Saturday, February 2, 2019

Kremlin’s Refusal to Discuss Chechen Wars Openly Infuriating and Dividing Chechens and Russians, Tanaylova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 1 – The Russian government’s refusal to allow for an honest discussion of the Chechen wars not only is ensuring that memories about the war will remain divided and divisive but also makes it likely that the Chechens and the Russians will fight yet another war in the future, Valentina Tanaylova says.

            Memories of armed conflicts typically last a long time, the Moscow scholar who has examined the politics of memory in the North Caucasus says, and “the war in Chechnya is no exception … Memories about the war are alive and cast a shadow on the relations of the two communities to this day” (

                Instead of the two sides as a result of honest public discussion of what happened coming together and genuinely sharing a common narrative, each is increasingly retreating into its own narrative, one that rejects the position of the other side and gives aid and comfort to those Chechen and Russian who want to resume the fight.

            “I think,” Tanaylova says, “that the situation can and must change,” but for that to happen, “conditions must be created for the public and open discussion of the consequences of the war and the problems which it left behind.” Such conditions do not now exist, and Moscow shows no sign of being willing to create them.

            “The official version about the restoration of the constitutional order in the Chechen Republic and about the counter-terrorist operations on the territory of the North Caucasus region for many Chechens is the ‘Russian’ version,” one they do not share because it ignores their role on both sides and on the problems that aren’t addressed because they can’t be discussed.

            It is the case that “the popularity of Ramzan Kadyrov on the whole is constantly growing,” but he is viewed by many as nothing more than the Kremlin’s man on the scene. Consequently, Chechens ever more often say that “they ‘love and respect’ the head of the republic or fear to say otherwise.” 

            But Kadyrov’s popularity as measured by polls has done nothing to reduce those holding opposing views. Many Chechen sites feature articles about Kadyrov as “a traitor” to the Chechen people, as someone who “sold out” to the Kremlin, and who will forever be covered with shame as far as Chechens are concerned.

            Indeed, “in recent years,” the number of sites calling for Independence for Chechnya has increased not fallen, and that has the effect of keeping “the theme of war and struggle” very much alive. To be sure, those who put up these sites remain on the defensive, as they can be taken down, but they have learned how to have reserves so the authorities can’t do so easily.

            “Under such conditions,” Tanaylova says, “the preservation of memory about the wars and conflicts has been transformed into yet another form of struggle.” These sites talk about not only the past war but the ways in which the struggle must continue given Russian oppression of the Chechens now.

                And perhaps most important, they prompt the question among Chechens: “Why and how should they become part of the civil society and the state, the struggle with which is natural and reflects the historically existing order of things?” 

            Those questions are being asked ever more frequently as a result of the media treatment of the war from the Russian perspective. Ever more often, articles in the official press say that the wars were about “’putting the Chechens in their place,’” “’showing who is who,’” and most dangerously referring to “the war not in Chechnya but with Chechnya and with the Chechens.”

            One Chechen who lived through both wars told Tanaylova that “of course, I am for peace … but this is our war, the memory of which no one can take from us even though the Russians want that we should forget … Unfortunately, it is easy to begin a war but hard to end it. [And] even in rebuilt Grozny, the smell of war continues.”

            Such observations do not generate optimism, the scholar says.  “Many Chechens say that they want to be heard, understood and recognized. They want to hear about why there was such an enormous number of peaceful civilians among the victims of the military campaigns.”  But no one wants to allow them to speak of this.

            Unfortunately, the Russian powers that be do not want the Russians who were involved to talk about the war either. “Many [Russian] veterans of the war in Chechnya complain that they do not have the right to officially mark The Day of Memory of the Fallen. They have to remember their fellow soldiers in private.”

            Much could be done to overcome the divide if people would be allowed to talk about the past openly and wish each other, but “the present Russian political regime is not in a position to propose new variants for a public and constructive dialogue.” That is something it and both Chechens and Russians may come to regret.

             Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov once said that his grandchildren most likely will also have to fight. Despite the fact that it seems to many that ‘the Chechen question’ was closed long ago,” Tanoylova says, “the probability that Maskhadov’s words will turn out to be prophetic all the same continues to exist.”

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