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Conflict

Learning lessons

by Andrea Herbst

In brief

A demonstrator in Moscow with photos of killed human rights activists from Chechnya.

A demonstrator in Moscow with photos of killed human rights activists from Chechnya.

Instability in the North Caucasus started in Chechnya. The year 2009 was especially violent. To find a solution, Moscow should accept Western help, German scholars argue.

In 2000, Russia declared that the war in Chechnya was over. Nonetheless, violence continues. Matters have become ever more difficult because rebels increasingly refer to radical
Islamism rather than to secular nationalism, as Regina Heller writes in this year’s “Peace Survey” (“Friedensgutachten 2010”) which is published by five German institutes that specialise in peace and conflict research.

Like Chechnya, many Russian republics in the North Caucasus are instable and struggle with security problems. To find a solution, Heller argues, Russia needs a completely new strategy instead of its “policy of the hard hand”. Military action in the “fight against terror” was not successful. So far, Moscow accounts for 75 % of the government budgets in the North Causasus, but long-lasting success will only come about once the money actually reaches the people instead of only the regional authorities, Heller argues.

The West, in turn, needs to understand that Russia does not trust outside aid. To win trust, the author states, Western governments should support President Medvedev’s efforts to improve governance in the region. They should also draft development policies to help improve socio-economic conditions. Two civil wars (from 1994 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2000) were fought because Chechens wanted to become independent of Russia. They brought about religious extremism, a relatively new trend in the region. Heller, however, argues that the increase in radical Islamism is not simply rooted in ideology. Rather, she takes account of local motives such as territorial disputes, closings of mosques, rampant corruption and human rights violations by military and police.

Conflict later spilled over to the neighbouring countries. “Since autumn 2008 the situation in eastern North Caucasus has become ever more tense,” Heller writes. Unless the social and economic situation in the region change and political institutions stop failing, religious extremism could gain yet more ground, she argues.

Another troubled country is Tajikistan which first gained independence in 1991 and then faced civil war from 1992 to 1997. Like many central Asian countries, it is made up of very diverse groups that differ in terms of ethnicity, culture, economic influence and religious or political affiliations. These groups base claims to power on region, family and clan ties. In this environment, it is important to promote an institutionalised balance of ethnic and regional interests, Arne C. Seifert argues in the same book. In his view, it is not enough to ensure that external efforts focus on creating peace through power sharing. As in Chechnya, he states, it is essential to take the unique characteristics of the conflict into account. Otherwise, creating and sustaining peace seems nearly impossible. (alh)