Even though State Duma Deputy Mikhail Zalikhanov, the most influential Balkar lobbyist, sent a telegram asking meeting participants not to raise "political" issues, they unanimously called on the unofficial Council of Elders of the Balkar People (SSBN) to initiate the process of "self-determination" of the Balkar people. They did not spell out what they mean by that term -- presumably the division of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) into two separate entities.
That demand will inevitably exacerbate antagonism between the Kabardians and the minority Balkars. (The Balkars -- a Turkic-speaking people whose ethnogenesis remains unclear -- currently constitute approximately 10 percent of the total 786,200 population of the KBR; Kabardians account for 50 percent and Russians some 32 percent.)
It will also complicate the belated efforts by republic President Arsen Kanokov (a Kabardian) to conciliate the Balkars.
The meeting participants' stated rationale for that demand for "self-determination" was that the republic's authorities" have done nothing" to address the Balkars' long-standing grievances. That accusation is not, strictly speaking, true.
The KBR parliament adopted legislation last fall that abolishes the controversial concept of grazing grounds that do not fall under the jurisdiction of individual village councils and transfers control of such grazing grounds in the Elbrus and Cherek raions to Balkar villages.
President Kanokov has reportedly told Circassian public organizations who protested that concession to the Balkars that the legislation will not be amended. And in a personal gesture to the Balkars, Kanokov this year referred to the deportation in his anniversary address as "genocide."
The Balkars also resent the authorities' failure to reconstitute the Kholamo-Bezengiyev Raion on the southwestern outskirts of Nalchik that was abolished following the 1944 deportation. Two Balkar-populated villages in the area were subsumed five years ago into the Nalchik municipality. They further complain that the landmark 1991 law on compensation for those ethnic groups unjustly deported on Stalin's orders has not been fully implemented with regard to the Balkars.
Participants at the March 8 commemoration also endorsed a proposal by the SSBN to seek a meeting with Aleksandr Khloponin, whom Russian President Dmitry Medvedev named in January to head the new North Caucasus federal district, in order to discuss "the problems that have accumulated." They also advocated creating a Council of Elders of Peoples of the Caucasus that would advise Khloponin.
It is by no means clear what percentage of the Balkars support the maximalist demands of the SSBN. Former General Supyan Beppayev, who spearheaded a similar, abortive campaign in 1996 for a separate Balkar republic but now heads a pro-regime public organization to lobby Balkar interests, told Caucasus Knot that there is "no real foundation" for demands for a separate republic. He further pointed out that federal legislation provides for the merger of two or more federation subjects into one larger one, but not for the division of individual existing federation subjects.
A second pro-regime Balkar public figure, Aslan Makitov of the Civic Union of Kabardino-Balkaria, told Regnum that the demand for self-determination is tantamount to rejecting any further attempt at dialogue with the authorities.