Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Chechnya’s Kadyrov Triggers Monument War and Highlights Russian Insecurities

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 17 – Ramzan Kadyrov’s opening yesterday of the Dadi-Yurt memorial to Chechen women who lost their lives in the struggle against the Russian military in th 19th century may unite Chechens, but it has already had a spillover effect not only among Circassians in the North Caucasus but among Russians in Moscow.

Some Circassians are already complaining that the leaders of their republics are not prepared to follow Kadyrov’s lead, complaints that are likely to grow with time (hekupsa.com/cherkesiya/obzor/1372-kadyrov-ne-kanokov-on-ne-stesnyaetsya-stavit-pamyatniki-natsionalnym-geroyam). 

And some Russian military personnel in Moscow are upset that Moscow has not restored statues to Aleksey Yermolov, the tsarist general who conquered the North Caucasus 150 years ago and whose most famous statue, in Grozny, was destroyed by Cheche nationalists in 1989 (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=62755).

But what is most interesting about this new “monuments war” is an article by German Sadulyaev in today’s “Svobodnaya pressa” in which he seeks to justify Kadyrov’s decision and explain the dilemmas about the 19th century that the current Russian government now faces in the 21st (svpressa.ru/society/article/74389/).

“It sometimes seems,” Sadulayev begins, “that the leadership of the Chechen Republic is intentionally provoking the citizens of Russia.” But this is not the case and only how things appear.  In fact, Kadyrov is not interested in provoking Russians, but he is trying to “unite and consolidate” the Chechen people.

The Chechen leadership understands that at some point, Moscow will stop subsidizing the republic and that it will have to find a way to build its own economy almost from scratch.  To do that, Grozny calculates, it needs a unified people subordinate to a leader and capable of mobilization.

To that end, Sadulayev says, the Chechen leadership is “not only making ‘lemonade out of lemons’ but turning into victory even the most obvious defeat.” That Russians do not understand this reflects their own problems rather than the problems of the Chechens as a national community.

            Russia and Chechnya are incomensurate things, Sadulayev continues.  Russia is a large country and an international power.  Chechnya is a small part of it, with an interesting culture that contains many “’survivals of the past’” but that is utterly incapable of competing with or even seriously challenging Russia.

            With regard to the Dadi-Yurt memorial, Russians should recognize that this is about something long ago and that the events it commemorated were truly complicated, with each side having its own understanding, its own heroes and devils.

            “In Soviet times,” this dilemma was resolve for Russians by reference to “the tsarist regime” against whom the”freedom-loving mountaineers struggled.”  They did not struggle against “Russians but against tsarist Russia, an empire, a conqueror and a prisonhouse of peoples.”

            But since 1991, the situation has become more complicated.   “If the USSR could formally ‘break’ its link with tsarist Russia and ‘amnesty’ the enemies of tsarism, then present-day Russia considers itself the heir of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union” and does not have that opportunity.

            The ideologists of Chechnya have articulated their own story, one that reflects their lack of interest in Russian history and regime change. First, the imperial Russians were bad and the Chechens heroically fought with them.  Then the Russian Bolsheviks also were bad. Stalin deported them. Then were the terrible Russian democrats: they bombed the Chechens.”

            “And only when Putin, the sun king arrived did everything change.” He “curbed the Russians.” In gratitude, “the Chechens saved Russia.”  And that, Sadulayev says, is “the end of the film.”

            But Russians can’t accept that because since 1991 they have lacked a national ideology that explains who and what they are, an ideology that reflects their importance in the world and equally the lack of importance of such challengers as the Chechens.  Sadulyev cites with approval Viktor Pelevin’s question “Where is the Russian national idea?”
            As the Dadi-Yurt monument and the controversy around it show, “the Chechens have one, but the Russians do not.” Russians only demean themselves by getting upset about what Kadyrov is doing, Sadulayev concludes.  They need to get over this if they are to move forward as the Chechens are trying to do.

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