Saturday, February 24, 2018

An Official Ban No Longer Means the Same Thing in the Internet Age: Chechnya and the Deportation Anniversary

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 23 – Today, Chechens and their supporters in Daghestan, Ingushetia, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Georgia, Turkey and the United States organized memorial services to honor the memory of the Chechens Stalin deported from their homeland 74 years ago on this date (

            In fact, it would appear, they did so everywhere there are Chechens except for one place: Chechnya itself where Ramzan Kadyrov denounced Stalin but blocked public commemorations lest they interfere with a Russian military holiday and said Chechens should look forward not backward (

            But as the Kavkaz Uzel news agency reported, “the residents of Chechnya are remembering the victims of the deportation despite the prohibition by the authorities,” something that has been the case since 2011 and yet another way in which the Internet is changing the meaning of any such official bans (

                Not being allowed to organize any public activities on the deportations, the news agency says, Chechens “nonetheless are discussing this date on social networks and messengers.”  Yesterday, on the WhatsApp messenger network, an appeal appeared calling on people to leave the doors of their homes open on February 23, a traditional sign of mourning among Chechens.

            Others posted pictures, reminiscences, and photographs about the 1944 events, a not so implicit protest against the fact that the Kadyrov regime not only banned meetings but did not provide much coverage on its television station.  On the 10:00 pm news, for instance, it devoted most of its coverage to the Russian Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland.

            When the station finally mentioned the deportation, it was only in the context of the notion that “although the Chechens were exiled, the best sons of the people continued to fight on the fronts of the Great Fatherland War,” one anonymous source of the Kavkaz Uzel news service said.

                Many Chechens indicated they had seen the appeal to keep their doors open on February 23, but some said few would do so because the regime would certainly view that as an act of civil disobedience and what it what do to those who engaged in such actions could only be imagined given what it did to Ruslan Kutayev who was jailed for talking about the deportation and complaining about Kadyrov’s shift of the memorial day in 2014 to May 10.

            Those who will avoid taking that risk, however, Chechens said, are likely to distribute food to their poorer family members and friends, another traditional Chechen action of remembrance.  But as for Kutayev, he apparently will avoid doing even that lest he be sent back to prison from which he was released only in December.

            But perhaps the most important way that Chechens are using social media to remember that which officials would prefer they forget is to share their memories.  One Chechen shared the following memory of the dark day when Chechen women, children and old men were loaded on train cars for dispatch to Central Asia.

            He said he had heard from witnesses the following story: “When a large group of Chechens were brought to the railroad station and were begun to be loaded into box cars, the women and children began to shout and cry. And then one of the old men shouted to them: ‘People,’ he said, ‘Be calm!’ They cannot take us anywhere where the All High won’t be.”

            After that, he said, “the noise and cries ceased.”

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