Differentiating four sub-regions in the Northern Caucasus from the viewpoint of the presence of Islam (Dagestan alone; Chechnya and Ingushetia; the Northwest Caucasus; and Ossetia), the author sheds light on the impact on the present political situation of the division of the Northern Caucasus into ethnic republics and districts in the early Soviet period. At the same time, he also insists on the continuity of the pre-modern city-state (jama‘at) based identity and organisation in modern Dagestan, a major factor of the preservation of this republic’s paradoxical unity till our days. His diagnostic is that at the end of the Soviet period, state-sponsored cultures of the nationality had developed enough for giving way to nationalist movements, the paragon of which was for long provided by Chechnya. Even in Dagestan, ethnic and national movements have been developing from 1989 onwards, the history of which has largely been occulted by the concomitant expansion of the Islamic Revival Party. The theme of the republic’s unity was notably promoted by representatives of the secular intelligentsia, a totally forgotten, though sometimes decisive protagonist of the recent political history of the Northern Caucasus. The last paragraphs of the article are devoted to a rapid examination of the main centres of interethnic tension in the region: the Ossetian-Ingush conflict and the development since 1989 of the Adyghe, Karachai, or Noghai national movements in varied parts of the Northern Caucasus.