Designing a new Kalmykia
North Caspian Report No. 2 (5 February 2024)
Davur Dordzhiev
The following essay is an idealistic description of the foundations of a hypothetical Kalmyk state written by a member of the Oirat-Kalmyk People’s Congress, a democratically elected representative body advocating for the independence of the republic from the Russian Federation.
Form of state. The structure of a future Oirat state should adhere to the following principles:

  • it is a republic;
  • it is a stable democracy based on the rule of law;
  • it recognizes the importance of local self-government;
  • it is a unitary state, although a transition to federalism is possible in case it unites with Astrakhan or regains the contested districts of Dolban and Privolzhye;
  • it adheres to the international obligation to coexist with other nations peacefully and delegates authority to international organizations for the sake of peace and global security.

Name of state. The current official name of the Republic of Kalmykia in Kalmyk, Xal'mg Tañğç, is a remnant of the colonial era. A new name is needed, and it should reflect the self-designation of our people, Öördmüd. Possible options include Öördin Uls, Öördin Orn-Nutg and Öördin Tañğç. Personally, I prefer the second option, Öördin Orn-Nutg.

Constitution. Any power should restrict itself, and this has to be guaranteed by the constitution. Our constitution should be adopted at the first session of our first parliament. It should be called Yosna Biçg or Konstituts.

Transition period. The proclamation and factual realization of statehood requires a constituent assembly composed of deputies of the People’s Xural, the Oirat-Kalmyk People’s Congress, the Supreme Lama and other representatives of the Oirat civil society. Security should be provided by self-defense forces composed of volunteers, including those participating in the defense of Ukraine. The Declaration of Independence published by the Oirat-Kalmyk People’s Congress in 2022 should be used as one of the main sources for the future declaration of state sovereignty. We must guarantee that the transition takes place without the use of force or any form of civil war.

Form of government. A republican form of government suits us best because there is no family and no individual whose ancestry would provide unquestionable legitimacy among the Oirats. We do not have anyone comparable to Reza Pahlavi of Iran, so it is necessary to create a republic.

I believe that it is necessary to build a parliamentary republic, but at the first stage, i.e. during the first legislative term of the parliament, a mixed parliamentary-presidential form may be acceptable. The widest range of powers, ranging from the adoption of the budget to the appointment of key positions in the state apparatus) should belong to a unicameral elected body consisting of no more than 50-60 deputies with a term of office of no more than 5 years. Let us call it the Orn-Nutgin Xural.

The first deputies of the Orn-Nutgin Xural should be elected based on a majoritarian system because there will not be a party system at the time our statehood is revived. The next convocation should be elected by a proportional system based on the D’Hondt method. At first, at least 25 to 30% seats should be held by women, and later this figure should be increased to 50%. As gender quotas do not make sense in a majoritarian system, it is a question of setting the right trends which will be translated into legislative provisions.

During the first convocation of the Orn-Nutgin Xural, the duties of the head of state should be performed by a popularly elected person, the Tolğaç, for a term not exceeding 6 years. It is them who, in essence, will lay the foundations of the Oirat statehood together with the parliament, so they should have reasonably broad powers. They should be subordinated to the body of collective administrative management, a forerunner of the government. Effective parliamentary and judicial control over the Tolğaç’s behavior should prevent them from becoming a dictator. Upon completion of the first tern, the Tolğaç’s powers should be reduced to representative ones, and future Tolğaçnr should be elected from among the deputies of the second convocation of the Orn-Nutgin Xural. The exuctive power system should instead be headed by a prime minister (Xuntäj or Zääsñ). They, too, should be elected from among the Orn-Nutgin Xural deputies. There should be a cabinet of ministers (Zääsñgin Xüüv) responsible for various portfolios.

The judicial system should consist of three tiers (first instance courts, appelate courts and courts of cassation). Besides common jurisdiction courts responsible for civil and criminal cases, there should be specialized courts for economic and administrative cases. Constitutional justice should be exercised by a separate constitutional court (Konstitutsin Zarğ). Lastly, there should be a specializied anti-corruption court (Sörç / Xarş Korruptsin Zarğ). First instance and appelate courts should operate on a territorial basis, while cassation courts should be supra-territorial. An independent, autonomous and effective judicial system will ensure the normal functioning of the state; without it, democracy falls into hybrid regimes with bad governance.

Administrative divisions. It is necessary to move away from the current administrative boundaries set by the Russian Federation. Internal divisions, however, are important for the purpose of effective state administration. If the Oirat state is unitary, all territorial units should be equal and subordinated to the central government exercising direct control over all of the nation’s territory. Governors (axlaçnr) responsible for the fate of each province (uls) should be appointed and dismissed by the decision of the Prime Minister or President.

If Öördin Orn-Nutg regains the territories it lost to Astrakhan in 1943, it should be allowed for them to gain autonomy. If Astrakhan itself acquires independence, there should be no border or customs control between the two North Caspian states.

An uls should be composed of districts (ğazrmud) excercising local self-government (bäärn ğazrin zakrlğn). Elista (Elst balğsn) should be a distinct territorial entity as the national capital city. Heads of municipalities should be elected direcrtly by the residents of the respective areas.

State regime. Sustainable legal democracy implies pluralism of opinions, regular and free elections, accountability of the state to the citizens and their associations. Human rights and freedoms should not be resitrcited any more than needed for the purposes of defense, security and protection of the constitutional order.

The establishment and development of political parties and other public associations (foundations, organizations, unions) should be encouraged as they constitute the civil society (olna niit). When forming bodies of public authority and especially when appointing prosecutors, anti-corruption officials and judges, the opinion of respected civil society representatives and international experts should be sought. Freedom of speech is directly linked to the quality of governance, and therefore its protection is a sacred duty of the state.

Lustration (vetting) is a key tool in the normal transition from an undemocratic regime to democracy. A temporary ban on those who have tarnished their reputation will help protect the nascent state and break the link between the Russian Federation and Öördin Orn-Nutg. It is especially important to purge the courts, prosecutor’s office, security services and the army elite from the enemies of democracy. My dissertation on lustration provides a deeper understanding of the goals, methods, and possible models of this institution.

In my opinion, electronic voting should be acceptable when organizing elections, referendums and other polls in Öördin Orn-Nutg. Although Russia’s authoritarian government has weaponized e-democracy for its own goals, the technology itself should not be discredited.

State language. Oirat should be the only national language. It should be used as the language of instruction in schools and universities; public services should not be available to people who do not speak it sufficiently. Generally, the entire public sphere (media, placenames) should be Oiratized. Even though the Oirats have been subjected to Russification for centuries and often have a poor command of their ethnic language (myself not being an exception), I am convinced that these requirements will capitalize, in the best sense of the word, the skill of speaking Oirat.

Linguistic minorities should have the right to study their respective mother tongues in municipal schools and universities, and municipalities with predominantly non-Oirant populations should have the right to operate and publish documents in the local language. However, proficiency in the state language should be a universal trait of an Öördin Orn-Nutg citizen.

Citizenship. Citizenship is the legal connection of a person to the state. In my opinion, it should be linked to the place of birth. At the same time, an Oirat person or a member of another indigenous ethnic group should have the right to obtain Öördin Orn-Nutg citizenship through an extremely simplified procedure. People who have been awarded citizenship on the basis of their ethnic affiliation should be issued a passport within 15 minutes. Citizenship should be valued extremely highly. At the same time, it should be inclusive: a person who has passed a state language and constitution exam and resides in Öördin Orn-Nutg permanently can be naturalized.

If a person entitled to citizenship on the basis of their place of birth and/or ethnicity does not want to acquire it, they should be allowed to stay in Öördin Orn-Nutg as a foreigner or a stateless person. If they express the desire to repatriate to their respective nation-state, the government of Öördin Orn-Nutg should help them relocate.

Fundamentals of foreign policy. The new Kalmykia should be committed to ensuring international peace and security. The resolution of disputes by military means must be forgotten once and for all. We are obliged to use arbitration, international courts and other non-military means of conflict resolution, and to encourage their use by other nations. Öördin Orn-Nutg should not be isolated. It should gain membership in international organizations for cooperation in critical areas of economy, environmental protection and security policy. We should emphasize the need for complete demilitarization of the Caspian Sea — it should be used only for economic and biological purposes.
Davur Dordzhiev is a co-founder of the North Caspian Institute and a member of the Oirat-Kalmyk People’s Congress. His research interests include international law, Oirat ethnic activism and democratization and peacebuilding in the South Caucasus. Originally from Elista, Kalmykia, he was exiled from Russia in 2022 and has lived in a number of countries including Armenia, Israel and Germany. He holds an MA degree in law and is currently enrolled in the Modern German and European Studies program at the University of Haifa in Israel.
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