By Liz Fuller, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - January, 25
At his inauguration on January 13, 2007, as president of the Republic of Adygeya, former Maykop State Technical University Rector Aslancheryy Tkhakushinov said he would oppose any new effort to subsume Adygeya into the surrounding Krasnodar Krai.
But subsequent developments over the past year have raised doubts among the republic's Circassian minority as to where Tkhakushinov's loyalties really lie. Adyghe Khase, one of two NGOs that seek to defend Circassians' interests, opposed Tkhakushinov's candidacy from the outset, appealing without success in November 2006 to Russian President Vladimir Putin to permit outgoing Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen to serve a second term.
The proposed merger of Adygeya into Krasnodar was the subject of a protracted political crisis that was finally defused in April 2005, when President Putin said the issue was no longer on the agenda. Tkhakushinov again ruled out any such merger in April 2007, but just weeks later he signed a friendship and cooperation pact with Krasnodar Krai governor Aleksandr Tkachev that envisaged closer cooperation in numerous spheres, including legislation, trade, agriculture, establishing ties with foreign countries, the use of natural resources, and "preserving a single information space." The Prague-based "Caucasus Times" on April 28 construed that cooperation pact as intended to promote the integration of Adygeya into Krasnodar.
Circassians' collective doubts were fuelled by plans to abolish the Adygeya branches of several federal agencies, including the customs office and the federal veterinary, natural resources, and narcotics-control agencies. Two months ago Adyghe Khase and a second Circassian public organization, the Cherkess Congress, addressed an open letter to President Putin, State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, and Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin protesting those plans as violating the Russian Constitution, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on November 16.
The Adygeya parliament committee for budget-finance, tax, and economic policy issues similarly drafted an appeal to President Putin not to proceed with the abolition of republican subsidiaries of federal agencies, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on October 20, citing committee Chairman Rashid Mugu. Mugu stressed the key role played by the agencies in question in developing the republic's economy.
Tkhakushinov not only failed to persuade Moscow to back down, but has since made what the Circassians consider a further, equally unacceptable concession to Moscow by insisting that a Russian should be named as the new chairman of the republic's parliament to replace Ruslan Khadjibiyokov, who resigned to take up his seat in the Russian State Duma elected on December 2. Russians are by far the largest ethnic group in Adygeya, accounting for some 64.5 percent of the republic's population of 447,000; the Circassians, by contrast, account for only 24.2 percent. In line with his pledge at the parliament session in December 2006 at which he was confirmed as president, Tkhakushinov in January 2007 named a Russian, Vladimir Samozhonkov, as prime minister. He also vowed that that Russians would receive 50 percent of all ministerial portfolios and posts as administration heads. But Circassians account for approximately 50 percent of the 54 parliament deputies, kavkaz-uzel.ru noted on January 11.
At a joint meeting on January 18 of Adyghe Khase and the Cherkess Congress, Adyghe Khase Deputy Chairman Nalbi Guchetl argued that since the republic's president is now chosen by the Russian president and his authority is less than when he was popularly elected, the significance of the parliament as the second most important organ of power is correspondingly greater. For that reason, Guchetl continued, a great deal now depends on the choice of parliament chairman.
Arambi Khapai, a member of Adyghe Khase's leadership, pointed out at the January 18 meeting that the process of reducing the number of federation subjects is continuing, and therefore the perceived threat to Adygeya's survival as a separate (and the second smallest) federation subject has not been removed. The meeting participants decided to convene a meeting on January 23 with the Circassian parliament deputies to decide how to proceed.
Tkhakushinov, however, moved first, convening a meeting on January 21 with parliament deputies at which he presented then with a list, endorsed by Moscow, of three alternative candidates for the post of parliament speaker, all of them Russians: Anatoly Ivanov, deputy speaker of the outgoing parliament; Aleksandr Luzin, who heads the executive committee of the local chapter of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party; and Sergei Pismak, deputy chairman of the government Committee for Culture, Sport, the Media and Work with Public Organizations. On December 21, Mugu listed among possible candidates Ivanov and two Circassians: acting speaker Mugdin Chermit and Construction Committee head Asker Shkhalakhov. The parliament speaker is chosen by a simple majority vote; 35 of the 53 parliament deputies are members of Unified Russia.
Khapai was quoted by kavkaz-uzel.ru on January 22 as arguing that Tkhakushinov's insistence on appointing a Russian, rather than a Circassian to head the legislature is further proof that Moscow seeks to use the Circassians themselves to bring about the abolition of the Republic of Adygeya.