By Paul Goble
A poll conducted by Makhachkala to show how many Dagestanis cannot imagine the future of their republic outside of the Russian Federation in fact shows that nearly one in five—19 percent—are prepared to say that they do not see Dagestan as part of Russia in the future. And slightly more than one in five—23 percent—say that they find it difficult to say, the traditional response of those who are unwilling to make a more politically suspect declaration (RIA Dagestan, July 21).
That means that only a bare majority answered the question the way the authorities wanted, and it is likely that some, and perhaps many of these, in fact, think differently but are nonetheless prepared to say what they believe those in power want to hear. Yet, even if one accepts the figures as accurate, they are far more pro-independence-oriented than were comparable figures in many of the union republics of the Soviet Union prior to the August 1991 coup. And they suggest that support for Russia and Russians in Dagestan is now far lower than many analysts, Russian and Western, have suggested.
In advance of the 200th anniversary of the Gulistan Treaty between tsarist Russia and Persia, which made Dagestan part of Russia, officials in Makhachkala commissioned a poll about that historic event and about what Dagestanis think the future status of their republic will be. The poll, released on Sunday and which organizers said was based on a representative sample of 1,500 residents, found that 92 percent knew little or nothing about the treaty. Moreover, as noted above, only a bare majority see Dagestan remaining inside the Russia Federation in the future (riadagestan.ru, July 21, originally found at: riadagestan.ru/news/society/sotsopros_pokazal_chto_bolshe_poloviny_dagestantsev_ne_predstavlyayut_svoyu_zhizn_vne_sostava_rossii/).
The pollster, Khabib Davudov, head of the Native Dagestan Movement and president of the Public Opinion Foundation there, sought to put the best face on the findings, telling the republic news agency that “those who gave a positive answer noted the enormous contribution of the Russian people to the development of education, medicine and the economy of Dagestan,” apparently overstating the number of such people by 10 percent. The figures offered by RIA Dagestan showed that only 58 percent see Dagestan remaining within the Russian Federation. Davudov said they numbered 68 percent of the total.
In reporting Davudov’s findings, the RIA Dagestan journalist appended his own findings. He said that in talking with people on the streets of Makhachkala, he had found that members of the intelligentsia “could not imagine” Dagestan outside of Russia, while among “ordinary residents” were many who expressed doubt about the need” for Dagestan to remain part of that country. He said the largest number of those opposed to Dagestan remaining part of the Russian Federation live on the outskirts of the republican capital, an area populated by Dagestanis who had moved there recently from highland areas.