Staunton, August 8 – Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is sufficiently confident of his own position and sufficiently desirous of continuing to curry favor with the Kremlin that he has attacked Imam Shamil, the leader of the North Caucasus resistance against tsarism in the 19th century and one of the most revered figures of all time among the nations there.
He did so by suggesting that Shamil rather than the Chechens or Daghestanis he led was responsible for opposing the Russians and by drawing a parallel between Shamil’s actions and the 1999 invasion of Daghestan by Shamil Basayev who he said acted on his own rather than as a Chechen (chechnyatoday.com/news/328448).
Such a delinking of these leaders and the nations of which they are a part may be music to the ears of Moscow which wants to insist that any resistance to Russian expansion was the work of conspirators rather than national movements, but it is ahistorical and offensive to the nations there (kavkazr.com/a/30099677.html and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/338846/).
Daghestanis secular and religious and historians of the region have reacted with anger to Kadyrov’s words, although as expected his argument has been supported by others in his regime and have not been criticized by officials or historians in Moscow, at least not yet (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/338841/).
Some commentators have suggested that Kadyrov’s comments are the product of his territorial dispute with Daghestan, but most argue that they are intended to demonstrate his own power to revise the past as well as define the future and to show that he and his Chechens have always been loyal to the Kremlin.
If the last of these arguments is correct, then Kadyrov’s words could signal something far more significant than anyone has yet suggested: they could point to yet another turning point in the way in which Moscow ideologists and historians treat those national leaders and thus presage a new insistence by the Kremlin on ideological conformity across the Russian Federation.
Over the last 150 years, the ways Russian ideologists have treated Shamil has often been the leading indicator for how Moscow has insisted all non-Russian leaders who stood up for their peoples against the Russian advance. In the 19th century, the imperial authorities treated him as a brigand, but in the early Soviet period, Shamil became a hero for his resistance to imperialism.
Then under Stalin, he became once again a figure to be demonized because of his commitment to Islam and the defense of the North Caucasus mountaineers against the “progressive” role the Russian advance played. After 1953, this ideological requirement loosened; and after 1991, North Caucasians could again treat him as a hero.
If Kadyrov’s treatment of Shamil is yet another turning point, the re-ideologization of his remarkable life is likely to extend to the treatment of all non-Russian movements in the near future, yet another way in which Vladimir Putin is imposing an ideological straightjacket not just on Russia as a whole but on the non-Russians in particular.