09 June 2003, 17:26

Informational policy in the Northern Caucasus

Any sensible informational policy, especially the informational police of the State, cannot be prepared without maximum consideration of the peculiar features of the region and its population. We may wonder if Russia will be or will be not strengthened by its regions ("Strong regions - strong Russia"), but for the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) it is especially important to win the confidence of the inhabitants of all regions, to consider their interests, to meet the requirements not of "an average" person, but of people living at different latitudes and longitudes. This must be the company?s strategy.

Now, let me describe certain terms. When using the notion "informational field" we mean not only the ordinary information market, but a very complicated social phenomenon with space parameters (from the point of view of physics, this field contains an unlimited number of degrees of freedom). It is distinguished by the fact that socially important information constantly generates in each of its points, and, in order to preserve and develop this social unity, this information is distributed along its segments with the help of natural or specially formed mechanisms. The use of this notion permits to escape a fragmentary approach, "a mosaic picture" of the organization of information flow circulation, to consider this circulation in its unity and in the unity of al its components. At present, mass media are, in fact the only active mechanisms of information distribution, fulfilling their functions in the most effective way in informing the society and in public communication.

Of course, all the components of the informational field (individuals and groups of people) play a double role in their relation to mass media, being at the same time subjects and objects of the activities of mass media: as subjects, they generate information acting as "newsmakers", and as the objects of the activities of mass media, they receive information and act as the audience.

The informational field may be structured, dividing it, on the grounds of assigned criteria, into specific levels and segments. At present, one of the most common criteria for structuring the informational field is believed to be the geographical criterion, or, to be more precise, the economic and geographical criterion, which contributes to the common use of such notion as "a regional informational field".

The Northern Caucasus occupies a special, perhaps, even an exclusive place in the informational field of the Russian Federation. It differs from other regional fields, first of all, due to unequal importance of North Caucasian units of the Russian Federation by their socio-economic, ethno-religious and civilization characteristics, in unique features of these units and great difference between them. For example, it is impossible "to ignore" the difference between the Russian cities of Rostov, Krasnodar and Stavropol and Islamic Daghestan, Chechnya, Kabarda, etc. It is impossible not to see the great difference between the political regimes established in various North Caucasian unit of the Russian Federation, from moderate democracy in North Ossetia and National Communist regime in Krasnodar to authoritarian power in Kabardin-Balkaria and Shari`a in Chechnya. All these factors result in all these units of the regional field generating and giving to mass media too much conflicting ("explosive" in relation to other units) information, and the units receive this information through numerous "partial" filters.

Local stress of the North Caucasian regional informational field is so great that the flow of news from the Northern Caucasus is much stronger than the flow of information on the activities of the authorities of the Russian Federation. The Northern Caucasus with all its problems is shown now (judging by monitoring) in every fifth newsreel of Vesti news program, while other information clusters are covered much more seldom. At the same time, the information flow targeting the Northern Caucasus either in quantity or in quality does not meet the requirements dictated by the importance of this region for the destiny of Russia. It is here that the State (central) and regional mass media still have a lot to do.

The specific features of the North Caucasian informational field, to great extent, result from what specialists believe to be great resistance of the social unity to the influence of unfavorable natural and social factors, which is much more than in other regions determined by demographic factors - long life and high birth rate. Here the index of expected life duration from birth is the highest in all the Russian Federation. Even in the most industrialized Rostov region, this index for men is 1.5 years more than the average index all over the country, so this is considered to be high enough. Thus, senior citizens of the Caucasus (Russians and representatives of the ethnic groups traditionally residing in this region) constitute a very important segment of the audience, and their interests should be fully taken into account. Maybe, it would be reasonable to prepare special programs for them. At the same time, it is necessary to bear in mind that these are not busy and suffering pensioners who can be seen in most regions of Russia, but people who have a special position in a stable social system and who are themselves a factor of stability, and that these people have their own cares and their own outlook.

The second factor contributing to the specific features of the regional informational field is the conservatism of the structure of the social unity existing in almost all Caucasian units of the Russian Federation and the well-known Caucasian traditions. An external manifestation of the conservatism is the minimum migration activity in this region. The Caucasian center is secluded: it attracts very few immigrants, for its social unity has a precise structure where the niches (in terms of sociology) are being aggressively preserved. On the other hand, very few people move from the Northern Caucasus to other parts of the country. Most inhabitants of the Northern Caucasus leaving their macroregion only temporarily stay in other places. After saving some money, they, in their majority, return to their homes. Here, a special situation is that of the inhabitants of the Autonomous Republics of the Caucasus. When appearing in other regions of Russia, they can occupy very few social niches, traditionally connected with legal (market) or illegal branches of the infrastructure. At the same time, those who came from the Caucasus remain alien to the majority of the population. Their role is close to the role played by ethnic Chinese (Hutsiao) in many regions of the world: the same restricted place in legal and illegal branches of the infrastructure and weakened relations with the rest of the population. Thus, it is possible to say that a model of "an informational enclave" has been realized in the Northern Caucasus: the local (in very narrow meaning of this word) news and items are especially important and especially required by the audience. To certain extent, this is confirmed by the fact that, according to an opinion poll conducted in the beginning of this year, the Vesti evening news programs were less popular in Rostov (unfortunately, the opinion poll data could not be obtained for other cities of the Caucasus) than anywhere else in Russia.

An important factor influencing the specific features of the informational field of the Northern Caucasus is that the local social unity is very structured and persistently heterogeneous. The social unity of this macroregion consists, on one hand, of a great number of small and conservative nations, and on the other hand, of the great mass of "non-mixing" Slavic population which can also be described here as rather conservative. All the system of the macroregion varies greatly due to ethnic, language, cultural and economic variety. Thus, extreme conservatism in the structure of population is compensated by increased variety along other axis, making the structre of the system balanced and, consequently, stable. In this connection, it is very important for the State television and radio to ensure the process of information exchange between the parts of the social unity and, thus, promote an increase in the stability of the local system.

The description of the informational field of the Northern Caucasus will be incomplete without such a factor of its formation as joint adherence of many territories to separatism or to claims of a special place in federative relations with the Center. The roots of this phenomenon are in "freezing" of the primitive community system in the Autonomous Republics and in the Russian population being indifferent to recurrence of this primitive community system. This is why this population did not seriously protest against separatism until recently. Quick growth of the infrastructure (both legal and illegal) characteristic of Russia under the conditions of the return to market relations permitted representatives of this center, with the help of the family and clan factors, to win the strongest positions in this infrastructure. Expansion of the population of the Caucasus in criminal activities and on the markets of Russian cities is inevitable reality because, in Russia, the Caucasus is one of the very few centers fit for the criminalized early type of market relations. Informational development of this subject is a very complicated and delicate matter. It is absolutely no good to proclaim "criminal trade mentality of the members of Caucasian ethnic groups" or to treat this matter as a natural phenomenon. Yet it is no good either to show it as an idyll: this would be connivance to the growing (or already grown?) local criminal organizations.

To a considerable extent, the informational field of the Northern Caucasus has been traditionally determined by strong dependence of some Autonomous Republics of the State assistance. The existing crisis, accompanied by decrease in the role of the State in economics, has had very painful manifestations here. Yet, in a strange way, perhaps because of "the peasant features of the population" , the peculiar features of the use of natural resources and people being used to the crisis (which has lasted for many decades in some of these regions) we face almost complete absence of the economic component in the social stress manifested on the background of serious poverty of a great number of the population. Indeed, newsreels show no manifestations of social protests or increase in mass unemployment. This is strange: newsreels almost do not cover the economic life of the Northern Caucasus. In habitants of other parts of the Russian Federation, when watching TV, may wonder: is there economics at all, or, maybe, only robbery and slavery exist there?

Again, we need to mention the fact that a special stress in the situation in the Northern Caucasus is caused by initially doubtful borders between territories inhabited by various ethnic groups. These borders were drawn without considering historical or ethnic realities. At present, about ten "disputable" territories claimed by two nations at a time can be found in the Northern Caucasus. At the same time, two major North Caucasian nations, Ossetic and Lezgin, were divided by State borders. An additional factor of stress in the Northern Caucasus is the problem of rehabilitation of the exiled nations (Chechen, Ingush, Karachai and Balkar), the problem of territorial rehabilitation being especially strong. This painful matter is a constant informational challenge, but the most acceptable solution is not to be partial towards any of the interested parties, for this may destroy the remaining stability in more or less "quiet" parts of the Northern Caucasus. At the same time, why should Russian television and radio refuse to cover the matters of the unity of Ossetic and Lezgin nations which are not to blame that they were divided into two parts residing in different countries?

One more peculiar feature of the informational field of the Northern Caucasus is that political struggle in this region begins to transform into the struggle for power between local ethnic "authorities". In fact, the struggle is not between advocates of these or that political ideas, but between representative of this or that local ethnic elite. Though, to certain extent, this process is characteristic of many Russian regions, in the Caucasus, it is more evident and more advanced than anywhere else. So, for journalists, it is especially important to preserve the balance of impartial attitude and to refuse to serve this or that "ethnic political clan".

The traditional informational field of the Northern Caucasus has been formed under the influence of the fact that the majority of the indigenous population has been working in agriculture, cattle and sheep breeding. The mechanisms of conflict formation have been considerably influenced by the traditional rural way of life. Absolute and relative overpopulation of the Northern Caucasus and, at the same time, impossibility of working in industry for the majority of the mountaineers (in fact, at present, most factories are completely destroyed) results in an extreme social stress. It is necessary to bear in mind that the majority of the so called "international" conflicts in the Northern Caucasus were caused by the struggle for plots of land fit for agriculture. Several examples can be quoted. Let us only say that the land problem was the cause of the conflict between the mountaineers and the Russian population which, in some districts of the Northern Caucasus, also claims (and not without any reason) the status of "indigenous population" . Here is the essence of one more major conflict of the Northern Caucasus - the conflict between the mountaineers and the Cossacks. The agrarian aspect of the stress in this region must be thoroughly covered by Federal mass media. We must give no recommendations for just division of the precious lands of the Caucasus, but this problem is very important in many other regions of the world, and it is being solved by various methods, mainly with the help of the central authorities and with the use of their money. These are the matters journalists must cover.

The religious component is also very important for the informational field of the Northern Caucasus. Since all indigenous nations of the Northern Caucasus believe themselves to be Muslim (except Ossetics and Mozdok Kabardins who are Russian Orthodox, some Tats who are Judaist and Kalmyks who are Lamaist Buddhists), no wonder that, in the process of the growing crisis, the conflicting parties are appealing to Islam increasingly often. Yet the level of the influence of Islam varies greatly from one part of this region to another. There is a strict regularity: from West to East, the population of the region becomes more religious. For example, while most Chechens and nations of Daghestan (first of all the mountaineers) observe the laws of Islam more or less strictly, the attitude of the population of the Western Caucasus towards religion is rather formal. No wonder that the active interaction between religion and politics and the growth of the number of fundamentalist groups are mainly characteristic of the eastern districts of the Caucasus. While formation of real Islamic States in Chechnya and Daghestan can be considered (at least as a possibility), this is not real (even in theory) for the Western Caucasus. This peculiar feature of the Northern Caucasus should be considered to full extent. Otherwise (judging by certain trends in the activities of mass media) "the Islamic boom" may dominate in covering everything that happens in this region and "the right Islam" will be taught over the television.

Another specific feature of the Northern Caucasus is that, here, the State mass media have to work under the conditions of real, though rather weak, counteraction. Newspapers have already told us that Chechen leaders had openly declared an informational war against Russia. Everybody knows that recently, in Chechnya, and not only in Chechnya, but also in Baku, in Tbilisi in Teheran, in Ankara, etc. , more and more attention has been paid to the functioning of an informational and propagandist complex capable of counteracting the ideological influence of the Federal center and preparing a favorable background for realization of military and political programs of the Chechen leaders in the North Caucasian region.

At present, the Chechen leaders estimate the condition of their ideological work in Chechnya as very poor, in comparison with the time of the first Chechen campaign. This is manifested by very low demand for Chechen newspapers among the local population, insufficient development of printing industry, etc. The circulation of pro-government newspapers is less than 1.5 thousand copies. In addition to official publications, there are several local newspapers controlled by various opposition groups (nationalist and Islamic). According to estimates of Chechen observers, there is very low demand for these publications, they are not regularly distributed and the distributuion is connected with many difficulties. The population of the Republic is more interested in Russian publications. At the same time, there have been attempts of both official and unofficial Chechen groups to create and to develop the informational and propagandist base (which is at present at ?an embryo stage?) on the territory of the Republic and outside it.

Before the destruction of the broadcasting stations, in addition to the State TV-I channel, the television studio Caucasus (influenced by M. Udugov) and the TV-V television company functioned on the territory of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

Z. Yandarbiyev and Sh. Basayev were active in creating their own electronic mass media for the region. At the last meeting of the so called "Congress of Peoples of Ichkeria and Daghestan", the organization of regional television broadcasting was found to be far from being satisfactory and was severely criticized by Shamil Basayev who is the leader of this illegal organization.

A preparatory work for creating a strong broadcasting center was begun by Z. Yandarbiyev more than two years ago, when the ex-President received about 1 million dollars from one of Muslim States interested in destabilization of the situation in the Northern Caucasus and development of the ideas of religious extremism and regional separatism here. At the same time, Daghestan Vakhabites are active in financial support of the informational and propagandist activities of Chechen bands. Thus, Bagaudin Muhammad, the Vakhabite leader of Kizilyurt zone who formed an Islamic Vakhabite enclave not controlled by the official Grozny in Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, invested 200 thousand rubles into the construction of a television center in the village of Shatoi (also meant for broadcasting to the border districts of Daghestan). Although, at present, the propagandist capacity of the extremists is small, we cannot ignore the counter-propaganda aspects of our work.

No matter what conclusions we may make concerning the specific features of the informational field of the Northern Caucasus, this should not annul the necessity of reacting to the current events and trying to forecast the informational menu at least for the nearest future. The principal subjects of the North Caucasian informational field for the nearest future include the matters of food and petrol supplies, pre-election problems, problems of agricultural machine-building, the role of Cossacks in the regional military and political situation, the relations between the regions of the Russian Federation and its Center, etc.

Yet the matters connected with Chechnya will be of crucial importance for the informational situation in the Northern Caucasus in the nearest future. The so called world community chose to try and force Russia to stop military actions on the territory of Chechnya and "to make peace" with the bandits. Of course, Russia is weak and considerably depends on the West, but this scenario is absolutely unacceptable for it. This, the international aspect of solving the North Caucasian conflict will be an important part of the regional informational field in the nearest future. We should expect the arrival of many newsmakers to the region - representatives of international organizations and official representatives of foreign governments. "Peace makers" from the Federative Republic of Germany are likely to be especially active in this matter.

Another important subject is the problem of Chechen refugees. It is a long-term and complicated problem. Should we consider refugees from Chechnya as Basayev`s "ethnic weapon"? Once, 100 thousand refugees from Karabakh almost destroyed Azerbaijan with its population of seven million people. What is to become of Ingushetia (with its population of 330 thousand people) which accepted so many refugees? In this situation, what is to become with Suburban district of North Ossetia and with all North Ossetia?

In the nearest future, we should expect an increase in the number of informational reasons for attempts to change the borders on the map of the Caucasus. This has already begun in Karachai-Cherkessia and in Daghestan, and relevant infrastructure (ideological centers, nationalist, public and half-military organizations, contacts with foreign sponsors) has been created in other regions. This subject will be "heated" by talks about "what is to be after the Chechen campaign". We have already heard the first chord of this piece of music. It was written in a confidential letter of Aslan Maskhadov, President of Chechnya, to leaders of the neighboring Republics: "Russians will not always stay in the Caucasus and you should not rely upon their help. Meanwhile, we will stay here and live together."

So what is especially important under these conditions in the work of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company and regional State television and radio companies? First of all, the North Caucasian region should not be considered separately from the informational context of all Russia. Conditionally negative information on economic, social and political problems should describe this region to the same extent as other regions of the country. The same concerns conditionally positive information. Where is it? At present, information from the Northern Caucasus tends to alarm the audience and to form a negative image of the inhabitants of this region.

A difficult, but necessary aspect of the formation of informational policy targeting the Caucasus is a comprehensive and active support of the measures initiated in Moscow and aimed at establishing at least the basic order (and even promote these measures). These activities are likely to be accepted by all the Russian society and by the population of the Northern Caucasus. Information on the actions aimed at putting and end to violations of laws, corruption, unlawful activities (even those of "the first" among the regional elite) must become a priority. A topical problem should be that of the real role of the local law-enforcement authorities and the degree of their being subjected to the Federal Center. It is also time we began "the informational war" aginst the illegal armed groups in Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Daghestan, Stavropol Territory, etc. and we should insist that these armed groups be dismissed. Good propaganda results may be obtained thanks to a target campaign of discrediting the organizations which are really extremist and their leaders, an open coverage of the activities of the law-enforcement authorities liquidating the terrorist and criminal organizations known all over the Caucasus.

They say in the Caucasus: "If you run towards the smell of shish-kebab, you may find yourself in a place where they brand donkeys". So the State mass media should not be tempted by easy solutions, but should check up all their steps and constantly bear in mind that, without the Northern Caucasus, Russia may become a small northern State adjoining the Polar Circle.

Author: I. Nikolaichuk; Source: Bulletin of the Center of Social and Humanitarian Studies of the Vladikavkaz Institute of Management and the Vladikavkaz Center of Ethnopolitical Studies of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 2000. No. 1 (5)

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