The Daghestani parliament has voted to remove a clause protecting the Russian republic’s ‘territorial integrity’ from its constitution, sparking fears of future territorial concessions.
On Thursday, 74 MPs voted for the amendments, two abstained, and two voted against.
The amendment, first published on the Daghestani parliament’s website on 25 June, removes the duty of the Head of Daghestan to preserve ‘the territorial integrity of the republic’.
No announcement was made when the amendment was published, and no public hearing was held nor reason given for the amendment.
After the bill was approved by the parliament’s Legislative Committee on 30 June, many prominent figures and members of the public expressed outrage that no public consultation had taken place, with protests taking place against the decision.
Opponents of the amendments have expressed alarm because of a number of land disputes in the North Caucasus in recent years, including claims made by Chechnya on Daghestani territory.
In response to backlash and protests, a ‘public’ hearing of the amendments was held on 24 October attended by officials, representatives of the prosecutor’s office, civil society organisations, and state media.
RFE/RL reported that journalists from Chernovik and Novoe Delo, independent publications in Daghestan, were not allowed in. Members of the public were also not invited to take part.
During Thursday’s parliamentary session, MPs dismissed public concerns. Parliamentary Chair Zaur Askenderov claimed that public figures had been ‘misleading people’, and that concerns about the territorial integrity of Daghestan were ‘groundless’, according to Ask Rasul, a major Daghestani Telegram channel.
Deputy Chair Kamil Davdiev reportedly claimed that changes to the borders of the republic could in any case not take place without the participation of parliament, and promised that there were ‘no risks’.
A land deal in which Ingushetia ceded large swathes of territory to Chechnya was approved by the Ingush parliament in October 2018, despite several local MPs insisting the vote was falsified.
Reasons for the amendments
At the public hearing on 24 October, legislative committee chair Artur Israpilov claimed that the amendments were necessary because of changes to the Russian constitution, specifically a law relating to ‘public power in the subjects of the Russian Federation’, and suggested that similar amendments were being made in all republics.
Israpilov and parliamentary vice-speaker Saygidakhmed Akhmedov also stated that changing the borders of Daghestan would be possible only through a referendum.
On Tuesday, the Head of Daghestan, Sergey Melikov, stated that protection of Daghestan’s territorial integrity would remain enshrined in the constitution even with the amendments. Melikov referred to Article 57, which refers to the unified territory of the republic and states that ‘its borders cannot be changed without the will of the […] people of the Republic of Daghestan’.
Several territorial disputes between Daghestan and Chechnya have emerged in recent years, causing widespread concerns in Daghestan. During the disputes, the Daghestani authorities have been accused by some of not being transparent enough in talks with their neighbour.