A war for Derbent's inheritance
By Magomed Aliyev, exclusively for "Vestnik Kavkaza"
By decree of President Putin active preparations are underway for the celebration of the anniversary of Derbent. They have not always been going smoothly, and this is not surprising. Derbent has turned into a huge construction site, and today media often raise questions about the role of a particular person in the modern history of Derbent as a whole and its contribution to the reconstruction of historical monuments in particular. Vestnik Kavkaza publishes the opinion of the independent expert Magomed Aliyev about what is happening in Derbent.
How would your colleagues, friends and enemies react if suddenly without promotion and bonuses your salary doubled? Friends rejoice, close people embrace, the envious and enemies discuss behind your back why you got so lucky and why only certain people get this luck. That's the way life is.
Derbent found itself in the same situation in 2012 after the president of Russia signed the decree on the celebration of the 2000th anniversary of foundation of one of the most the ancient cities of Russia. The anniversary is not just a big celebration for the city, the country and the North Caucasus. It is also a lot of money.
According to the decree of the Government of the Russian Federation of September 12th 2013 on the terms of substantive preparations for the celebration of the anniversary of Derbent, the total amount of the budget financing for the 2000th anniversary of the city will be more than 1 billion 755 million rubles. In comparison - all the revenues of the city budget for 2013 amounted to slightly more than 2 billion 380 million rubles, and more than 2 billion of them were grants, subsidies and subventions from the budget of the Federation and the Republic. Simply put, the city earns only one-sixth of its ruble budget.
Federal support for the anniversary of Derbent is not so much for the celebrations. It is, first of all, repair of city roads, yards and parks, hospitals and schools, the restoration of historic monuments and cultural heritage. This is an opportunity to turn the old Derbent into a modern, comfortable city for residents and visitors, to give it a new breath for its development and prosperity.
But, unfortunately, the interests of the inhabitants of Derbent fade into the background compared with the really important question for the local elites - who will distribute and control the financial flows allocated for the preparation of the anniversary? Around this issue a fight has started.
Let us briefly recall the chronology of events since the beginning of the year. On January 12th all of a sudden the head of Derbent, Imam Yaraliev, resigned and accepted a seat as a City Council deputy. Then the City Council loyal to Yaraliev elected him as its chairman and, concurrently, head of the city. Former Speaker of the City Council Mavsum Rahimov, in turn, took the position of Acting Head of the Administration of Derbent. This rearrangement occurred in accordance with the federal reform of local government, which gives municipalities the opportunity to choose a control circuit area. A "two-headed" system with a mayor-chairman of the representative body of local self-government and a Head of Administration, who manages the municipality, is one of the most popular. As a rule, consent to the choice of model of managing the municipal government of the city is obtained at the regional level.
"The intervention of regional authorities in the affairs of municipalities is a universally established practice," says Moscow-based expert, the head of a political expert group Konstantin Kalachev. "The municipal reform held should bring the vertical power 'to the ground'."
This means that the head of Dagestan, Ramazan Abdullatipov, was aware of the upcoming changes in the leadership of Derbent and did not mind them. Given the unanimous vote of the City Council of Deputies for the chairmanship of Yaraliev, we can confidently assert that the "castling" was not a demarche of Imam Muzamutdinovich, but an agreed solution, the agreement of the city with the republic. According to the new scheme, Yaraliev will remain as head of the city until 2018 (up until the model changed, his term would have ended in 2015).
But when considering the position of City Manager, opinions could differ: Makhachkala, according to some experts, saw in this position Azad Rahimov, the head of the legal department of the administration of the head of the republic and the former Minister of Justice. Most likely, it was also part of the republic's leadership arrangements and the city's. However, Yaraliev prefer to play a game: to serve as the head of the administration he chose someone loyal to him - Mavsum Rahimov.
Perhaps it was chance, but the change in the leadership of the city coincided with the intervention of the law enforcement agencies. On January 15th Derbent City Hall was searched, and the Republican Prosecutor's Office published information on its website about the establishment during the check of instances of illegal disposal by the City administration of land which was federally owned. Yaraliev for some time chose to disappear from the public space, hardly any news appeared about events with his participation on the official website of Derbent. The initiative to "protect" Yaralieva from the questions of law enforcement officers was taken by the leader of the 'Patriots of Russia' in Dagestan, Edward Hidirov, a longtime ally of the head of Derbent.
On the 9th of February came news to convene an emergency meeting of the Council of Elders of Derbent with representatives of the Azerbaijani, Tabasaran and Lezghins and Councils of Elders of the areas of southern Dagestan. The gathering was held on February 11 and on the basis of its results the participants adopted an appeal to the leaders of Russia, Dagestan and the law-enforcement agencies. In the appeal, support was voiced for the positive actions of Yaraliev as the head of the city and residents were urged not to yield to provocations. A day later, Edward Hidirov announced a February 27th meeting of the deputies, heads of municipalities and rural areas of the South Territorial District of Dagestan, where it was also planned to discuss the situation around the anniversary of Derbent and problems the security forces had with the head of the city.
It is difficult to believe that these events took place without the knowledge and implicit support of Yaraliev. In fact, the mayor tried to raise the stakes and play not purely the Derbent, but also the South-Dagestan card. However, we cannot say that in this game he succeeded.
Further events unfolded rapidly. On February 13th it was reported that a criminal case against Yaraliev for illegal transfer of federal land to municipal ownership was started. And on February 16th the Deputy Chief of Staff of Derbent became Azad Rahimov. Acting Head of Administration Mavsum Rahimov went on vacation for a month and the responsibilities of city manager began to be taken on by Azadi Rahimov alone. We can assume that Mavsum Rahimov will not return from vacation.
The PR machine of Yaraliev also actively seeks to involve Plenipotentiary Envoy of the President of Russia Sergey Melikov in the confrontation between the head of the city and police officers. At a scheduled meeting of the working group to prepare for the celebrations of Derbent, which took place on January 27, Melikov among other things asked journalists to stop discussing rumors about the resignation of the republic's leadership and focus on highlighting the city's preparations for the celebration. It is these words of the envoy that Ruslan Shakhpazov, the representative of "Patriots of Russia" in the People's Assembly of Dagestan, recalled in his speech at the session on February 26th. But that statement of Melikov was taken by Shakhpazov as addressed to Yaraliev - as if it had been addressed to him. As if to say, work, Imam Muzamutdinovich, prepare for the anniversary, and let no one bother you.
There is, as far as can be judged, some distortion. Of course, all agree that the main task of the authorities of Derbent and Dagestan is calm, systematic and vigorous work to prepare for the city's anniversary. But considering the personnel policy, envoy Melikov is passing on the position of President of Russia Vladimir Putin: in the current situation the demands of leaders of any rank are very simple - honesty and professionalism. And if the competent authorities have any questions to the representative of the authorities, it should not be engaged in attempts to exert political pressure on senior colleagues, but clearly and openly to give explanations of all the issues.
According to the experts attending the working group on the preparations for the anniversary of January 27th, Sergey Melikov appealed to journalists to stop speculating about the resignations and appointments in the first place, not to apply them personally to Imam Yaraliev, and, secondly, not to indulge individual managers' arbitrariness and permissiveness. There is only one mechanism for conflict resolution and complaints in our state – the court, he said.
Derbent City Court on February 18th quashed the regulation of the investigative department of the TFR for Dagestan to institute criminal proceedings against Yaraliev according to the article on abuse of power. Some homegrown experts suggest that the cancellation of the decision is connected with the castling of Rahimov as the head of the administration of Derbent. It is hard to confirm or refute this assumption, but for now it is taken rather skeptically. The City Court quashed the decision; the republic's prosecutor's office does not agree with this decision and plans to appeal. This is a normal, ordinary legal process. One thing is interesting: will the interest of the law enforcement agencies be limited to only one section of the federal lands, or will the investigation and prosecution have new questions for the head of Derbent?
Yaraliev’s attempt to politicize the situation - he attributes the claims of the investigation to an order from the White House - is just an attempt to move the problem from its head. Imam Muzamutdinovich, when he was the prosecutor of the republic, probably more than once faced instances when his legal claims were perceived as political. Now fate has thrown him on the other side of the conflict.
The information war seems to have abated. Now the most important thing in this situation is to make sure that the policy-making of the authorities and elites do not affect the ordinary residents of Derbent. Only a little over six months remain till the anniversary of the city.