Why Kabaradino-Balkaria?

News reports are confirming the obvious: last week’s attacks in Nachlik were carried out, or at least according to his own words provided “operational guidance”, by Shamil Basayev, Islamist, terrorist, and, since the killing of Aslan Maskhadov, defacto leader of the Chechen nationalist movement. One report from Radio Free Europe however is of special interest.

The title of Jeremy Bransten’s article poses a simple, yet vital question: Who carried out the Nalchik raids and why? Most of the time the answer we get is simple: Islamists who use terror to strike fear in Russia society because they are evil, inhuman etc, etc. Unfortunately, for the Russians the answer just isn’t so and as long as they take a Bushite analysis of Chechnya they will never extricate themselves from that quagmire.

Bransten quickly points out that whether Basayev masterminded the attacks or simply provided operational guidance means little. The truth of the matter is that the attack was carried out by local men. The spread of the conflict into neighboring Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, and now Kabaradino-Balkaria is often blamed on Chechens crossing the border to cause havoc. However, this time the violence seems homegrown. Worse, Nalchik signals a possible unification between Kabarins and Balkars against Moscow. Bransten writes,

“Nalchik remains under a Russian security lockdown, so obtaining reliable facts remains difficult. But initial indications are that most of the attackers were young locals, including many young Kabardins.

If true, this could be significant because until now, most militants were believed to be Balkars, who make up about 10 percent of the population. The Balkars have historical grievances against Moscow. Like the Chechens, they were deported to Siberia by Stalin during World War II. Ever since returning to their homeland, they have faced discrimination and remained on the economic margins of society. The Kabardins, by contrast, who make up 50 percent of the population, were favored by the authorities. Both groups — naturally — have remained wary of each other.

But if Balkar and Kabardin militants are now making common cause under the banner of the radical group Yarmuk Jamaat, this could portend trouble for Moscow.”

Call it the dialectic of disintegration. When the Soviet Union imploded, all of the external ethnic groups that had their own republics, and perhaps most important their own Communist Parties, broke away. The internal ethnic groups, like the Chechens, Balkars, and Kabardins who have long historical grievances with Moscow, were left to fend for themselves in the periphery. The Chechens sought political independence. Others like the Tatars reconciled themselves to the new Russia. And most like the Balkars and Kabardins were mostly left in economic squalor.

It seems from Bransten’s account that the youth of Kabaradino-Balkaria are less and less willing to put up with it anymore. It is possible that Basayev’s call to holy war is having some resonance among them.

As always, economics is playing a decisive role for the youth’s taking up of arms. But that is not all. The conflict is spreading throughout the region in as a result of another dialectical process: repression. As Bransten notes,

“So what drives young Kabardins and Balkars to answer Basaev’s call for holy war? Paradoxically, say experts, it is the government’s campaign against Islamic extremism that is driving some young men to radicalism.

Human-rights activists say that under the guise of rooting out extremism, police have become notorious for their brutal tactics against the local population — especially young men. This, combined with a hopeless economic situation, has bred a sense of anger and alienation that Basayev has tapped into.

Accuse an unemployed young man of being a Wahabbi, bring him in for a brutal interrogation session — and if he wasn’t a Wahabbi at the beginning, he will likely become one by the time he is released back out onto the street the activists say.”

Police brutality is “rampant” in Kabaradino-Balkaria, pushing otherwise innocent and non-political young men, who’ve been humiliated by the police and security forces, to take up arms to avenge themselves. We shouldn’t be a bit surprised by this. One need only read some of the classics on anti-colonial struggles, namely Franz Fanon, to understand this. He wrote in his classic, Wretched of the Earth:

“At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence” (51).

It is this use of violence, even if it only contains a miniscule hope for liberty, can quickly unleash a cycle where the “theory of the ‘absolute evil of the colonist’ a response to the theory of the ‘absolute evil of the native.’” Once it begins to be fueled by its own logic, it can prove so impossible to break, expect through the complete replacement of one group by the other.