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Stability in the Republic of Dagestan



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Communist and Post Communist Studies 43 2010 297 308 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Communist and Post Communist Studies journal homepage www elsevier com locate postcomstud Ethnic competition radical Islam and challenges to stability in the Republic of Dagestan Edward C Holland a John O Loughlin b a b Institute of Behavioral Science and Department of Geography University of Colorado Campus Box 487 Boulder CO 80309 0487 United States Institute of Behavioral Science University of Colorado United States a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t Article history Available online 23 August 2010 Previous academic work on stability in Dagestan has focused on two potential cleavages the republic s ethnic diversity and the challenge from radical Islamist groups Using results from a December 2005 survey and focusing on Dagestan s six main ethnic groups this paper investigates attitudes towards the dual topics of the politicization of ethnicity and the relationship between terrorism and Islamism We nd that Dagestanis maintain layered conceptions of identity and do not attribute violence predominantly to radical Islam in the republic or the wider North Caucasus Scholars should be aware of Rogers Brubaker s concept of groupism in analyzing not just ethnic groups but religious movements as well 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of The Regents of the University of California Keywords Dagestan North Caucasus Nationalities Radical Islam Groupism Public opinion survey Introduction Research on Dagestan in the post Soviet period has noted that the republican leadership has had to walk a tightrope between nationalism and Islam Gammer 2002 p 139 in order to maintain political stability Discussions of nationalism are commonly juxtaposed against institutionalist studies of the breakup of the Soviet Union which emphasize the role of the Soviet federal structure in cultivating distinct identities resulting from the national territorialization of political space Roeder 1991 Suny 1993 Kaiser 1994 Brubaker 1996 This institutional model was examined by Bremmer 1993 using the concept of matrioshka nationalism which summarized the layering of identities including national ones associated with Soviet federalism and explained how nations asserted their political autonomy National activists representing titular groups with their own union republics positioned their political actions against the Soviet center while those on the lower three tiers the autonomous republics autonomous oblasts and autonomous okrugs positioned themselves against the union republics and their titular nationalities 1 This model of political geographic organization however was not uniform across the Soviet space Dagestan s noted ethnic diversity with thirty four ethno linguistic groups made the assignment of a singular titular nationality to the area impractical 2 Despite its location abutting con ict ridden Chechnya and its dire economic situation during and after the transition from communism a signi cant national challenge to the post Soviet Russian state has not emerged in Dagestan The necessary territorial perforations were not in place to spur nationalist opposition rather identities in the republic were overlapping territorialized at multiple scales and associated with various social and political communities Walker 2001 Corresponding author 1 In the Soviet model the most developed nations or those theorized as closest to international socialism were incorporated as union republics The next three tiers mentioned above were also designated according to level of national development 2 The political and demographic structuring of ethnic groups in Dagestan is complex Though there are thirty four ethno linguistic groups this number would be larger if local dialects of the same language are counted as distinct Ware and Kisriev 2001 and Ibragimov and Matsuzato 2005 discuss more thoroughly the Soviet federative model 0967 067X see front matter 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of The Regents of the University of California doi 10 1016 j postcomstud 2010 07 006 298 E C Holland J O Loughlin Communist and Post Communist Studies 43 2010 297 308 Political instability in Dagestan during the post Soviet period is therefore most frequently attributed to the rise of Islamism in the Northeast Caucasus associated with the radicalization of certain elements in Muslim communities in the region as a result of the two Chechen wars Yemelianova 2007 Russell 2007 An Islamist state has been viewed as a potential solution to the social and economic problems including high unemployment endemic poverty and corruption confronting the republic Yemelianova 1999 Gammer 2007 Yet Islam in Dagestan is simultaneously affected by an internal division between traditionalists who follow the strictures of Su sm which has been localized and adapted to the Northeast Caucasian context and Wahhabism the austere Sunni Islamic movement that appeared in the area following the breakup of the Soviet state The followers of the latter tradition are most closely linked with the network of jamaats or militant Islamist organizations which oppose both the Russian government and of cial Muslim organizations in an effort to establish a sharia based Islamic state in the North Caucasus Hahn 2007 To summarize while nationalism is rarely perceived as a threat to Dagestan s political system Islamism and the violence associated with terrorist actions are interpreted as dangers to the republic s stability Rotar 2002 Gammer 2002 Hahn 2007 This general distinction between nationalism and Islamism however downplays particular group speci c positions towards Dagestan s political system speci cally on questions of political power and institutional control in the region the strength of ethnic group attachment among Dagestan s population in comparison to other native groups in the wider North Caucasus and most importantly the potential consequences of the rise of radical Islam in the republic To explore further these nuances we use the results of a spatially and ethnically strati ed survey conducted in the republic in December 2005 to analyze variation in nationalist sentiment and interpretations of the Islamist threat among Dagestan s six leading ethnic groups 3 The analysis of the survey results shows that following Gammer 2007 Walker 2001 and Ware and Kisriev 2001 inter alia the political territorial structure applied to Dagestan during the Soviet period did not lead to the


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