Five years to the day: violence in Ingushetia

Alexander Cherkasov
22 June 2009

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov has been president for less than a year.  The legacy he inherited from the previous president, Murat Zyazikov, was not an easy one:  the underworld has declared war on the authorities, security officers were themselves regularly infringing the law during the course of ‘counter-terrorist operations' and ignoring human rights, corruption had increased to unprecedented levels and the government was completely divorced from society.

During the short time that he has been in power, Yevkurov has completely changed course and shown a desire for change.  Firstly, the government's style and methods for dealing with the armed underworld are different.  The Ingush authorities have made serious efforts to stamp out abuses in infringements of the law during the course of ‘counter-terrorist operations'.  Secondly, Yevkurov has tried to be guided by society, including the human rights organisations.  Finally, he has declared war on corruption.

This is very different from neighbouring Dagestan.  Ingushetia is between two sources of violence, power and terror, but has the chance to put an end to the stalemate.  

Clearly Yunus-Bek Yevkurov is not to everyone's taste.  His attempt to work with society has deprived the armed underworld of its basis for mobilisation and is no less acceptable to the corrupt representatives of the government and the security services.

We wish the President of Ingushetia a speedy recovery and shall look forward to him returning to his burdensome duties.

There were several attempts on Zyazikov's life, including a car full of explosives being driven into his motorcade.  The car blew up at the side of the road leaving an enormous the crater.  After that when Zyazikov was due to drive by, a large section of the ‘Caucasus' highway was closed to all traffic.  

In Moscow the close Kutuzov Prospect when the president and prime minister are driven along it.  In Ingushetia a whole section of the federal highway from the village of Barsuki to Magas, the capital of the republic, was completely closed to traffic.  The government also tightened the screws: if  before Zyazikov had tried to ignore what was going on.  After that, every attempt on his family was taken as an attack on him personally and many of his policies were driven by personal revenge.

We are unlikely to see a repeat of this.  Yevkurov is, after all, not a ‘drawing room secret service man', but a seasoned soldier with experience of commanding large numbers of people and taking responsibility for them.  He has already demonstrated this.  It was known that attempts on his life had been planned.  Unlike Zyazikov, Yevkurov's previous job also exposed him to the gravest danger, so we hope that he will be able to return and carry on his work.

The Kremlin's policies are another matter.  When Medvedev came to Makhachkala after the murder of Adilgibrei Magomedtagirov, he gave out conflicting signals:  he talked about corrupt clans and of the need for tougher opposition to the Wahhabis.  What good will that do ?  Methods used in Dagestan have only encouraged the underworld over a period of at least 10 years.  

Of course it is a natural reaction to respond in kind.  The stronger the provocation, the more violent the reaction and violence breeds violence.  Government is always tempted to behave as harshly as possible, as if it is justified in responding to terrorist action.

At this point I can't help being reminded of the famous episode of the Spartans and Emperor Darius.  When the Persian envoys came to the Spartans to demand ‘land and water', i.e submission, the Spartans, being men of few words, threw them into a well: ‘You want land and water - well, here you are!'  We all know this story.  What is less well known is that those laconic Spartans then sent their envoys to Emperor Darius as if to say ‘we've destroyed your envoys, now you can destroy ours'.  How did Darius respond?  He declared ‘I shall not kill the envoys, because by so doing I should become like the Spartans and lose my right to judge them.'

The temptation to behave like the terrorists is always very strong.  But in doing so one oversteps the mark, thus denying both moral rights and the law.  When government puts itself above the law, it loses the moral right to judge the bandits.  It descends to their level, making it difficult to understand who is who.  This is the principle underlying the humane practice of law and everything that mankind has devised to stop the escalation of violence, to prevent it becoming an end in itself, rather than a (sometimes essential) means.

In my view that Yevkurov has already shown that he understands what's what. I hope he will hold fast to his chosen course and find the appropriate means for dealing with the situation, without yielding to the temptation of simple solutions for complicated problems.

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