Violence-Worn Republic Wary Of Russia's Promises Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has vowed to take a new approach to ending the cycle of violence in the southern republic of Dagestan, where fighting continues between Islamist insurgents and Russian security forces. He wants to improve the economy and create jobs, but how does Dagestan attract investment in what amounts to a police state?

Violence-Worn Republic Wary Of Russia's Promises

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Russia's southern republic of Dagestan, peace is rare these days as Russian security forces battle Islamic insurgents, but Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, has promised a new approach. He wants to end the cycle of violence by improving the economy and creating jobs. NPR's David Greene reports.

(Soundbite of applause)

DAVID GREENE: That applause was the sound of a place trying to get on with life, even as militants and police are killed or wounded in the streets nearly every day. The president of this volatile region of Russia, Magomedsalam Magomedov, was wishing Dagestan's soccer team luck before a big game.

President MAGOMEDSALAM MAGOMEDOV (Dagestan): (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: Then he stepped into the next room to talk about a tougher part of his job, ending what he called Dagestan's constant conflict.

President MAGOMEDOV: (Through translator) People need work. They need job. You understand, though, the state can't just build new plants and factories, like it used to in Soviet times.

GREENE: Magomedov is an economist whose specialty is job creation. This explains why Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appointed him last month to lead the troubled republic.

Russian special forces are constantly on the attack here, hunting for insurgents. Magomedov delicately avoided criticizing his own government's forces.

President MAGOMEDOV: (Through translator) They do their job. And they do it within the bounds of the law. But if they use force, if the physical use of force on their part is improper or not the appropriate reaction, of course, we don't support such behavior.

GREENE: Around Makhachkala, Dagestan's capital, the streets are teeming with taxis blaring music, vendors selling kebabs, people flocking to afternoon prayer. Dagestan has two and a half million people, the majority Muslim, and in the fight against Islamist extremism, this is one of the world's battlegrounds.

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: Here and in the nearby republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia, militants have vowed to create an independent Islamic state. That hasn't really changed. The current president, Dmitry Medvedev, recently described extremism in this region as a cancerous tumor.

Ms. SVETLANA ISAYEVA (Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights): (Speaking foreign language)

GREENE: That is why many in Dagestan, like Svetlana Isayeva(ph), say they don't believe Medvedev's new promise to build up the economy.

Ms. ISAYEVA: (Through translator) It's wonderful what he said, but the citizens of Dagestan should see and feel deeds. It's not just about listening to an interview and then applauding.

GREENE: Isayeva runs a group called Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights. She formed it in 2007, after her 25-year-old son was kidnapped, a victim she said of a government raid. Her son, she insisted, had no militant ties. She has never seen her son since.

Ms. ISAYEVA: (Through translator) You can't even imagine the torture of going to bed and waking up in the morning with one and the same thought: maybe today I'll learn something, now I'll get some news.

GREENE: The government has denied targeting innocent people. But the Mothers of Dagestan and other families have similar stories. There is a sense among many people in Dagestan that theres no way to build up an economy when young men fear leaving their houses.

Mayor SAID AMIROV (Makhachkala, Dagestan): (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: One who knows fear is Said Amirov, Makhachkala's mayor. Militants have tried to assassinate him 15 times. In 1998, a bullet entered his car and shattered his spine. He is now paralyzed from the waist down. I asked Amirov what keeps him coming to work, onto these dangerous streets every day in a wheelchair?

Mayor AMIROV: (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: Where should I go, he asked me? Shall I run to America? We work here. We live here. What kind of answer would you like to have?

Mayor AMIROV: (Speaking foreign language).

GREENE: This republic desperately needs jobs, he said. And if the Kremlin is serious about investing here, we'll give them a chance. Nothing, the mayor said, is impossible.

David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.

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