In 1996, the expert and academic community in the North Caucasus recognized a need for a more nuanced approach to tackling local challenges and initiated a broad discussion platform for acute regional issues to be debated and contextualized. This year the VII Congress “Peace in the North Caucasus through Languages, Education and Culture: Russia-the Caucasus-the International Community” (Мир через языки, образование, культуру: Россия-Кавказ-Мировое сообщество), held every three years, was hosted in the North Caucasus administrative capital city, Pyatigorsk.
It attracted more than 200 participants (another 400 took part distantly) and included academics, pundits, officials, ministers and other opinion-makers. The key speakers, participants and events are highlighted in these pictures. The geography of participants in the Congress was also diverse; there were representatives from more than thirty Russian regions as well as from the United States (for example, Dr. Steven Beebe of Texas State University), France, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Greece, etc. The Congress objective was two-fold: to hear expert assessments of current regional and global developments and have face-to-face discussions to form a common security agenda for the Caucasus. For a video overview of the event see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ULuP-Qm6ig&feature=youtube_gdata.
From October 14th to 18th, the Congress held 24 panels ranging across many topics, including global financial turmoil and its impact over the region, Russian state language policy, and law enforcement. The panels that were of special interest highlighted modern geopolitics of the Greater Caucasus, ethnic relations and their conflict potential. The detailed Congress program can be found here.
A traditional focus on terrorism, extremism and challenges to peaceful coexistence in the Caucasus – always in the spotlight of the Congress – acquired a new dimension this year. The impact of the Arab spring over the region is what leaves regional scholars pondering and is likely to do so for the nearest future. Direct analogies between the two regions would be incorrect: there are different cultural and historical contexts, and certain drivers of the Arab uprisings – such as conflict inside ruling elites – are absent in the Caucasus. However, concerns that instability in the Middle East can spill over to the volatile Caucasus region were in focus throughout several panels but most thoroughly analyzed during the “Geopolitics, International Relations, Security and Peacekeeping” session. Presided over by Prof. Victor Panin, participants talked about the informational impact “the revolutions” in the Middle East had over the North Caucasus.
The second panel – “Shaping a Positive Image of the Caucasus in the Age of Innovations through Public Relations and Journalism” – speaks for itself: it emphasized the need to eliminate negative stereotypes about the region by means of modern PR techniques and best practices of reporting.
At another panel, “National Policy, Ethnic Politics and Ethnic Conflict” chaired by Prof. Sergey Perederiy, presenters talked about social frustration as a platform for the Islamist underground resistance by recruiting the young, jobless and socially dissatisfied. Hearing the voice of the high-ranking clergy of all religious denominations present in the Caucasus was of special importance. With more frequent cases of assassinations of Orthodox priests and about 60 imams killed in Russia over the last several years, Islamic and Christian leaders (most notably Theophylactus, Bishop of Pyatigorsk and Circassia and Muhammad Haji Rakhimov, Mufti of Council of Muslim of Stavropol region) spoke of a need to solidify their congregations in the face of a common enemy – religious fundamentalism.
The final communiqué, on the one hand, offered practical solutions to stabilizing social dynamics, and strengthening civil unity and Russian identity in the region, and on the other – called for “optimization of international context for developing the North Caucasus region”.
By bringing together regional movers and shakers along with national and international scholars, this conference pursued two major objectives: to collect reflections on the current regional dynamics in a no-holds-barred discussion and elaborate a common agenda and a common language when talking about the same problems. Those current regional dynamics include the trends that the Arab awakening triggered and the “flammable social ingredients” the Caucasus itself possesses. The common agenda which conference participants developed for the local expert community includes keeping a finger on the pulse of the region to make sure the Caucasus does not become a case study of “unmanaged chaos”.