Last year in London a curious gala dinner was hosted by Northern Caucasus Resorts, a Russian government-backed group. Building upon Russian city Sochi's hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the night's event was aimed at attracting international investors to lavish tourism projects in the surrounding North Caucasus region. But before the keynote presentation, a lengthy show took place, with various performers dancing Lezginka, a traditional Caucasus routine in which men wear a sword at their side and, stepping quickly, imitate eagles in an effort to woo the aloof female participants.
The performers were later joined on stage by Islam Nazaraliev, Deputy Director General of Northern Caucasus Resorts, who momentarily partook in the dance, extending his arms stiffly like wings. Nazaraliev then began his attempt to convince the audience to have faith in Russia's $30 billion (980 billion roubles) plan to construct luxury ski resorts throughout the restive region.
Yet it seems to be a case of life imitating art as, just like the seemingly indifferent female dancers, outsiders have been unimpressed with Russia's bold attempts to demonstrate its ability to transform an impoverished area defined by militancy into a hotbed of tourism. Launched in 2010, progress on the tourism effort has been stilted. Incongruously, the one factor expected to boost Northern Caucasus Resorts, the Sochi Olympics, has spurred power struggles that are hampering both the tourism project and broader political stability in the region.