Pacifying the War – Warring against Peace

The Northern Caucasus Region as a Laboratory of the Russian Empire

The research project investigates the process of reconstructing imperial order in Russia today, focusing on the northern Caucasus. Since the eighteenth century, this region has been a highly-threatened multiethnic and multireligious violent space on the imperial periphery and repeatedly exposed to competing "external" integration programs.

"Transcaucasia" was the "powder keg" of the czarist and Soviet empires. This reputation was confirmed in the 1990s by the Chechen wars and is still being upheld today by the region’s significance as an entry lane for Islamist groups, for instance in Dagestan. Following the latest wars, the imperial center pursued a political strategy of pacification meant to establish the northern Caucasus as a zone of economic growth at the periphery and to generate loyalty through concessions to national and ethnic autonomy, a venture that was welcomed by Muslims, including the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia and the Islamic Cultural Center of Russia. At the same time, however, the influence of Islamist terrorism is increasing and challenging the strong presence of Moscow’s forces and undermining the above-mentioned pacification strategies.

At first glance, this appears to be, all in all, a classic imperial situation: the attempt to pacify violent conflicts and civil wars fuels conflicts and violence that call processes of negotiation and situations of peace into question.

Based on the theoretical idea that war and peace in empires do not represent chronologically sequential orders, this research examines the simultaneity of war and peace―of economic modernization, social pacification, state violence, and terrorism―as one option of precarious social orders. According to the argument developed here, this precarious order of the simultaneity of war and peace is present once again—not only but preeminently in imperial societies. It shapes post-Soviet reality much more strongly than the political rhetoric of the starkly violence-charged reconstruction of the Soviet Union would suggest. Imperial strategies of domination and negotiation are rarely used as analytical tools for understanding the contemporary history of eastern Europe. In this context, the methods and instruments of more recent research on empires offer the advantage of questioning popular narratives of deficiency, backwardness, and violence that frequently arise when normatively charged notions of a Western model of democracy are transferred to non-democratic societies.

The project explores the thesis that the imperial situation, between pacified war and warring peace, is not a state of emergency but rather perpetuates the empire.

(Last modified October 2014)