People in the Russian Republic of Ingushetia have boycotted official celebrations for Russia’s Day of National Unity in protest over a controversial land deal with neighbouring Chechnya, local sources say.
Russia celebrates the Day of National Unity — a public holiday — on 4 November every year. A rally was held in celebration in Nazran, the largest town in the republic.
Local blogger Izabella Yevloyeva, who was present at the rally, told OC Media that no more than 1,000 people came to the city’s Concorde Square, near the House of Culture.
‘In past celebrations of this day, the square was filled with people, they even arranged a procession around the city. This time the square was barely filled to a quarter or a third.’
According to Yevloyeva, many residents boycotted the event, fearing that if they came out on a public holiday it would be used in government media as an illustration of support for the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.
Yevkurov signed the controversial deal with his Chechen counterpart Ramzan Kadyrov on 26 September.
Local blogger Bekkhan Khashagulgov told OC Media that in past celebrations, tens of thousands of people had participated in the Unity Day rally. He said that this time, the government had been unable to attract a few thousand people even using their usual tactics of coercing state employees to attend.
‘People at the rally showed a reluctance to participate. It got to the point that when the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, spoke on the stage, people did not applaud, as usually happens. The same thing happened with other speakers speaking on the stage.’
‘Because of this, the sound engineers had to turn on the phonogram applause, it was a pitiful sight’, said Khashagulgov.
Some activists who opposed the land deal came to the rally with placards opposing the new borders.
‘Ready to renew protests’
Renewed protests against the new frontiers were planned to continue in the Ingush capital Magas until 2 November, however, protest leader called them off ahead of schedule on 31 October.
Previous demonstrations involving thousands of protesters broke out on 4 October and lasted until 17 October, when the official permit for holding them expired.
[Read on OC Media: Protests erupt in Ingushetia as MPs say Chechnya land swap vote was falsified]
One of the protest leaders, Akhmet Barakhoyev, told journalists the decision was made after the Ingush Constitutional Court recognised the deal as unconstitutional.
The court ruled on 30 October that a law passed approving the deal by the the People’s Assembly of Ingushetia, the Ingush parliament, was unconstitutional.
A number of MPs from the People’s Assembly claimed the 4 October vote itself was rigged, with more MPs voting against it than for it.
During the rally on 31 October, Barakhoyev said that efforts to restore the former borders of the republic had now moved to a legal plane.
According to him, the next step in repealing the law deal should come from MPs in the People’s Assembly.
Barakhoyev also noted that if necessary, the protest organising committee was ready to renew protests in Magas.
However, not all protesters agreed on the expediency of stopping protests.
The question of ‘political will’
Commenting on the Ingush Constitutional Court’s 30 October ruling, the Chief Justice of the court, Ibragim Doskiyev, wrote on his Facebook page that the court’s ruling was final, was not subject to appeal, and came into force from the moment it was announced.
‘A normative act recognised as unconstitutional is no longer valid and cannot be applied. The National Assembly of the republic is obliged to repeal the law declared unconstitutional’.
Doskiyev argued that the Russian Constitutional Court could not challenge the competence of the constitutional court of a subject of the Russian Federation.
The opinion of outside lawyers on this issue is divided.
Yelena Lukyanova, a law professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, told Caucasian Knot that Chechnya’s Constitutional Court may issue a contradictory decision to it’s Ingush counterpart on the land deal.
In this case, she argued, the dispute would first go to the Russian President to mediate, and failing this, to the Russian courts to decide.
Aleksandr Balabanov, associate professor at the Russian Academy of Public Administration, told Caucasian Knot that in a legal conflict of opinion between the constitutional courts of the two republics, the decision of the Constitutional Court of Russia may be decisive.
He also noted that this issue went beyond the framework of legal procedures, and required political will.
‘A simple solution cannot be achieved’
Akhmet Yarlykapov, from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations’ Centre for Caucasian Studies, told OC Media that it would be wrong to judge if the protests ending represented a tactical victory or defeat for the authorities.
‘We must ask ourselves a question — what did the protesters want to achieve with this rally? First of all, they wanted to show the mass dissatisfaction of local residents with this agreement; by this viewpoint, the rallies, it can be said, have fulfilled this task.’
According to Yarlykapov, it is impossible to repeal the law on borders through protests, ‘therefore, the transition of protests to the legal plane is the next stage’.
Yarlykapov said that moving the problem to a legal plane may delaying a solution.
‘It is certainly possible the process will be delayed, but dialogue will still begin and the search for a solution will most likely happen.’
‘Another questions is that a solution is very difficult to find. On the one hand — there is a very categorical position of the Ingush protesters on the cancellation of the agreement. On the other hand — the Chechen side is involved in the dispute, which believes that the agreement is legal and everything has already been resolved.’
‘A simple solution cannot be achieved,’ Yarlykapov said.
Yarlykapov said he did not believe the authorities would apply pressure on activists.
‘Everyone saw what happened because of this agreement, is there any sense to revive the people and lead the situation to instability again?’ he said.
A controversial deal
The previously unannounced agreement was signed between the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov in Magas on 26 September.
According to an independent cadastral examination commissioned by Zakri Mamilov, an MP in the Ingush parliament, Ingushetia lost 338 square kilometres to Chechnya in the deal — 9.3% of its territory.
A legal evaluation of the deal commissioned by public organisation the Council of the Ingush People’s Teips (clans) concluded that it ‘should be recognised as illegitimate’. The evaluation was conducted by legal expert Marina Rylskaya, a member of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly’s expert committee.
At an Extraordinary Congress of Representatives of the Ingush People on 27 October, representatives decided that the agreement should be recognised as illegitimate, Yevkurov’s actions should be legally evaluated, and direct elections for the head of the republic should be returned to Ingushetia.