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Violence in Ethnonational Conflicts in the Post-Sovie! Space* Lev D. Gu~kov Russian Institute for the Study of Public Opinion 11 violent conflicts, especially ethnically motivated ones, involve the interaction of two or more sides that are incapable (because of un- willingness or lack of readiness) of finding nonviolent means of re- solving their problem. Violence in ethnic conflicts can be extremely di- verse in nature and have a wide variety of social meanings for the partici- pants themselves: It can be an instrumental, targeted action; take on demonstrative-terrorizing forms; or represent purely affective behavior. In some cases, however, it can even have self-sufficient significance. But for the researcher oriented toward seeking sociopolitical means for re- solving conflicts, violence appears in only one form: the absence of con- sciousness of an involved party regarding resources and means for peace- fully resolving conflicted relations or contradictory interests, or else a rejection of these resources and means for various reasons unconnected with the very nature of the conflict. In any case, violence entails a retreat to the past experience of a national or ethnic group (including the experi- ence of imperial expansion or archaic layers of ethnic culture). In this regard, both sides are responsible for the outbreak and devel- opment of a conflict. There is no single unified explanation for the phe- nomena by which violence erupts in ethnic conflicts. The task of the re- searcher lies in the need for typologically differentiating their structures and consequences. The common feature of these conflicts in all instances *Translated from the Russian by Kelly Robbins. 49
50 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES is found in the collisions of activated ethnotraditional structures that are semiarchaic (or have been or are becoming archaic) with formalistic, mod- ernizing, state-oriented ways of regulating relations that pretend to be formally universal, that is, ignoring the particular characteristics and prob- lems of ethnic minorities. If we look at where (within the boundaries of the former USSR) ethnonational conflicts have arisen involving massive violence, human casualties, bloodshed, and disorders, we see that they occur in zones of incomplete modernization. These zones are character- ized either by the violent maintenance of imperial structures and relations or by the establishment of new ethnocratic relations within territories having ethnically heterogeneous populations: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan (Fergana, Osh), Azerbaijan and Armenia (Sumgait, Nagorno- Karabakh, Baku), Moldova (Transdniester), Tajikistan, Russia (Chechnya, North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Tuva, Karachaevo- Cherkessia, Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria), Georgia (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Tbilisi), Ukraine (Crimea), and Lithuania (Vilnius). Any violent conflict on the territory of the former USSR represents a degradational development of socioinstitutional relations, a shift from more complex and differentiated levels of regulation to less complex and more primitive types of social organization. This means that for certain local and situational reasons, failures are occurring in the operation of previously established institutional (administrative, legal, customary) forms of maintaining social order that arose in the Soviet period or have changed little in recent years. The fundamental principles of ethnonational collisions are based on the unreformed lingering heritage of the Soviet empire, which creates a mass of problems that remain unresolved at the state or political levels. This issue primarily concerns the very structure of unequal and hierarchi- cal ethnonational relations, which formed in the totalitarian society and were maintained not only by repression but also by the then-existing system of economic relations characterized by planned distributions, per- sonnel assignments and transfers, social mobility, and so forth. The Soviet system facilitated processes of modernization in ethnonational regions, which as a rule were located on the periphery of territories with predomi- nantly Russian-speaking populations. The system also stimulated, often by rather crude and violent means, the transformation of many ethnic communities that previously lacked statehood or maintained semitradi- tional lifestyles and organizational forms into some semblance of a mod- ern industrial society. Modernization in these regions preserved all fea- tures of violent russification and ethnocracy (if the issue concerned enclaves of ethnic minorities within other ethnic groups). Therefore, it must be recognized that conflicts within communities that are forming and affirming themselves since the fall of the Soviet system largely main-
VIOLENCE IN ETHNONATIONAL CONFLICTS IN THE POST-SOVIET SPACE 51 lain the repressive character and nature of the Soviet system, which had no legal or conventional mechanisms for regulating tensions and contra- dictions that arose. The practices of totalitarian society did not include actions by institutions capable of resolving conflicts involving ethno- national interests, such as special judicial bodies (there was no appropri- ate legislation or legal precedent); special political representative bodies; or elements of civil society such as associations, political clubs, confer- ences, and so forth. There was also a lack of the appropriate conflict resolution experience. Therefore, the universal arming of the population became common in zones of ethnic tension, while violence, especially involving ethnic paramilitary units, often provided participants with the most effective means of resolving problematic situations. In this sense, the very nature of state power (even in its negative form its weakness or absence) and the forms in which it is organized represent the most important factors determining the outbreak and fur- ther development of conflict. In places where there are no guarantees of social order and no possibilities of protection for the weak, the state is already seen not as a universal, political-legal, supra-ethnic structure but only as an ethnic power, an ethnocratic organization of one ethnic com- munity against another. This conclusion also remains significant with regard to the federal authorities, when state-institutional violence (the participation of Russian military and police structures) against ethnic separatists or new national or ethnoreligious movements is perceived by the weaker side as a manifestation of Russian imperialism. In such cases, the very problem of statehood, social order, and the law (not in the ordi- nary sense of ethnic and traditional order as understood in such cases, but rather in the formalistic sense) becomes something alien, granted from outside by the stronger side (as a rule, either ethnocratic structures of the republic government or organs of federal power "Russians". Severe violent conflicts do not arise in places where the following are true: · The stronger side imposes the rules of the game and has sufficient power to force its opponents to comply. · Other types of behavior are possible, for example, migration. · There is no critical mass of participants or special interests in favor of continuing the conflict. · The presence and capabilities of the federal government are suffi- cient to suppress the most radical organizations and movements. Of fundamental importance in determining how the conflict develops is the presence of an educated and therefore more moderate ethnic or national elite. As a rule, this group was the former Soviet (in its genesis
52 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES and characteristics) bureaucracy, the ethnic nomenklatura, and the intelli- gentsia, which with the weakening or withdrawal of the former authori- ties replaced the previous centrally appointed cadres who were pushed out of positions of executive or regulatory authority. This group is or was opposed by nationalistic organizations or movements that were extra- institutional or at the margins of power and were generally much more radically minded. With the withdrawal or removal of the moderate group, which is more responsible and prepared to compromise, the conflict situ- ation could shift to a form marked by acute intensification. In such cases, the initiative would be seized by less modernized groups and leaders of traditional or quasitraditional communities, people with an acute identity deficit, who experience difficulties in adapting to the ongoing changes. For that reason, they present themselves as protectors and defenders of the basic traditions and values of the ethnic community (especially in situations where there is a real or imagined threat to the existence and future of this community). Therefore, to understand the structure and developmental prospects of an ethnonational conflict, attention should be paid to how well in- formed the participants are about one another, as well as the overall hori- zon of understanding of the situation. For the researcher, this means ad- hering to several methodological requirements that give rise to the need to consider the following points: · definition of the situation, interests, and motives of the groups acting on behalf of the state or the ethnic whole · definition of the situation, interests, and motives of the ethnic mi- nority and its representatives (the local or national intelligentsia, the ethnonational bureaucracy, the elites, and leaders of religious groups) · attitude toward these representatives by the bulk of the ethnic mi- nority population and leaders of the major traditional formations (clans; teips; kinship-based, tribal, and locality-based associations; and so forth) · definition of the situation, interests, and motives of the forces and institutions in the federal structures of the central government that are affected by the ethnonational conflict that is arising In their scope and nature, violent conflicts on the territory of the former USSR can be divided into two types: (1) local, momentary or spo- radic, short-term clashes and excesses (pogroms, murders, aggressive ac- tions, and demonstrations) and (2) wide-scale, regular, and prolonged military actions involving the use of military weaponry. In contrast to those in the first group, those in the second may be described as socially recurrent, that is, retaining their conflict structure regardless of the spe- cific personal participants in the clash. This means they can continue only
VIOLENCE IN ETHNONATIONAL CONFLICTS IN THE POST-SOVIET SPACE 53 thanks to the use of significant social, economic, cultural, and symbolic resources (ethnic wars). Examples of the first type of ethnic conflicts in Russia today include the pogroms and clashes in major cities and acts of aggression against Azerbaijanis, gypsies (Roma), and other communities; tensions with Meskhetian Turks and Armenians (in Krasnodar Territory); the constant conflicts involving Kazakh and Caucasus peoples in Stavropol Territory or Rostov Oblast; the clashes with the Chinese in the Far East and else- where; and the periodically violated balance between the ethnic clans in Dagestan. Conflicts of the second type (organized violence) include primarily both Chechen wars and the unresolved Ingush-Ossetian conflict. In other republics, such examples include the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian- Ossetin conflicts, among others. The development of violent conflict depends on the nature and amount of resources available to the opposing sides. These resources could include the following: · internal sources aid provided by the population to violent orga- nized groups; support and provisioning by the population, local govern- ment budgets, state (federal or republic level) sources of support · outside sources the diaspora; other states (including former im- perial powers in the region); international organizations of a religious, terrorist, or other nature If the sides involved in the conflict exhaust their resources, it could pro- duce a lessening of the conflict and a shift to a dormant phase, but it does not resolve the conflict (Nagorno-Karabakh, Transdniester, the Chechen War). The degree of intensity with which a conflict progresses is condi- tioned by a number of factors, with special importance attached to the following: such · the nature of religious beliefs justifying or condemning violence as · archaic cultural traditions and rituals; for example, admiration of or even a cult of aggression against outsiders, as well as the renegade culture as a remnant of initiation rituals in the Caucasus · special characteristics of ethnic or religious identity (images of self and of threats from outsiders) · the conditioned closed nature of an ethnic community (tribal ethic) · approving or neutral attitudes toward brutality to outsiders
54 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES Also extremely important are such circumstances and issues as the degree to which the development of the conflict has impacted the most important fundamental values of the ethnic community (minority) or surrounding majority (be it the views of the bulk of the population of Russia or the titular republic). Another key point is the degree to which a threat exists to the preservation of the ethnic community as a whole. Conflicts caused by one set of reasons and by one type of participant could take on a more radical and aggressive nature by virtue of their very duration, inasmuch as the composition and motives of conflict partici- pants are changing. Regardless of the direct basic reason for the taking of sides, wide- scale conflicts are initially motivated by the interests of elite ethnic groups in society that are striving either to restrain acting institutions, power relations, and associated economic prospects or to change these in their favor and create new structures. (However, in principle these are repeti- tions of old models of authority and the exercise of power, for truly new relations and organs of power in this regard should not involve grounds for disagreement or potential for conflict.) Turning an ethnic conflict into a special military enterprise pursued by people living exclusively by war and participating in violent actions is possible only by destroying or very significantly eroding the usual social order that defines the life of an ethnic community. In such cases, the traditional structure of the ethnic community is destroyed, the authority of the bearers of tradition is eroded, and young wolves come to the fore- front, new extraordinary leaders who have arisen during the course of the conflict and are recognized primarily by the young generation, disregard- ing the elders. It is in this phase of development of the conflict that crimi- nal and deviant groups within society acquire legitimacy, and robberies, raids, hostage seizures, ransom demands, and so on are sanctioned and in various ways supported by the population or outside organizations. In other words, in this stage of the conduct of armed or aggressive actions, the conflict itself becomes a source of material support for the most radi- cal groups (self-supporting conflict). The problem of the participation of federal government structures in ethnonational conflicts merits separate consideration, as these motives are far from transparent, as shown by the declarations of the Russian leadership itself. The leadership is determined by the composition of in- terests and the circumstances of internal political struggle within Russian society. The unleashing of the Chechen wars was largely conditioned by pressure from those institutions and political forces that were striving to preserve Soviet forms of the sociopolitical organization of society.