People Seize President’s Office in one of Russia’s Caucuses Republics

Posted in Russia | 27-Nov-04 | Author: Dmitry Udalov

Democracy is a form of government that is believed to be executed by people as the main authority. What happens though when people take this principal literally and violate official laws to defend their rights by themselves? This week, a group of people who’s relatives were murdered seized the office of the president of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, because they felt there was no other way to assure that the local authorities wouldn’t meddle with the investigation of the murders.

A meeting of more than 1,000 demonstrators was held in the square opposite the government office building of Karachayevo-Cherkessia after they learned that the bodies of the seven men, who were murdered on October 11, were found. The demonstrators accused authorities of being involved in the murders. They suspect the president’s son-in-law of masterminding the killings. The demonstrators wanted to meet with the president of the republic, but he did not show up and this triggered an attack on the building.

Then, the office of Karachayevo-Cherkessia’s president was seized by relatives of the seven people that had been killed. They overtook the office, where they held a strike to attract attention to their case. Food and water were brought to the office on Tuesday evening. Most of the captors of the presidential residence were elderly.

The demonstrators said they felt well and that they would only stop blockading the office when President Mustafa Batdyev declared his resignation. The situation could easily have gone out of control by provoking an outburst of violence. Since the local authorities were unable to cope with the situation, some politicians called for federal intervention.

Action by the federal authorities was almost immediate. The Russian president’s plenipotentiary representative in the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, said federal power would not yield to blackmail. “The government will not be blackmailed, it will not make concessions and all resignations in Karachayevo-Cherkessia will only take place within the framework of the law and the constitution”, he said. The Prime Minister of Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, Ruslan Kazanokov, and cabinet officials met on Wednesday evening with relatives of the seven businessmen killed in the republic a month ago. The protesters who barricaded President Mustafa Batdyyev’s office reiterated that they would not leave until Batdyyev resigned.

Kazanokov said the crime had been solved. "Fifteen people involved in the murders have been arrested, the main investigative actions have been completed and the criminal case is being finalized for the trial," he said.

Batdyev said in a statement: “If the court finds me guilty of involvement in the criminal case of the murder of seven people, I am ready to resign”.

At a meeting last night in the government building with the relatives of the murdered men, Kozak said that a commission had finished a probe into the actions of regional law enforcement agencies and authorities. The commission will meet on November 15, and “there will be resignations by all means”, Kozak stressed. As for the seizure of the government building by protesters, Kozak called it “unlawful”. He said that the organizers of the seizure must be punished. The relatives of the dead admitted that there were ”provocateurs and instigators” among the crowd that seized the building. Kozak stressed that he guarantees an objective investigation into the murders that caused a political crisis in the republic.

Although the conflict is not solved, the captors agreed to leave the office of the president. Another positive outcome is that local and federal authorities did not use military force to resolve the conflict.

This incident demonstrates several peculiar features of the present political situation in Caucuses. Firstly, it demonstrates how explosive the situation is. People don’t believe in law, they don’t trust authorities and it makes them act as if they are in the medieval ages defending their rights by themselves. Knowing Caucuses’ traditions where some clans still perform vendettas, the practice of lynching could become one more factor of disturbance in the region.

Federal authorities realize this and are trying to promote law and order by all means; but as such, incidents do take place, and it is clearly evident that measures taken by the government are insufficient.