Is Bashkir Separatism Real or ‘Administered’?

A Bashkir separatist group that recently attracted international attention is less a genuine movement than a tool of the republic’s leader who exploits its existence to intimidate Moscow into thinking that only he can control the situation there, members of the mainstream Bashkir opposition told a Moscow newspaper.

Charges of this kind have been a frequent feature of post-Soviet political life in the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation, and regardless of their validity, they have often been employed to discredit national movements, the incumbent leaders of these republics, and even the non-Russians who form their titular nationalities.

Consequently, it is critical to try to distinguish between those nationalist groups that really exist and those that are used by leaders to promote their own interests as well as to recognize that some groups can and do move from one category to another depending on circumstances.

And it is equally important to recognize that in most but fortunately not all cases, information about separatist groups in the Russian Federation now resembles that about medieval Christian heresies in the Middle Ages: most of the information available comes from their opponents, a not entirely disinterested source.

In an article published in Moscow’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” yesterday, journalist Yan Gordeyev reports that Bashkir leaders opposed to republic President Murtaza Rakhimov say that Kuk Bure – Bashkir for “Grey Wolves” – is not a real movement but rather a tool of Rakhimov to retain power (www.ng.ru/ngregions/2008-10-06/9_bashkiria.html?scroll).

A clear example of that, the Gordeyev article continues, was the declaration Kuk Bure made a month ago following Moscow’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Kuk Bure leaders Azat Sal’manov and Timur Mukhatorov complained that the Russian authorities were guilty of double standards having failed to recognize Bashkortostan.

Because that statement, which appeared on a large number of Middle Volga websites, but also on various Bashkir and Middle Volga portals, appeared to suggest that the events in the Caucasus were having a broader impact, it attracted the attention of several leading international news outlets, including the “New York Times.”

But now “Nezavisimaya gazeta” has taken pains to suggest that the Kuk Bure declaration is not a reaction to events in Georgia but rather that it reflects the political needs of the government of President Rakhimov, who many Moscow news outlets have suggested may soon be replaced.

Ramil’ Bignov, the head of the Coordination Council of the United Opposition of Bashkiria, told the Moscow paper that “behind the Kuk Bure movement stand people from the clan of President Rakhimov and the activation of this movement is directly connected with the shaky position of the head of the republic.”

According to Bignov, “Rakhimov is trying to frighten Moscow into thinking that there is an explosion of separatist attitudes in Bashkiria and to present himself as the single force capable of restraining that explosion” — even though the group calling for independence reportedly numbers only a few dozen people.

Kuk Bure – the name means “Gray Wolves” in Bashkir – emerged several years ago, according to its organizers, to protect “the ordinary Bashkir from the arbitrary actions of the powers that be, migrants who are organized in criminal communities and chauvinistically inclined representatives of the federal government.”

Frequently, the Kuk Bure group organized large, pro-Rakhimov demonstrations and also protests to counter anti-Rakhimov meetings by the more moderate opposition. And Gordeyev suggests this pattern, plus the fact that Kuk Bure became active “every time” when Rakhimov was having problems with Moscow, demonstrates what it is really about.
“In the opinion of political analysts [whom Gordeyev does not name], the powers that be in the national subjects of Russia create and support organizations of national separatists so as to be able to use them as an instrument to frighten the federal authorities,” a phenomenon known as “administered nationalism.”

This system was pioneered by Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” writer continues, and is now being used by the Bashkir leader. Indeed, Gordeyev cites the words of RFE/RL analyst Karim Yakushev that “practically behind any nationalist organization in Bashkiria stand people close to President Rakhimov.”

There is no doubt that Rakhimov and other republic leaders have exploited the existence of groups like Kuk Bure, and it is even likely that they sometimes have played a role in helping them emerge and operate. But there are three reasons why that may not be the reason for dismissing them in so sweeping a fashion as Gordeyev suggests.

First, such groups do reflect the attitudes of some people in each of these republics, and they are not as “anonymous” as Gordeyev claims. While he may not have been able to “make contact with members of this organization, he could have but does not appear to have made use of its extraordinarily large and useful website, kyk-byre.ru.

Second, the support Kuk Bure in Kyrgyzstan and similar groups in other non-Russian republics give to republic leaders does not prove that they are puppets of those leaders but may show that they are simply making the not unreasonable calculation that these leaders are, at a time when Moscow is tightening the screws, the best such groups can hope for.

And third, it is important to remember that exactly the same charges were leveled against national movements in the union republics during Gorbachev’s times. While some of them did have ties with or were exploited by republic leaders, these groups often played a key role not only in overthrowing those leaders but in dismembering the Soviet Union.

Paul Goble

Source: Window on Eurasia

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