18 April 2004, 21:31

Russian standard, bottled in Grozny, aged 1 year

Television and newspapers said Chechnya celebrated its Constitution Day. Against the background of... or, more precisely, without a background, without an inflow of news from the republic that is back in the bosom of the Russian state system, this message became a piece of news, an event by itself. Its meaning was rendered to it by other information flows - from Kosovo, Ajaria, Iraq. And indeed, it was something real and meaningful.

Take Iraq - war began there a year ago - so what? Now they are having guerilla war there, terrorism, and the like, two hotels blown up a day. How much better it had been under Saddam - "quiet and confidence" and no terror at all!

Now take Kosovo - the same invisible opponent meddled in there five years ago - why, that's a sheer outrage there! Tens dying, hundreds wounded, thousands of refugees, an ethnic purge requiring international interference, at least humanitarian. Again, how much better it had been under Milosevic - Serbs were protected (or still "cleaned up") from Albanians, an absolute paradise...

Now for Ajaria, that's quite nearby - they are just kids there! Paying a visit, and with numerous guards for some reason, well, so it was a scandal... Wanted to hurt the feelings of the sweet old gentleman, our big friend. After all, if there was peace somewhere in restful Georgia where, say, eternal flame would burn, it was nowhere but in Batumi...

Indeed, against the background of news from the "planet's hotspots," the modest news about the anniversary of the vote on Chechnya's Constitution acquired a certain meaning: "We made it!" Even if they didn't say, they implied it: "We have succeeded in solving all the problems." Firstly, the separatist problem - unlike Georgia and Ajaria. Secondly, the ethnic coexistence problem - unlike Kosovo. Thirdly, the humanitarian interference problem - unlike the same Kosovo and Iraq. Finally, the terrorist problem - after all, the source of danger is not inside the country now, not in a separatist enclave - it's international terrorism that presents troubles.

There's a sensation we've managed to stabilize the conflict area, so peaceful Grozny is no longer like flaming Baghdad. Moreover, we've managed to pacify the population, find a model of the future that would leave out any new outbursts of violence like in Kosovo. And we've been able to codify, enshrine all these solutions and achievements in a document the majority of Chechnya's population approved of. This is when Abashidze and Saakashvili are being unable to agree on what they finally agreed in negotiations about, actually, petty and individual subjects - customs, transit, etc. And we, Russia, have next been able to ensure that Chechnya elects a "legitimate president." Again, this is when there is nothing but interim administration in Iraq.

* * *

These statements (or to put it more precisely... implications!) were meant to impress the Russian audience. At leas those taking greater interest than standard. Those who've broken through the basic programs (criminal chronicles, talk and reality shows, humor, etc.) and are watching news "aspiring to analysis."

As a matter of fact, though, this audience should have a certain feeling of uneasiness or at least discomfort (which is actually the same, but hidden behind a loan word, therefore not so annoying).

Firstly, heroic reports are incessant about our army, police, internal affairs troops, and endless commandos. Take the most recent issues of Bratishka magazine, and you'll be amazed - no delight in the new Constitution, the new president and his host.

Or, secondly, the European and world communities are concerned. These think and speak quite differently, but for some reason not at all delightedly (What is good for the Russian is death for the German, people say!) The Kadyrovs - both the senior and the junior - shock unaccustomed foreign journalists so much that... But again, one'd better read it themselves.

Finally, there's just news left which it is more and more difficult to fish out of the Internet. There are landmines, explosions, shooting, detentions. Refugees that have cheerfully been intending to go back for years already, but doing their best to stay in camps. There are newspapers, too, but no one reads them nowadays. Apparently in hope of that, officials in their interviews may utter what not...

There is no longer a framework for this plenty of facts and opinions. And an attempt to combine different views and standpoints prompts that "it is not at all the same in reality as in actual fact." Stereoscopy arises, and the cardboard picture gallery of Constitutions and elections can no longer be taken seriously in three dimensions. As a Pole observed in Geneva, "if everything is so good, why is it all so bad?"

* * *

The answer is simple - suffice it to take the red pill. "Welcome to the real!"

Indeed, the operations in the Balkans and in Iraq can hardly be considered successful.

Firstly, the grounds for intervention were doubtful (especially in Iraq). Instead, attempts to disguise aims are obvious. The overthrowing of the unwanted (to tell the truth, though, really criminal and monstrous) rulers was conducted under quite different slogans.

Secondly, "high-precision weapons" that would ensure selective destruction of the enemy's forces (with civilian casualties at least ten times lower) turned out to be a myth.

Thirdly, the declared aim - restoration of democratic government forms that would ensure peaceful coexistence of ethnic and religious communities - has not been achieved in either place.

However, it would be better to avoid direct comparisons with Chechnya. Because aims were also disguised here - combating separatists under the slogan of "counter-terrorist operation." Because the legal grounds and the legal regime are at least unobvious here, too.

Meanwhile, a comparison of the military's actions is definitely unfavorable to us. Destroyed in Yugoslavia and Iraq, in Baghdad and Belgrade were military facilities and infrastructure elements announced beforehand. As for Chechnya.., Grozny is a sheer epicenter, while civilians of all ethnicities were dying first and foremost.

As for restoration of rights of the Russian-speaking population... If one trusts the figures of the census in the year before last, though, refugees of all the past years had returned to Chechnya. In reality, the republic practically became ethnically homogeneous: even Ingush people, akin to the Chechens, fled. So the ethnic concord issue is simply not on the agenda.

They say there had been no terrorism in Iraq before the war, but in Chechnya, too, suicide bombers emerged only after several years of "counter-terrorist operation." Large-scale disappearances of people along with common graves - that's Chechnya's reality in the past years. That's the sort of operations by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo that served as a ground for intervention, and about the same was under Saddam. In both countries, though, they've had time enough to forget about that. The "peacekeepers" and the "occupants" do not indulge in such activities. Meanwhile, there is no end to them in this country.

Well, in doing all that comparison work, one should keep in mind the difference in size - both in area and in population Chechnya is dozens of times smaller than Iraq!

Such comparisons are dangerous for one's head... or at least for the schizophrenic pictures of reality. Ridiculous thoughts occur. Did, speaking the other day about the need for intervention in Kosovo, Vladimir Putin really justify the "humanitarian intervention" five years ago? Or perhaps, when Russia's Foreign Ministry warned Tbilisi to be cautious in relations with Batumi, it was regret at their own mistakes in Chechnya, expressed in a roundabout, diplomatic way?

And when our television calls those who blow up Baghdad resistance and guerillas, you can't help expecting a vocabulary change in reports about Chechnya, too.

No, let bygones be bygones - you know it yourself. After all, a year ago the referendum on the Constitution drew a line under years of trouble and disintegration. Or?..

* * *

Official figures of last year's vote in March, 96% "for" with 95% attendance, look implausible. Yet indeed, some activity was to be seen at polling stations that time, unlike in October when Kadyrov was elected! There is an explanation. Not only in the mountains where it was enough for a commando colonel to tell (the head of administration), explain that the referendum was a "special operation" and attendance was guaranteed. People trusted Putin who hinted at cessation of senseless violence provided that the republic votes "for." Indeed, "disappearances" ceased a couple of weeks before the referendum... but they were resumed on the same scale two weeks after it.

Needless to say, there was no choice that time. There was neither alternative to the Constitution, nor any discussion in essence. So the referendum could not be a choice, a "fork in the road." This was a line. There was hope - and it was destroyed. The autumn "elections without electing" only stepped up people's alienation.

A Constitution doesn't mean law. It's true that federal law enforcement and security agencies are delivering to local government their authority - to perform illegal violence. The recent arrests of all sorts of Khambievs in order to make just one Mahomet emerge from the forest provide an example. Amnesty has been on - but again, not by the law, but by "notions." Chechnya's Prosecutor Kravchenko speaks about the same Khambiev using the words of a criminal investigation officer: "I prefer to look him in the eye than have him looking at my back."

But perhaps the key task has been solved - separatism destroyed? The most recent statements by Akhmat-Hajji Kadyrov who wants mineral resources and the oil and gas infrastructure with references to the same last year's Constitution give reasons for vague doubts... He has more authority, "guns" and money than Dudaev and Maskhadov taken together. Unlike these two, though, the Kremlin itself attested to the legitimacy of the new president. If something bad happens - it'll be a scandal...

Or maybe, having condemned attempts of "building the hierarchy of power" in neighboring Georgia, Moscow will turn a blind eye to Kadyrov's threats to block transit oil pipelines?

But I definitely digress. Real-world pictures are by no means the most appropriate background to celebrate a happy anniversary. The best drink to mark it is probably "Double Russian Standard."

Published on March 24, 2004

Author: Alexander Cherkasov, Memorial Human Rights Center (Moscow); Source: Russian Journal

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