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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Rebirth Of Tribalism from Its Ashes

One of the most dangerous phenomena to have arisen in the wake of Soviet power is the phoenix of tribalism. It now threatens to turn the Caucasus and Central Asia into an inferno of warring clans.

Most recently I saw this threat in all its ferocity last week in the Prigorodny District of North Ossetia on Russia's southern border with Georgia. Here, in a four-day frenzy of killing, raping, burning, torture and looting, neighbors -- Ingushetians and North Ossetians -- turned against each other with a savagery that seems to have surprised even the participating parties.

How did it happen"?

The answer goes back to the nature of the tribe, and its ability to regulate human behavior. An individual may be harboring sexual fantasies about his neighbor's wife; he may have deep-seated prejudices against his Moslem or Christian neighbor; he may even be coveting his neighbore's new Niva jeep. But if the tribe does not condone rape, murder or theft then to act upon these desires would be to risk disapproval of the tribe. and to have the tribe turn against him is the tribesman's greatest fear.

These are very small groups. The entire Ingushetian population of Russia is just 200, 000 -- less than the population of a single Moscow district. The melting pot of Dagestan, for example, is made up of more than 10 different tribes -- some with languages that cannot be understood by a member of another clan on the other side of a mountain.

So, in this way, decades passed in Vladikavkaz and the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia, until a provocation changed the tribe's sensibilities regarding treatment of the other tribe. Suddenly, the tribe which had discouraged stealing, rape and murder, now condoned these acts -- or at least was willing to look the other way.

In this way, one tribe turns on another and barbaric acts such as occurred in North Ossetia result.

This tribal threat to peace is taking root all across the former Soviet empire -- in Abkhazia, Tajikistan, South Ossetia, North Ossetia, Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere. The growth of this ancient timeless monster bodes ill for the lands of the former Soviet Union. Russia, with its military might and colonial history in these areas is probably the only force capable of controlling the bloodshed.

The lackluster response of Russia to ethnic fighting in Tajikistan and Georgia stands in sharp contrast to the rapid, firm response to fighting on its own soil. For the time being, at least, Russia has served notice that it has both the resources and the resolve to halt tribalism in the territory of its own empire.