kabardino-Balkaria could be renamed the Pre-Elbrus Republic, Tatarstan could be the Kazan Republic, and Bashkortostan the Ufa Republic.

Magomed Vakhayev, one of Chechnya's State Duma deputies, went even further. He suggested abandoning the term "republic" and reverting to the Tsarist-era term "gubernia." He proposed the toponyms Mountain Gubernia or North Caucasus Gubernia, without explaining whether that term should be applied only to the present-day Chechen Republic or to a larger territorial entity comprising all the North Caucasus republics, and of which Kadyrov would be head.

The term Mountain Gubernia recalls the Mountain Republic comprising present-day Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Daghestan that existed from 1917 to 1920.

The new Strategy of a State Nationalities Policy that President Vladimir Putin is to endorse by the end of the year initially contained a provision allowing for the merger of several existing federation subjects into a single larger entity. That, too, could have served to legalize the extension of Kadyrov's hegemony across the North Caucasus. That formulation was toned down, however, due to heated objections from Tatarstan and other, unnamed republics.

On the other hand, commentator Stanislav Belkovsky suggested on November 16 that "Izvestia" broke the proposed republic name-change story, that Kadyrov's influence and ambitions have grown to the point that the North Caucasus is already too small for him, and that he is poised to assume a federal-level position.

Dibirov predicted that the national republics would not object to the proposal to rename them; but the reaction from Makhachkala proves him wrong. Daghestan's presidential press service pointed out that the constitutions of individual republics guarantee the equality of all members of the population regardless of their ethnicity, and that "problems in the sphere of nationality relations cannot be solved by means of a simple name change."

Rasul Khaybulayev, speaking for Daghestan President Magomedsalam Magomedov, explicitly denied that any source within the republic's government could have come out with such a proposal. Dibirov subsequently claimed he had been misquoted. He said his proposal was "simply a personal opinion expressed to journalists" and did not originate with the republic's leadership.

Former Russian Nationalities Minister Valery Tishkov, for his part, pointed out that name changes along the lines suggested by Dibirov would require amending not just the constitutions of individual republics but also the Russian Federation Constitution.

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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