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The Russian Federation Islamic Republic of Dagestan: Curricular Decentralization, Social Cohesion, and Stability. Informed by doctoral dissertation research and published in the Peabody Journal of Education, 80(1), 56-80, 2005.

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This article focuses on the curricular decentralization–sociopolitical stability
nexus in the predominantly Muslim Russian Federation Republic of Dagestan,
adjacent to war-torn Chechnya. Concomitant with the metamorphoses taking
place in the economic and political sectors of society is the overhaul of institutionalized
education. A major reform currently being implemented is
the decentralization of education from the highly centralized system of the
ancien Soviet Union, apparently with little oversight from Moscow. This
study suggests that educational decentralization, coupled with new directives
from Moscow, could threaten the fragile stability of Dagestan, a republic
that is highly pluralistic, severely impoverished, and challenged by extremist
trends in Islam.
Although Dagestan is not among the republics that have openly challenged
the federal curricular mandates, decentralization of curricular decisions
coupled with the trends toward conflating religion and public education
and the provisioning of both curricular and financial resources to
Muslim schools by Middle Eastern countries, the Ministry of General and Professional Education in Moscow should pay careful attention to educational trends in Dagestan and other predominantly Islamic republics to avoid the locus of political identity from becoming oriented more toward the Middle East and away from Moscow, thus posing a potential threat to national sociopolitical stability and cohesion.

Monumental metamorphoses have been occurring in the ancien Soviet
Union since the late 1980s. One of the systemic changes has been the move from a highly centralized state to one characterized by much greater decentralization.Although previous constitutions proclaimed a federal state,the center retained firm control. This changed with the 1993 constitution;as implemented, there was considerable de facto decentralization. As a subset of the macrosystem, the educational system was also decentralized to a significant extent, with more authority and responsibilities devolved to the subnational units of government.

Purpose of This Study
This case study analyzed the relation between the political goal of
achieving a stable, inclusive democracy and the education decentralization
reform policies in the Republic of Dagestan (alternatively, Daghestan).
Focusing on research linking education to social cohesion and the development
of a cohesive, civil society, particularly that of Heyneman (1997,
1998, 2000, 2002), this study then analyzed the propensity for conflict in
Dagestan and whether curricular decentralization would be likely to attenuate
or exacerbate the propensity for conflict. This aggregate was then analyzed
in terms of the implications of educational decentralization for future
sociopolitical stability in the republic with the hope of shedding some
light on the larger issue of the role of curricula in effecting sociopolitical
stability in pluralistic, transitional societies.

The Education–Sociopolitical Cohesion Connection
There is a considerable body of research exploring the schooling–sociopolitical
cohesion linkage and the role of education in the development
of a civil society. Heyneman’s (2000) research concluded that education can
contribute to societal cohesion in four significant ways:
By providing an equality of educational opportunity for all citizens; by
achieving a public consensus on what to teach the young about citizen-
ship and history; by providing an ethnically-tolerant climate in the
classroom environment; and by establishing democratic institutions
(such as school boards) to adjudicate when there are differences of opinion
about whether the first three mechanisms have been achieved.
(p. 177)

Heyneman (2000) also identified education as having the potential to establish
“mutual identity and peaceful cooperation across differing ethnic
and religious subpopulations” (p. 186) and to build social capital for consensus
building. Some researchers (Torney-Purta & Schwille, 1986) found a
positive correlation between civic behavior and the classroom climate.
Lipset (1959) studied education in terms of broadening tolerance and increasing
democratic participation. Almond and Verba (1963) found a positive
correlation between quality education and sociopolitical stability in
democracies. Other researchers (Putnam, 2000; Verba, Nie, & Kim, 1978)
linked voluntary political and civic participation with higher levels of education.
Kamens (1998) found that stability in democracies is associated
with the educational structures. Still others studied the education/good
citizenship nexus and found a positive relation (Hahn, 1998; Torney-Purta,
1997). In addition, research indicates that an educated citizenry is more tolerant
of differences but tends to eschew radical or extremist positions
(Torney-Purta & Schwille, 1986).

Decentralization and Social Cohesion
The relation between education decentralization and social cohesion
has also been addressed. Heyneman (1997) cautioned that curricular decentralization
in Russia, coupled with “ethnic and religious freedom, and
long-repressed social resentment,” present unique challenges because the
system “may reinforce the tendency for social groups to isolate themselves
from one another” and may “implicitly give sanction to civic disrespect
and…may lay the intellectual foundation of civil unrest, if not civil war”
(p. 10). In another work, Heyneman (1999) reasoned that the purpose of
education in Russia today should be for the development of social capital
and nation building: “Important as human capital skills may be for individuals,
those skills become less relevant in an environment of social instability,
unrest and civil conflict” (p. 189). Implicit in his contentions is the
polemical and multifaceted assumption that there is a direct and pronounced
causal relation between schooling and sociopolitical stability.
Webber (2000) also discussed the risk of fragmentation inherent in decentralizing
education in the federation. Although the transitions could result in educational rejuvenation as local needs are addressed, curricular innovations
transpire, and a sense of ownership develops, “the currents of
change at the grassroots level will only coincide with those envisaged by
the center if there is sufficient cohesion within the system” (p. 58).
Other theorists, including many Western educators and governments,
have applauded educational decentralization,viewing it as essential in the
transition to a democratic form of government in Russia. A major study of
the Russian educational system by the Organization for Economic Co-operation
and Development (OECD; 1998) acknowledged the “Russian Federation
clearly faces a daunting task in maintaining the overall unity and
sense of common identity as a federal state while accommodating the pressures
from regions characterized by great diversity of ethnicity, language,
economy, religion and culture” (p. 35). On the other hand, the OECD affirmed
its support of decentralization: “The policy of decentralization is
considered fundamental to the greater democratization of the system and
is also an acknowledgment of the political realities involved in the power
base of some of the subjects” (p. 52).

The Federally Mandated Curriculum
The Compulsory Minimum of Educational Programmes Content for
Primary and Secondary School is detailed on the Ministry of General and
Professional Education’s (MGPE; 2002a)Web site, as is the list of approved
textbooks. There are currently eight mandated curricular areas constructed
variably at the federal, regional, or local levels (i.e., language, the arts,
literature, natural science, social science, technology, mathematics, and
physical education; MGPE, 2002b, Contents); and there are choices within
these areas, with a minimum of 12 hr per week left for electives (Boudreaux,
1993, para. 7).

Because the core of this research is the curricular–sociopolitical stability
concatenation, the social studies component of the secondary curriculum
is of particular interest. Mandated courses, according to the curriculum
published on the MGPE (2002, Contents) Web site, include “Social–Cultural
Knowledge, Habits and Skills,” “History of Russia,” “TheWorld History,”
“The New Time History,” “History of the Newest Time, XX Century,”
“Social Sciences,” and “Geography.” An analysis of the literature
and social studies federally mandated curricula by this researcher revealed
a very Russia-centric orientation (MGPE, 2002b).

The 1992 Russian Federation Federal Law of the Russian Federation on
Education (Council of Europe, 1996) provides for compulsory, universal
general education through Grade 9 or age 15, after which students may
continue on through Grades 10 and 11 by passing examinations. Education
in the basic core subjects is free of charge whether in a state or nonstate
school, but other classes are fee-based and the responsibility of parents.
According to the 1992 Law on Education, approximately 60% of the
curriculum (OECD, 1998, p. 88) is mandated at the federal level, including
the Russian language, mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry,
information technology, and any other parts of the curriculum “which
are deemed to relate to universal cultural issues or to matters of national
(state) importance” (Webber, 2000, p. 133). The regional level is now responsible
for about 30% of the curriculum (OECD, 1998, p. 88), with the
intent of meeting the needs of the people in Russia’s 89 subnational
units, and covers areas such as “ethnic languages and literatures, and regional
history and geography” (Webber, 2000, p. 133). The local schools
may decide on about 10% of the curriculum (OECD, 1998, p. 88), “which
covers both compulsory choice-based studies and optional studies”
(Webber, 2000, p. 133).

Local education authorities are responsible for implementing and underwriting
federal and regional curricular mandates as well as for planning
and implementing the local component. They are also responsible for
maintaining and constructing schools, purchasing supplies, and devising
their budgets. Schools are monitored by the Russian Federation through a
certification process. Although the regions receive block grants from the
federal government (Canning, Moock, & Heleniak, 1999, p. 36), out of
which teachers’ salaries are to be paid, salaries have been in arrears because
of funding shortfalls and conflicts between the regions and the center
over fiscal transfers (OECD, 1998, p. 181).It is also significant to note that, although the Russian Federation Constitution (Tschentscher, 2000) affirms the separation of church and state,
the Russian Federation Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious
Associations (Steeves, 2000, Chapter 1, Article 4.3) allows for state
funding of nonreligious education in religious schools. Furthermore, under
the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Law on the Languages
of the Peoples of the Russian Federation (Minority Electronic Resources,
1998), as amended in 1998, Russian is proclaimed the state language of the
Federation; however, “the republics have the right to establish their own
state languages … ” (Chapter 1, Article 3). Chapter 2 (Article 2) reaffirms
the right to be educated in one’s native tongue but qualifies this right: “The
citizens of the Russian Federation have the right to receive basic general
education in their native language, as well as to the choice of the language
of instruction within the limits offered by the system” (Minority Electronic
Resources, 1998).

Dagestan, literally “country of mountains,” is the largest republic in
the North Caucasus, located between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus
Mountains, and is home to over 2 million inhabitants belonging to over 30
ethnic groups. Approximately 43.6% of the population resides in urban
settings, with 56.4% composing the rural population (Yemelianova, 1999,
p. 626). The capital is Makhachkala. Dagestan borders heavily Islamized
and war-torn Chechnya on the east; independent Christian Georgia and
Shia (or Shitte) Muslim Azerbaijan on the south; and, to the north, the autonomous
republic of Kalmykiya.

Largely devoid of natural resources, Dagestan remains predominantly
agrarian and is one of the most impoverished areas in the federation, relying
heavily (80%–95%) on federal subventions (Yemelianova, 1999, p. 626).
Ware (1999, p. 3, Situation) estimated unemployment to be as high as 80%.
This multiethnic polyglot is “based on a rigidly closed clan structure.
Traditionally, each clan, or tukhum, unites a group of families related to
each other by a common mythological male ancestor. Each clan has its historical
area of habitation” (Yemelianova, 1999, p. 608), and these clans form
villages or groups of villages known as djamaat, which make up the 34
ethnic groups (Ware&Kisriev, 2000, para. 5, 8). “The internal life of the clan
is regulated by strict patriarchic norms, customary law (adat) and shariat”
(i.e., alternately sharia, religious law based on the Koran, or Quaran;
Yemelianova, 1999, p. 608). According to Ware and Kisriev (2000, para. 9),
because the political, kinship, and ethnic systems overlap and interlock,
and because Dagastanis generally respect the customs and traditions of
their neighbors despite occasional tensions, nationalist or separatist movements
never sustained much interest.

Over 90% of the Dagestani people are Sunni Muslims of the Shafii
madhhab (i.e., Islamic legal school), making Dagestan the most heavily Islamic
subject in the federation (Yemelianova, 1999, p. 626). (About 5% of
Dagestanis are Shiites [p. 626].) Many practicing Muslims belong to this
system and are under the direction of the traditional Spiritual Board of the
Muslims of Dagestan (DUMD), which is closely tied to the political elite
and now has broad-based quasi-governmental responsibilities over Islam
and Islamic education in Dagestan (Yemelianova, 1999, p. 619).
The second largest group belongs to the Sufi Tariqat order with 15
brotherhoods and tends to be steeped in mysticism. However, this group is
also more scholarly and is responsible for the development of many educational
institutions, including universities. They are not as political, emphasize
toleration, and maintain high moral principles (Ware, 1999).

The Sufi Tariqat (brotherhood of the righteous path to God) developed
during the 19th century into a radical political force that resisted Czarist
Russia under the heroic leadership of Sheik Mansur and Imam Shamil
but was forced underground when the mosques were closed during the
Soviet period (Ware&Kisriev, 2002, p. 3). The collapse of the union precipitated
a massive Islamic revival but also brought dissension within the
ranks and the growth of a pernicious, fundamental form of Islam known as
Wahhabism, which had its roots in Saudi Arabia (Ware & Kisriev, 2002, p.
4) and is connected with Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda.
By August 1, 2000, there were 1,585 mosques, a remarkable increase
from the 27 mosques that survived the Soviet era. In addition, there were
“12 Islamic institutions of higher education … 33 branch institutions
of higher education, 136 medrese (Islamic schools [alternately spelled
madrasas, madrassas, or medresses]), and 203 maktabi, elementary schools
operated by mosques” (Ware & Kisriev, 2002, p. 4).

Since 1994, there has been one officially recognized spiritual board, or
Mufiyat, in Dagestan: the DUMD. It is dominated by the Avar elite and,
largely to combat Wahhabism, was designated the official dominant Islamic
spiritual organization in Dagestan under a 1999 law outlawing
Wahhabism (Ware & Kisriev, 2002). It has been given considerable quasi-governmental
powers, is the “only [authorized] recipient of government
and foreign Islamic funding and has been put in charge of the rapidly
growing Islamic infrastructure: mosques, medresses (Islamic schools), and
Islamic colleges and universities” (Yemelianova, 1999, p. 619). The law, in
effect, “converts a religious non-governmental organization into an organ
of state control over the Islamic population” (Ware & Kisriev, 2002, p. 22).
Whereas there traditionally was a separation of Islam and the state, the
Islamification of the political process could result in increasing tension between
the Avar-dominated SBMD and the Dargin-dominated government
(Ware&Kisriev, 2002), although the Muftiyat has worked with the government
and has taken a “pro-government position” (Yemelianova, 1999, p.
619). “In particular, it has advocated making Friday an official holiday, the
gradual Islamization of education, and the introduction of some elements
of the Sharia [religious law] into the legal system” (Yemelianova, 1999, p.
619). The advent of Islamic organizations and political parties during the
1990s is further evidence of the conflation of Islam and the state, despite
constitutional prohibitions against confounding the two (Yemelianova,
1999, p. 616).

Although they do not refer to themselves as Wahhabists, this puritanical
form of Islam took hold in Dagestan during the latter years of the Soviet
era in the form of the Islamic Party of Revival; it has particularly appealed
to discontented subgroups within the politically dominant Avar ethnic group that lives in rural areas with few economic prospects (Ware &
Kisriev, 2000, para. 15, 16, Islamic intensification). Wahhabists practice
strict adherence to the Koran and “neither smoke nor drink nor shave their
beards, nor do they recognize governmental authority” (Ware & Kisriev,
2000, para. 5, Islamic intensification):

The rigid Wahhabite puritanism and fully veiled Wahhabi women were
both alien and offensive to that freewheeling, hard-drinking, roughshod
egalitarianism with which traditional North Caucasian Islamic authorities
had long since learned to compromise. However, Wahhabis
nevertheless forced such issues through their inevitable zeal and spiritual
resolve. … It springs from a deep disillusionment with the prospects
for economic transition, and feeds on widespread despair over the
myriad forms of moral and political decay that are rapidly overwhelming
Caucasian society. The roots of this movement, in short, may be
traced to ever-deepening poverty and the prevalence of political corruption.
(Ware & Kisriev, 2002, p. 8)

Disillusionment with traditional Islam in solving these problems fanned
the flames. “The Wahhabite critique of moral degradation, social irresponsibility
and the corruption of the religious and political establishment consequently
found an eager audience among the least fortunate mountain
villages” (Ware & Kisriev, 2002, p. 9).Wahhabism even spread to relatively
prosperous villages where its puritanism was seen as an antidote to “degenerative
influences of the media, mass culture, individualism and liberalism”
(p. 9). Increased travel opportunities, as restrictions were eased,
also provided additional impetus for the growth of Wahhabism. Fully 80%
of those who have journeyed to Mecca on the Hajj from the Russian Federation
have been from Dagestan. This, coupled with the burgeoning numbers
of students studying in the Gulf States and Pakistan, has exposed
more Dagestanis to the fundamental forms of Islam that predominate in
these regions (p. 9). Yemelianova (1999) added, “there has also been a flow
of foreign teachers of Islam into Dagestani Islamic schools and universities
as well” (p. 620).

Although only 3% of the population of Dagestan identified themselves
as Wahhabites, the actual percentage is probably closer to 5% to 7% of the
population and is rapidly increasing (Ware & Kisriev, 2002, p. 9). However,
“the political significance of the Wahhabites was greater than their numbers
would suggest. Wahhabi fundamentalists challenged traditional
Muslims, polarizing village life and provoking a rural arms race. When a
few villagers espoused Wahhabism, the entire village began arming itself”
(p. 10). Furthermore,Wahhabite criticism of the traditional Islamic leaders
not only created enmity between the two but also effectively radicalized a
group that was usually moderate and tolerant. Before 1999, the Wahhabis
had built their own mosques and directed 14 Islamic schools, as well as
published their own religious literature (p. 10).
There is documentation linking the Wahhabis to the war in Chechnya
and to the Al Qaeda, a linkage that the United States largely denied or
downplayed before September 11, 2001. Prior to this date, many in the
United States opined that allegations of Wahhabi involvement in Chechnya
were largely Russian propaganda rationalizing its protracted and often
brutal attacks against the Chechen insurgents. However, as Leiven
(2002) observed, “Before September 11 at least, few in the USA stopped to
think what the US reaction would be to the establishment of a powerful
group of heavily armed international Muslim radicals on America’s borders”
(para. 8).

The international Mujahedin [holy warriors] were drawn to Chechnya
by the war of resistance against the Russian infidel, as they had previously
been drawn to Afghanistan, Bosnia and elsewhere. The declared
intention of this force and its Chechen allies was to drive Russia out of
the rest of the north Caucasus and unite other regions with Chechnya in
a new Islamic republic. It was in the name of this program that the international
militants and their local allies invaded the Russian republic of
Daghestan in August 1999. (para. 3)

The Wahhabis have received both training and funding from the Persian
Gulf countries, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (Ware & Kisriev, 2000, para. 13).
Ware (1999), in a briefing before the Commission on Security and Cooperation
in Europe, suggested that there were motives other than religious ones
underlying the financing of insurgency in the Caucasus:
What I am saying is this. If you are an individual or an organization in
Saudi Arabia or Kuwait who is backing the invasion of Dagestan right
now financially, you would have to be naïve not to have considered that
instability in the Caucasus is going to prevent Western companies from
realizing their investment in Caspian oil and bringing that Caspian oil
to the West. In so far as the West continues to pull away from Caspian oil
as it’s doing now, it loses leverage in keeping the price of oil down, and
OPEC is in a better position to keep the price of oil up. (p. 7)

The Chechen invasion of Dagestan, assisted by Dagestani Wahhabists,
in 1999 was opposed by the Dagestanis, surprising “nearly everyone but
themselves by affirming their loyalty to Moscow and fiercely resisting the
insurgents” (Ware & Kisriev, 2000, para. 17). Although the Russians successfully
repelled the invasion in 1999, this last of three invasions resulted
in Dagestan outlawing Wahhabism, forcing the movement to go underground.
Ware and Kisriev (2000), however, cautioned that the situation is
still a precarious one. Islam is no longer the unifying force that it had been
in Dagestan; the cleavages are widening, and “although Wahhabism has
now been outlawed, traditional Islamic practices will continue to intensify”
(para. 2, Rugged political terrain). 

Dagestan is a complex fusion of ethnicities, Islamic factions, and a
unique political system that has traditionally brought stability to what
could otherwise be a very volatile powder keg given the considerable ethnic
diversity. It should be noted that 31 of the 89 Russian Federation “subjects”
(subnational units) are republics or oblasts in which minority titular
nationalities compose the hegemonic elites, a legacy of the ethno-federal
policies of the U.S.S.R. The Republic of Dagestan is unique in that no one
ethnic group dominates. Dagestan recognized the 14 largest ethnic groups
through a confederal, power-sharing type of government based on strict
quotas. The largest ethnic groups represented are, in descending order,
Avars (27.9%), Dargins (16%), Kumyks (12.5%), Lezgins (12.5%), Russians
(7%), Laks (5%), Tabasarans (4.5%), Azeris (4.2%), Chechens (4.5%), Nogais
(1.6%), Tats (or Mountain Jews; .8%), Rutals (.8%), Aguls (.75%), and
Tsakhurs (.3%). These are averages between the years 1995 and 1999. The
Russian and Chechen figures are problematic because Russians have been
emigrating out of Dagestan and Chechens have been immigrating in, both
legally and illegally, to escape the maelstrom of protracted conflict, crime,
and poverty in Chechnya (Ware, Kisriev, Patzelt,&Roericht, 2001, Table 1).
The lingua franca is Russian, with Avar often also serving in that capacity;
multilingualism is common. To avoid controversy, Dagestan declined
to name an official state language (Wesselink, 1998, 2.4 Language). Likewise,
the most populous 14 ethnicities participate in a unique power-sharing
system established during the Soviet era that has resulted in a surprising
degree of political stability and resilience given the severe economic
deprivations, ethnic diversity, and the parlous Chechen conflagration that
has also scorched Dagestan (Ware & Kisriev, 2000, para. 10).

Along with the challenges from Moscow to bring the Dagestan constitution
into closer compliance with the Russian Federation constitution, Putin
has enacted measures to return power to the center. This was power that
Yeltsin relinquished in the early years of the federation to appease the
wealthier “sovereignty-minded” republics and prevent further separatist
movements from occurring. So far, the reforms have not evoked much negative
response from the Dagestanis “who would welcome external control
if it were sufficiently comprehensive and consistent to root out political
corruption, institute the rule of law, and stimulate economic development”
(Ware & Kisriev, 2001b, para. 8). Although there has been significantly
more federal intervention in Dagestan since the Chechen invasions, “the
Dagestani leaders, largely dependent on Federal subsidies, have consistently
demonstrated their loyalty to Moscow” (Yemelianova, 1999, p. 613).
Another trend in Dagestan is the “oligarchization” of the political elite.
As late as 1998, approximately 200 families constituted this elite, but this
number has shrunk to between 6 and 12 today (Ware & Kisriev, 2001b,
para. 9). Despite the potential for heightened ethnic tensions as a result of
increased competition among the oligarchs, and between the oligarchs and
the local leaders, the election of the chairman of the state council in July
2002 was hardly contested. Magomedali Magomedov, the Dargin who reneged
on his earlier promise to step down, was overwhelmingly elected by
the Constituent Assembly to a fourth term and enjoyed ample support
from Moscow, to whom he has been loyal. The absence of a real contest,
largely due to Magomedov’s co-option of potential challengers from these
elites by awarding them lucrative ministerial posts throughout the 1990s
and prosecution of those who could not be bought, had the effect of lessening
competition and tension among the shrinking core of elite (Magomedov,
2002, para. 4); however, the long-term impact that elite concentration
will have on Dagestani politics is difficult to assess (Kisriev, 2001).

Sociopolitical Stability
Given the severe economic deprivations and extreme ethnic pluralism,
Dagestan has remained remarkably stable and has avoided protracted ethnic
conflict. Dagestan is not organized as a titular system, meaning that no
one ethnic group has been accorded privileges purely on ascriptive criteria,
a Soviet legacy that still characterizes the ethno-federal policies in
other subnational governments. Rather than heightening and legitimating
ethnic identities, both Soviet policies as well as those of the 1990s were
markedly inclusive, particularly of the 14 largest groups in a political system
that could best be described as quasi-consociational (Ware & Kisriev,
2001a), a model that is accommodative, designed to bridge the chasms between
the constituencies (p. 95).

Despite early nationalist movements during the transformation in the
late 1980s and early 1990s, Dagestan has achieved a notable degree of solidarity,
much of which  is attributable to the development of a politicalsystem
based on “ethnic parties,” unique “in that their entire membership and base
support consists of a single djamaat” that represents local interests (Ware &
Kisriev, 2001a, para. 6,Why has Dagestan diverged from Chechnya?). Even
the electoral system is inclusive in that it avoids ethnic marginalization
through a system of proportional representation. Although the Avars and
Dargins are the most powerful because of numerical superiority, the other
groups often form coalitions “in order to sustain a constantly-shifting balance
of political forces” (Ware & Kisriev, 2001a, para. 10, What of autonomy
and proportionality?).However, this complex, unique system of inclusion is
now being challenged by the center as being out of compliance with the federation’s
constitution;however, the mandated changes could upset the fragile
stability in Dagestan (Ware & Kisriev, 2001b).

Therefore, although ethnicity is certainly salient in politics, the structure
has been one designed to mitigate cleavages and foster accommodation
and harmony, a system now seriously threatened by challenges from the
center that would most likely politicize and heighten ethnic cleavages and
conflict. Despite a collapsed economy and Chechnyan military encroachments,
the government of Dagestan has managed to retain its legitimacy
and continues to accord legitimacy to the center, on which the country is
economically dependent. However, the growth of Wahhabism as a response
to abject poverty, rampant unemployment, political corruption,
and disillusionment with traditional Islam and the excesses of modernization
posed a serious threat to the government’s legitimacy and will most
likely continue to do so although forced underground. Wahhabism, in
turn, spawned more radicalization and polarization within the Islamic
community, as did the politicization of the DUMD. As religious cleavages
deepen, the likelihood of ethnic conflict also increases (Ware & Kisriev,
2000, Rugged political terrain). Therefore, federation attempts to force constitutional
compliance may well result in unintended, cataclysmic consequences
that would weaken legitimacy within Dagestan and the federation,
weaken Dagestan’s institutional ability to channel grievances and
maintain order, and further widen the chasm between ethnicities. Adding
religious polarization to this admixture effectively increases the volatility.
What remains to be assessed is the impact on Dagestan of more globally
radicalized forms of Islam.

It should also be noted that policies serving to widen the chasm between
the Russian Federation and Islam could advance Islamic solidarity, radicalizing
even the more moderate and tolerant sects and possibly unleashing
a formidable, unified interregional or international jihad. This is reason
for the federation to avoid positions that intensify Islamophobia in Russia
and elsewhere and possible reason for the government to support the
growth of moderate Islam. Forging alliances with the United States on policies
affecting Muslim countries without alienating Muslims in the federation
is particularly delicate, especially given the extremists’ rhetoric denouncing
U.S. foreign policy as none other than a war on Islam.

ncome disparity, which is considerable in Dagestan, does not appear to
be heightening the propensity for interethnic conflict. However,
with unemployment at times up to 80% and average annual per capita incomes
“three to four times lower than in the rest of Russia” (Malashenko,
1999, para. 4), young Dagestan men with few prospects are particularly
vulnerable to the lure of movements, such asWahhabism, that promise release
from poverty and an ideological abyss.

If neither traditional Islam, the Dagestan government, the Russian Federation,
nor a combination of these institutions is able to alleviate the staggering
economic problems, Wahhabism, funded largely by wealthy Saudi
Arabians, is likely to have increased appeal and could become a lethal conflict
catalyst even if outlawed. There is hope, however, in part due to the
last Chechen invasion in 1999. Since January 2000, federal funding to
Dagestan increased 270%, crime has been reduced, “and a wide variety of
socioeconomic problems have dramatically improved” (Ware, 2000, para.
9).With improved economic conditions, it seems likely that political actors
with tangible resources to allocate who promote violence within Dagestan
will lose some of their appeal. On the other hand, economic recovery and
reduced reliance on subventions from Moscow could have a counter effect
of moving the locus of Dagestani identification, with its 90% Muslim population,
more to the Islamic world away from Moscow, especially if coupled
with mandated constitutional changes that upset the ethnic balance
and heightened Islamophobia that would unify the currently diverse Muslim
sects. The confluence of these factors could possibly result in yet another
republic becoming quite sovereignty minded.

Overview of Curricular Policies in Dagestan
The Islamic Supreme Council of America directed me to contact Rasul
Khaibaev (personal communication, April 3, 2002), “who is in contact with
the Educational Board,” regarding curricular policies in Dagestan. According
to Khaibaev, obtaining accurate quantitative data on Dagestani education
is virtually impossible: “[With] us, the very large problem [is] with the
information, because in it nobody is engaged” (personal communication,
May 15, 2002). He continued, explaining that the Dagestani schools teach
the mandated federation program, including
Russian literature, history of Russia, native languages…exact sciences
(mathematics, physics, chemistry and so on), and foreign language. The
religious disciplines are not taught, only the history of Islam…. In [the]
last classes (2 years) are studied a History of Dagestan and Literature of
Dagestan. (personal communication, May 15, 2002)
In a later message, Khaibaev explained that the language of instruction is
usually Russian, and
for teaching national languages, sections are formed. To build school[s]
for [each] separate nationality is impossible in Daghestan [because] in
Daghestan [there are] 34 ethnic groups. Each nationality studies the
general Daghestan literature, where the interests of each of them are
equally taken into account [this is questionable given political, religious,
and economic dominance by the Avars and Dargins and the
wildly pluralistic character of the population]. (personal communication,
May 23, 2002)

The hero of much of the regionalized Dagestani literature is the Imam
Shamil (1797–1871), who led a 30-year resistance movement against the
Russian empire from 1834 to 1859. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union,
Shamil legends have been crafted to further the political agendas of the
various camps, including the Avars, the Russians, and the Chechens. In
Dagestan, the “historical narrative has been developed mainly by the
Avar elite and the mainstream of the Avar national movement” (Gammer,
1999, para. 3, Titular nationalities). A new version, which is an
Avar–Russian fusion, is now emerging in the literature. This version
deemphasizes the struggle with Russia and emphasizes the reconciliation
with Russia, as well as his admiration for Russia and its culture. In
both versions, the naming of his enemy is tactfully diminished to the absolute minimum possible.

This reflects the feeling of both the establishment and the
mainstream of the Avar national movement that Daghestan must remain
part of the Russian Federation. To start with, Daghestan is dependent
on Moscow economically and strategically. Almost no one can
envisage its survival if the umbilical cord to Russia is severed. (para. 5,
Titular nationalities)
Russian is the lingua franca and is spoken by “practically everybody”
(Sivertseva, 1999, para. 1, Linguistic identity). Because of the extremely
multilingual nature of the republic, language skills are critical: “Language
is like a bridge over a gushing stream,” says a Daghestani proverb; “if you know it, you will get across, if you do not, you will drown” (Sivertseva,
1999, para. 4):

Lessons in Daghestan primary schools are taught in 14 languages: Russian,
Azerbaijan, Avar, Dargin, Kumyk, Lak, Tabasaran, Nogai, Tat,
Chechen, Lezghin, Agul, Rutul and Tsakhur. Since in the past Aguls,
Rutuls and Tsakhurs were thought to be Lezghins, school teaching in
these languages has begun only recently. … The third group of languages
is constituted by numerous local languages; nearly every village
or a group of villages has a tongue of their own. These languages are
very much alive and play the main role in communication within the
communities. Since schoolteachers are, as a rule, natives, the oral explanation
of the material in most cases takes place in the native language
which has no written tradition. More and more Daghestan languages of
this kind (i.e., without any written tradition) are being written. This factor
is important for strengthening the ethnic consciousness and for
keeping local cultures and folklore alive. The last but not the least important
factor is that Daghestan is integrated in the common background
of Arab–Muslim culture. That is why the role of Arabic has always
been great. … Another thing to be noted here is that the special
status of Russian as the language of international communication may revert to Arabic in the future. (para. 3, Linguistic identity)

Apparently, the study of the Arabic language has become common in public
secondary schools as one of the foreign language offerings. “However,
this subject is increasingly used to propagate Islamic ideology” (Kisriev,
2000, section 3.2b). Because the Spiritual Office of Dagestani Muslims
(SODM; from the dominant DUMD) has been officially designated by the
state with overseeing religious education in all schools, some religious
“textbooks were created under the control of the SODM” (section 3.2b).
More religion is probably being taught in public schools than Rasul
Khaibaev suggested: “Public opinion in both Tatarstan and Daghestan
considers it important to provide basic education about Islam and thus approves
the introduction of the teaching of the foundations of Islam into the
school syllabus” (Gusel, 2000, para. 9). Whether there is further religious
study depends on the family, and the choice to study in an Islamic institution may be motivated by
non-spiritual factors, especially in Daghestan, where the opportunity to
receive an education and possibly thereafter housing, is extremely valuable.
The weak development of teaching institutions in the republic and
the dubious quality of the teachers there lead many to seek study oppor-
tunities abroad: in Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.
(para. 9)

Although there seems to be no accurate data on the number of students
attending public, as opposed to religious, schools (madrasas) in Dagestan
and although Khaibaev (personal communication, May 23, 2002) said
that most students attend public schools, there are some relatively consistent
approximations of the numbers of madrasas operating in Dagestan.
Malashenko (1999), writing for the Carnegie Moscow Center, claimed, “Officially,
in 1999 there were 1,670 mosques in Daghestan (as against 40 in
1989), but in fact their number is about 5,000. And there are 650 religious
schools (madrasas)” (para. 8). Akhamadov, Bowers, Doss, and Kurnosov
(2001) estimated that there are 600 “mosque schools throughout the republic.
In addition, a substantial number of Daghestani students study in Muslim
schools abroad” (para. 5).

Public funding may legally be available to religious schools to support
instruction of the mandated federal component of the curriculum; likewise,
provisions may be made for the teaching of religion in public schools
but not at public expense. From the preceding documentation, it appears
that Islam, to an extent, is being taught in public schools, most probably intermingled
with lessons on Arabic, literature, and history. The extent to
which the teaching of Islam in public schools is being subsidized by public
monies is undetermined. Likewise, the degree to which the public is subsidizing
the funding of the mandated curricula in religious schools is unknown.
However, when asked if it were “possible that public funding may
being used to support schools fostering extremist, militant Islam,” an
expert in Dagestani politics and religion (Robert Ware, personal communication,
March 29, 2002) responded, “I’d be surprised if this occurred to any
significant degree … . Turkish support for the construction of mosques
and Islamic schools (which has been significant) is generally consistent
with Sufist Tariqat Islam, whereas Gulf organizations have supported

Foreign financed schooling could have great appeal in a country as destitute
as Dagestan. One Dagestani woman graphically depicted Dagestan’s
educational system this way:
As for our education, it has declined extremely. [The] government doesn’t
give the funds necessary for equipment; they don’t even have enough
money to provide for the miserable wages of teachers. Everyone who
was able to find work somewhere else left the universities, so an average
teacher is an old, sick, poor man. The University of Daghestan has some
mixture of poverty and stupidity. All of the departments are poor with
the exception of the Business and Law departments. The education system
is corrupt. Deans collect money for getting people into college. Everyone
knows it, but no one cares. This is quite scary because these graduates
don’t know anything. A surgeon can kill you during the surgery
because he didn’t study and he just paid for his diploma. What we see is
uneducated youth who have gone into religion, at least what they think
religion is. Our youth is quite criminal because our local government is
blended into the criminal structure. In addition, our youth is unemployed.
Little Daghestan is raising a generation that will not ever prosper.
Even worse, all this shows a deterioration of Daghestan culture, education
and science. (Anonymous, 1997)
Shikhsaidov (1999), a professor at the Dagestani Scientific Center of the
Russian Academy of Sciences, described the instruction in contemporary
Islamic schools in Dagestan as primarily consisting of instruction in the
“Qurian [Koran or Quaran], [and the] Sunnah, the rules of reading the
Qurian and the Arabic language” (para. 8, Process of Islamization). He
quoted Ilyas-haji Ilyasov, advisor to the chairman of the republic of the
Dagestan government:

None of the countless Islamic institutes and universities has been certified
or accredited and at best they have licenses entitling them to educational
activities. Among the rectors of the considerable number of Islamic
institutes and universities, there is not a single person with a
higher, or at least secondary, professional education. Even worse, none
of them have a higher or secondary professional education.” (para. 9,
Process of Islamization)

A Russian specialist on Dagestan, Vladimir Bobrovnikov (personal communication,
June 10, 2002), concurred that the quality of Muslim education
in Dagestan “is very low.”
There is a paucity of federal oversight of curricular development and
implementation (OECD, 1998; J. Vaillant, personal communication, April
2, 2002). However, it is likely that the Islamic SODM is scrutinizing religious
education, in particular, to maintain its continued dominance but
also to ensure that its arch rival, the Wahhabis, are unable to re-establish
their foothold in religious education, or, for that matter, any educational institutions.
(Until the 1999 Dagestan invasion, the Wahhabis had established
their own mosques and madrasas, and they were sending students
abroad to receive a fundamentalist Muslim education in madrasas in the
Gulf States, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Malaysia, and Pakistan. These were
closed, or rather forced underground, after the 1999 Chechen invasion;
Ware & Kisriev, 2000, para. 9, Islamic intensification.)

Although the focus is on public education and publicly funded private
education, inquiry into what type of education Dagestan students are receiving
when sent abroad is a legitimate one because many are returning to
Dagestan to become teachers in these schools. Anand (2000) described Islamic
schooling in Pakistan’s 6,000 religious seminaries
that churn out as many as 500,000 students, among them Pakistani,
Arabs, Central Asians and even those from North Caucasus and the Far
East. According to Pakistan sources, as many as 1,500 of such schools
preach jihad and are instrumental in giving military training to students.
(para. 1, Training camps)

Akora Khattak in Pakistan, which doubles as a religious school and military
training camp, features “state-of-the-art, hi-tech facilities and has a
Web site, e-mail, computers and other communications paraphernalia.
And it has a boarding hostel for 3,000 students” (XXauthor, year, p. XX).
There are no charges to the students. “The funding for the instruction comes
not only from the government but through various invisible sources
like individuals settled abroad and some friendly Arab countries” (Anand,
2000, para. 4, Training camps):
Madrasas offered to the poor and illiterate not only free education but a
cause to make life more meaningful. And this cause was jihad. This was
an antidote to the disillusionment of the common people with the political
and socioeconomic state of affairs in the country. (para. 1, Source of

Another relevant question is why students would opt for a religious education
when public education is supposedly available in Dagestan. Nolan
(2001) wrote about the popularity of Pakistani religious schools: “One of
the reasons that these religious schools have become so popular is that the
government schools are so terrible, or non-existent. Funding for these
schools … often comes directly from Saudi Arabia” (para. 3).
According to an imam (i.e., religious leader) from a Sufi Tariqat in
Dagestan, Wahhabis operating in Dagestan have been known to pay students
to attend their institutions. To attract acolytes, they “employ money.
Financial considerations play a chief role in this matter” (Poliakova, 1998,
para. 15). The imam was invited to an “examination to view how [their
teachers] had taught their charges” at a Wahhabi school: “There was almost
nothing about religion in this exam; the certification consisted in the
disassembly and assembly of machine guns and other weapons, and in this
part the students were far more prepared than regular soldiers” (para. 15).
The lesson for the governments of Dagestan and the federation in terms of
supporting public education should be self-evident and, perhaps, even for
promoting a moderate, tolerant form of Islam.

Analysis in Terms of the Researcher’s Propositions
First Proposition
Education decentralization endeavors that result in the development of
curricula at the regional, local, or both levels that counter, dismiss, displace,
or undermine the federal curricular components will create region-
center tension and possible conflict and, as such, will tend to be

There is no evidence that Dagestan educators or education policymakers
are attempting to use locally derived curricula to sabotage, undermine,
or counter federal efforts. Because Dagestan relies so heavily on subventions
from Moscow, it is doubtful that much money has been expended
on curricular development. It was previously documented that educational
institutions are vastly underfunded in Dagestan. It is untenable that
extremely scarce rubles would be used to replicate the curricular efforts of
the MGPE in Moscow. Although there is evidence of regionalization of the
curriculum, such as literature featuring Shamil, concerted effort has been
expended to cast this legendary figure in a manner inoffensive to either the
Dagestanis or Russians. Likewise, there is evidence that the Russian-mandated
curriculum is being taught. There has been some attempt to move toward
Arabic as a language, but this has less to do with center-periphery
tension and more to do with the trend toward Islamification of education.
A possible cause for concern by Moscow would be the intrusion of Islam
into the secular, mandated curricular components. There is some evidence
that this may be occurring, as in the situation where the teaching of Islam
and Arabic has become conflated, for example. Although public opinion
may well support the teaching of Islam in public schools as a regular part
of the curriculum, the danger is that the public orientation could increasingly
move toward the Middle East and away from Moscow.

Also unknown is the extent to which the outlawed Wahhabis are functioning
underground and their current involvement in formal and informal
political socialization, especially in remote, mountainous rural enclaves
that are difficult to monitor. Because they do not acknowledge any
government other than their own or any law other than the Islamic sharia,
and because they regard the more moderate Muslims with disdain, the
logic behind the conclusion that Wahhabi curricular objectives would be
inimical to those of both the republic and federation is compelling, especially
given the influence of the Gulf States and Pakistan on the movement.
However, at present, the ostentatiously puritanical Wahhabi movement
is being repressed, but the danger is that they are operating covertly and
are thus even more difficult to assess in terms of strength and impact.
There is no doubt as to their fanatical commitment to the jihad, but to date,
they are still regarded with enmity by mainstream traditional Muslims in

Second Proposition
Decentralization of curricular development that results in regionally
and locally derived curricula that promote the interests of the dominant
culture at the expense of other groups or subcultures in the educational
polity will cause intraregional tension, interregional tension, or both, as
well as possible conflict, and will tend to be regionally destabilizing; regional
instability can contribute to national instability.

There is little evidence of the curricular marginalization of the 34 ethnic
groups in Dagestan; however, given the state of the economy, it is simply
not feasible to develop fully localized curricula for each group, most of
which consist of subgroups speaking different dialects of the language, for
which there may or may not be a written language. Although Rasul
Khaibaev wrote that the interests of each ethnic group “are equally taken
into account,” this is probably overgeneralized. On the other hand, local
teachers usually speak the local language and may also be presumed to be
knowledgeable in the local customs, traditions, and folklore, which then
may be incorporated into the taught curriculum. This is probably the primary
way in which the curricula are being localized, especially in the rural
djamaats; however, the paucity of evidence impedes conclusive deductions.
It is also likely that localized curricula would reflect the interests and
meet the needs of the dominant ethnic group, but because the political culture
is accommodative in Dagestan, it is unlikely that curricula would be
intentionally divisive. There is reason to believe that the education culture
would be a microcosm of the culture that binds this polyglot, succinctly described
by Ware and Kisriev (2000):
Astride it all is a distinctive Dagestani identity. Dagestanis rightfully
boast that they are a people comprised by the rich traditions of all of
their ethnic groups. The republic’s television and radio stations schedule
ethnic shows in all of the principal linguistic and musical traditions.
Despite localized tensions and territorial disputes, members of different
groups recognize one another’s customs, cuisine, and ceremonies.
(para. 8)

The ultimate impact of the constitutional reforms Moscow is insisting
on remains to be seen. It is very reasonable to assume that the systemic
changes will eventually affect education because educational institutions
are subsets of the macrosystem. The political system in Dagestan has been
accommodative and, to a large degree, consensual (Ware & Kisriev, 2000,
para. 1, 3, 7).

Constitutional changes eliminating the collective executive and proportional
ethnic representation could create a highly conflictual and volatile
milieu in Dagestan, pitting one ethnic coalition against another in competition
for hegemonic control of the country’s institutions. This, in turn, could
eventuate politicization of the curriculum as power brokers seize and retool
it for partisan political socialization. Moscow seems blissfully unaware
of the potential cataclysmic effects that the imposition of their federal
system on this multiethnic polyglot could precipitate. The moves do
not auger well for Dagestani stability.

Third Proposition
If identity politics have been legitimated by the state, and if these subcultures
perceive the dominant state institutions as illegitimate and/or
weak, curricular decentralization would most likely be used to promote
local and/or regional interests with little regard for the goal of achieving
national sociopolitical stability or in a manner that is oppositional to
attaining this goal; as such, education decentralization could foster region-
center tension and possible conflict and could contribute to national
sociopolitical instability.

Perhaps it could be argued that because the Avars constitute 27% of the
population and are the largest ethnic group, the Avar language stands, in
practice, as a lingua franca along with Russian, thus legitimating identity
politics to some extent; however, the argument is a weak one. Nevertheless,
the Dagestanis accord the Russian Federation and their own government
relatively high degrees of legitimacy, marked by the absence of any
significant nationalist movements, internal political turmoil, and serious
challenges to the continuity of their government. Of course, Dagestan’s
positive relation to Moscow may be due more to economic necessity than
patriotism or identification, but that does not negate the extant of regime
legitimacy. Identity politics have not been legitimated to any significant
degree, the state institutions are perceived as legitimate, and curricular decentralization
does not appear to be fostering interests that run counter to
national interests. It is also likely that the localized and regionalized curricula,
to the extent that they have been implemented, are perceived as democratic
and inclusive, meeting the needs of the various constituencies in this
accommodative sociopolitical climate. This deduction is tenable in light of
the facts that educational institutions are subsets of the larger system and
that Dagestanis generally regard their system as a fair one that balances the
interests of the various ethnicities and prevents precipitous ethnic struggles
(Ware & Kisriev, 2000).

Conclusions and Recommendations
Dagestan has taken extraordinary measures to ensure that the 14 largest
ethnic groups are organized into a confederal, power-sharing type of arrangement
to minimize ethnic conflict. Ironically, the attempts of the Russian
Federation to force Dagestan to comply with all aspects of the federation
constitution threaten to undo this fragile balance and may result in the
very situation that the federation would most like to avoid: ethnic conflict
within Dagestan, especially given its proximity to rebellious Chechnya. To
the extent possible, given the constraints of the dire fiscal situation in
Dagestan, the curricula have been designed to accommodate the various
ethnicities and seek to avoid spawning ethnic tension and conflict. Likewise,
it appears that Dagestan’s curricula are compatible with the federal
curricular components. There does not appear to be any attempt to subvert
or dismiss the mandated curriculum whether for altruistic, economic, or
other reasons. Likewise, there is little interest thus far in fostering a form of
Dagestan nationalism that would counter identification with the federation.
However, this may not be the case if the fundamental form of Islam
that recognizes no secular authority continues to gain a foothold in Dagestan
and, especially, in Dagestan’s educational system. If this becomes the
case, one might expect some geopolitical reorientation toward the Muslim
Gulf States, away from Moscow. This would not serve the federation well
in effecting sociopolitical cohesion.

At present, it appears that there is scant federal oversight of curricular
design or implementation at the republic or local levels. Developing and
maintaining a national education database at the federal level have been
recommended by both the World Bank (1995) and the OECD (1998) but
have not been realized to date. The lack of oversight is particularly trou-
bling given the legality of conflating religion and education at public expense
and the rapid growth of fundamental, puritanical forms of Islam, especially
in the predominantly Muslim republics. Added to the devolution
of educational fiscal responsibilities from the center to the regions and the
inability of cash-strapped, subnational units to shoulder the extra burden,
foreign-funded religious education may well be welcomed as a viable alternative
to an inadequately provisioned public education system. However,
the Islamification of education could prove to be Dagestan’s Trojan
Horse by forging an orientation toward and identification with the Muslim
Middle East, away from the European Russian center. Furthermore, if
funding for Islamic religious schools continues to flow from the affluent
Gulf States, the end result could be further fragmentation between the
more tolerant, moderate strains of Islam currently prevalent in Russia and
the less tolerant, fundamental forms favored by some of the donor Gulf
States. There are compelling reasons for the federation to revisit both the
funding of education and the content of regionally and locally derived curricula
in the 89 Russian subjects.

Until the MGPE has the tools to monitor what is occurring at the regional
and local levels in education, it is not in a position to test the assumption
that decentralization of the curriculum is inherently democratizing
and ipso facto contributes positively to the development of federation
sociopolitical cohesion and stability. Although curricular decentralization
does appear to give voice to a variety of ethnic groups, the role that education
is playing in political socialization throughout the federation deserves
careful monitoring and study, with the goal of achieving a stable balance
between regional and national interests.

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