I don’t know what else to on May 1 when LGBT people in Chechnya are facing flagrant genocide, so today this was how it went down. Now we have been detained and taken to the 43rd police precinct. A man who came out bearing a placard that read, “Putin, go away. Putin is evil” was detained with us. It’s forbidden to say that now, too.
Chechen Mothers Mourned Their Bloodied Children on Nevsky
On May 1, 2017, activists staged a performed on Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main boulevard, during which Chechen mothers mourned and sprinkled their children with earth. Prone on the ground, the bodies of the LGBT people were covered with rainbow and Chechen flags. The performance was meant to express solidarity with the people of the Republic of Chechnya as well as draw attention to the horrifying events occurring there now.
Since the beginning of the year in Chechnya, which is part of Russia, there have been numerous illegal detentions, torture, and executions of homosexual men, including men deemed homosexual. We know of hundred of victims, dozens of them murdered. Even as they deny the occurrence of genocide, local officials have publicly justified these atrocities by citing medieval “ethnic traditions” and “Muslim values.”
The persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya and the North Caucasus is nothing new. The region has long been plagued by rampant corruption, violence, and murder, affecting everyone who lives there. However, targeted mass killings are a new phenomenon. Both local and federal authorities are to blame for the state terror. On the one hand, they have vigorously popularized “traditional religious values.” On the other, they have proved incapable of opposing the spread of radical Islam and ensuring the enforcement of the Russian Constitution and human rights. Impunity on the ground encourages terrorism and radicalization, leading to the deaths of civilians not only in Chechnya but outside it. Consequently, terrorists exploded a bomb in the St. Petersburg subway for the first time in the city’s history.*
“Cruelty is a severe infection that is prone to pandemic. It is not a one-off event. They started with the people of Chechnya and, although many imagined that would be the end of it, they continued with ‘their own kind,’ as is now the ‘patriotic’ expression,” wrote Anna Politkovskaya.
The escalation of terror is a vivid example of how the violation of human rights and violence against a particular group can quickly balloon into violence against everyone.
We demand the strict observance of Russian federal laws in Chechnya and preservation of the Russian state’s secular nature. We demand that religious fanatics who are calling for violence be punished according to the law. We demand an investigation of allegations of widespread torture and executions of gays in Chechnya and severe punishment for the guilty parties, including government officials.
Photographs by David Frenkel, Alexandra Polukeyeva, and Fontanka.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader
* NB. I have translated and posted the above out of a sense of solidarity and friendship with the people who staged this action during today’s May Day marches on the Nevsky in Petersburg.
However, I would be remiss not to note the striking Alexei Navalny-like anti-Caucasus/anti-Muslim rhetoric in the protesters’ communique, which, of course, is not unique to the otherwise admirable anti-corruption fighter, but is a commonplace in the non-thinking of many “ethnic” Russians. As thoroughly deplorable and despicable as the persecution of gay men in Chechnya and anywhere else is (what, are gay men not persecuted in “Russia proper”?), the activists quote the slain journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya while seemingly forgetting why she was assassinated: because she wrote truthfully about what Russian federal armed forces and police were doing in Chechnya. Moscow’s successive bloody invasions of Chechnya in the 1990s and the 2000s, involving the torture and rape of non-combatants, the wholesale slaughter of civilians, and mass displacement of the local population might seem to be more appropriately qualified by the word “genocide” than what has been happening recently to the republic’s gay men, however horrifying. Not to put too fine a point on it, “Russians proper,” with the notable exception of Politkovskaya and a brave but tiny minority of others, have never been able to assign the responsibility for what happened in Chechnya where it belongs, and they have been aided and abetted by the other “world powers” (i.e., the “former” colonial and imperial powers), who were only too happy to turn a blind eye to what first Yeltsin and then Putin were up to in their own backyard, so to speak. If Chechnya is now an out-of-control autocracy, run by an “Islamist” strongman-cum-madman, Russians have only to look in the mirror to find out who is to blame for this deplorable state of affairs.
Nor, finally, is it a given that the recent bombing in the Petersburg subway (which wasn’t even the first such bombing, in fact) was the work of “radicalized Islamists.” Of course, that is one possibility. But there are other possibilities, as any “Russian proper” who hasn’t had his or her memory erased would realize.
When the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly passed its infamous homophobic law several years ago, there was no popular outcry against the law on the part of Petersburgers, the vast majority of whom are not Muslim and thus cannot be suspected of adhering to “medieval Muslim values.” Nobody but a handful of people “rioted” in the streets, and as far as I can tell, Petersburgers still, inexplicably, regard themselves proudly as “Europeans,” although they have this disgusting “medieval” law on the books, and many of the same local Petersburg riot cops (OMON) who wearily drag them into paddy wagons and kettle them when they occasionally want to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly were, as is well known, on active combat duty in Chechnya during the First and Second Chechen Wars and are, possibly, guilty of God knows what war crimes against the “uncivilized” Chechens, whose tiny, beautiful corner of the world has been ravaged at least three times in living memory by their Great Russian rulers. TRR
А “mixed martial arts” fight between eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds never hurt anyone.
We beat the hell out of each other in the schoolyard, although it wasn’t televised, sadly.
Later, some of us grew up to be policemen or joined the armed forces. Meaning, some of us grew up to be people who do important work in our country by keeping the inferior races down, with a couple of dozen pistol shots to head and chest, if necessary, or traveling to foreign countries to kill their people by the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands because they had the misfortune of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, although they never harmed a hair on any of our curly imperial heads.
Kadyrov has the right idea. He is training his own children and Chechnya’s children for the day when he and his army of Russian patriots will have to descend on the metropole and rip the empire’s “fifth column” and “national traitors” limb from limb.
And he is broadcasting it on TV so that all these enemies and traitors can see he and his people are getting ready to come after them.
Only a person completely off their rocks would call this “stability.”
For the last seventeen years, Putin has been concocting a Vesuvius-like social, economic, and political volcano that will soon blow up in everyone’s face. Worldwide. The people of Aleppo have already been hit by future seismic aftershocks from this belated volcanic explosion. Who will be next?
Kadyrov Children’s Televised MMA Bouts Prompt Criticism In Russia RFE/RL
October 6, 2016
Russia’s ombudswoman for the rights of children says she has sent an official query to the children’s ombudsman in the North Caucasus region of Chechnya after state television broadcast mixed martial arts (MMA) fights between children.
Anna Kuznetsova made the announcement on October 6, two days after three sons, all aged between 8 and 10, of Chechnya’s Moscow-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov won their fights in the cage during a so-called exhibition bout in Grozny.
Ten-year-old Akhmad beat another boy by a technical knockout.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “If all of this is true, then probably a live broadcast of a child’s knockout is the reason for the proper supervisory authorities to closely look into this matter.”
The chairman of Russia’s MMA Union, Fyodor Yemelyanenko earlier called the fights “unacceptable,” saying the children risked permanent injury and psychological harm.
Yemelyanenko said children under the age of 12 should not be allowed to take part in any MMA fights and that anyone under the age of 21 must wear a helmet and protective gear, which was not the case in the fights involving Kadyrov’s sons.
He also expressed concerns that the children’s fight was shown on state television.
“Chernovik”: Man Who Complained to Putin about Kadyrov Has House Burned Down in Chechen Village of Kenkhi Mediazona
May 13, 2016
According to Chernovik, the house of local resident Ramazan Dzhalaldinov, who had complained to Vladimir Putin about the Chechen authorities, had his house burnt down late on the night of May 12 in the village of Kenkhi, in Chechnya’s Sharoy District.
As Dzhalaldinov’s wife told Chernovik, around midnight, masked men entered the house. They said they had come to rescue them. The women and three daughters were put in a car, but later were thrown out under a bridge.
“And the house was set on fire. Residents of the village have been forbidden to say anything on the topic under threat of their houses being set on fire,” she said.
A few weeks ago, Ramazan Dzhalaldinov recorded a video appeal to President Vladimir Putin in which he spoke about the poor living conditions in the villages, the houses left destroyed after the two military campaigns of 1994-1996 and 1999, and the corruption of local officials. After posting the video, Dzhalaldinov left the republic.
In late April, the other villagers corroborated Dzhalaldinov’s complaints to a correspondent for TV Rain. Afterwards, villagers who had spoken with the reporter were detained by Chechen security forces.
On May 6, Ramzan Kadyrov, acting head of Chechnya, visited the village of Kenkhi and spoke with several residents, who once again confirmed what Dzhalaldinov had related in his video message.
Kadyrov promised to repair roads and tower complexes in three months, supply the village with natural gas lines, and build mosques in the Sharoy District.
After Kadyrov’s visit, Grozny TV aired a report in which it was claimed that “residents of the village publicly condemned the conduct of [their] countryman” Ramazan Dzhalaldinov.
Gaisanova disappeared in 2009 after a special security operation personally led by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. According to human rights activists, Gaisanova, an employee of the Danish Refugee Council, was abducted and probably murdered.
The ECtHR ruled that the Russian authorities were responsible for Gaisanova’s abduction and probable death. The court found that Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment), and Article 5 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy ofGigapica
Hello! One of the main events of the past week for us was not Putin’s “Direct Line,” but the arrest of a man who spoke with Putin a year ago. Anton Tyurishev, a construction worker at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East, complained to the president that he and his mates were not being paid their wages. Putin promised to get to the bottom of it, but a year on nothing had changed. Tyurishev promised that in response protests would kick off. Later, he was summoned to the police station, where the “Law on Rallies” was read out to him. The day before the “Direct Line” broadcast, he was detained and sent to jail for five days, allegedly, for swearing in public.
The new defendant in the Bolotnaya Square Case, Maxim Panfilov, who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome and yet was taken into police custody, is not getting the medicines he needs. Instead, he is being administered substitutes that do not alleviate his condition. Panfilov has been appointed an outpatient psychiatric examination. The investigator has agreed to let defense attorneys attend it.
Ildar Dadin, convicted of “multiple violations of the rules for holding public events,” was convoyed from Moscow to Petersburg right on his birthday, which means he will serve his sentence in Leningrad Region.
Last week, it transpired that Magomednabi Magomedov, imam of the Eastern Mosque in Khasavyurt, had been arrested, accused of incitement to terrorism and inciting religious and ethnic hatred. Magomedov, who was transported from one place of confinement to another over several days, complained he had been tortured. Pretrial detention facility officers had beaten him and forced him to kneel, demanding that he confess to the charges.
Euromaidan participant Alexander Kostenko, convicted of harming a Berkut riot police officer, was transferred to solitary confinement shortly before a hearing where his request for parole was to be examined. Naturally, Kostenko’s parole request was rejected.
It seems soon Alexei Navalny will have no allies who are not undergoing criminal prosecution. Ivan Zhdanov, head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s legal service, and a candidate for the council of deputies in the Moscow suburb of Barvikha, has been charged with evading conscription.
Freedom of Assembly
In Ulyanovsk, police diligently searched for activists who had blocked a road in connection with construction of a residential complex. They visited one activist at work, and telephone another and asked him to report for questioning. When he demanded an official summons, they threatened him with criminal charges. Administrative charges have been filed against three people.
In Volgograd, the leader of the regional Union of Entrepreneurs and Freight Haulers has been slapped with three administrative charges for calling people to a protest rally before the rally was authorized. The court threw out two of the three charges, while the third resulted in a fine.
In Podolsk, three men attacked Maxim Chekanov, a past participant of protest rallies. The incident began when they called Chekanov by name, asked him questions about the “Kiev junta,” called him a “Banderite scumbag,” and then invited him to go round the corner. During the ensuing fight they smashed Chekhanov’s face.
Popular Chechen singer Hussein Betelgeriev, who disappeared in late March, has returned home beaten. It is unknown where he was all this time. Relatives and friends suggest he was abducted, and connect the abduction with his comments on social networks and the fact he ignored the call to attend a pro-Kadyrov rally on March 23.
OVD Info is an independent human rights media project dedicated to political persecution in Russia. We are engaged in daily monitoring of detentions at public events, and publish information about other kinds of political persecution. We believe that information liberates and protects, and analyzing the data we collect can help change the situation for the better in the future.
Editor’s Note. OVD Info sends out a weekly email news roundup, in Russian, to its supporters. I thought that, despite its brevity, this week’s roundup provided a fairly eloquent picture of the state of affairs in this country at present and not just this particular week. You can sign up to the mailing list by going to the bottom of any page n the OVD Info website and entering your email address where you see the phrase ПОДПИСАТЬСЯ НА РАССЫЛКУ.
“Kadyrov said he would not let us work in Chechnya”
Irina Tumakova Fontanka.ru
March 18, 2016
The Committee for Prevention of Torture has been forced to withdraw from the Republic of Chechnya. Its chair, Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, was the latest victim of physical assault there. Kalyapin had long had a troubled relationship with Chechen headman Ramzan Kadyrov.
“Igor Kalyapin was just assaulted outside the entrance to the Hotel Grozny City. He was beaten and pelted with eggs,” Dmitry Utukin, an attorney for the organization wrote on Twitter on Wednesday evening.
Later, Kalyapin recounted what had happened to him.
“Around 6 p.m., I checked into Room 2401 in the Hotel Grozny City,” he wrote on Facebook. “About forty minutes later, two reporters and a cameraman came to my room. While I was still in Ingushetia I had promised to give them an interview as soon as I arrived in Grozny. We had begun recording the interview when there was a knock on the door. A man of about sixty years of age, who introduced himself as the hotel’s general manager, a security guard in a black uniform, and another middle-aged man entered. The manager told me that since I had criticized the head of Chechnya and the Chechen police, while he himself was very fond of Ramzan Kadyrov, I had to leave the hotel. […] After that, I was escorted downstairs, where I was detained by a mob of around thirty women, who had apparently been hastily assembled from hotel staff and the employees of the boutiques located on the first floor. They screamed in unison: how dare you speak ill of Ramzan. When I tried to respond, they screamed loudly: we do not want to listen to you. Nevertheless, I was not allowed to leave the hotel. I realized they were purposely delaying me until a team of assailants arrived. I had let my staff go home in a car before dark, and it would have been wrong for them to come after me at such a time in the evening in Grozny. It was apparent I would not be allowed to check into any hotel in Grozny. Any of my Chechen friends living in Grozny would have been exposed to mortal danger [if I had tried to stay with them]. So basically I was in no big hurry nor could I expect anyone to help me. I tried calling Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council. I did not manage to get through to him in time [.]”
In an interview with Kavpolit, Kalyapin said of his attackers, “I believe the men who attacked me were neither Chechens nor Muslims. People who have done such a thing cannot be called Chechens or Muslims.”
Who, then, were the assailants? What had the anti-torture campaigner done to enrage them? Fontanka.ru posed these questions to Igor Kalyapin.
Igor, how do you explain yesterday’s attack on you?
There is no cause to guess here, it is all fairly simple. Over the past two years, Ramzan Kadyrov has personally, frequently, and quite emotionally accused me of various horrible crimes in the Chechen media. He has said I have defended terrorists and financed terrorism in the Chechen Republic, and that our committee are agents of western intelligence agencies who earn money on the blood of the Chechen people. That is a literal quotation. For example, in December 2014, there was a terrorist attack in Grozny in which a dozen Chechen policemen, young guys, were killed.
Yes, that is a well-known story. Kadyrov blamed you personally for the attack.
He addressed people, including the relatives of the dead, and he did this in the first twenty-four hours after the attack, when people were blinded by grief and pain. And he said to them: I know that a certain Kalyapin transferred money from abroad to the organizers of the attack.
Let us also recall he was not angry with you for no reason. You had tried to prevent him from burning down without trial the houses of people suspected of being relatives of the terrorists.
Of course. But he has said it more than once; he has systematically repeated the charges. Only last month on Chechen TV there were two films about Kalyapin: montages of photographs, videos, and screenshots of our website, and all the charges against me read out against this visual backdrop.
So what is the reason? What has your committee done to Kadyrov?
Many of the kidnappings we have tried to investigate have led us to Kadyrov’s confidants. And he knows it quite well: I once personally told him about it. We constantly pressure the Investigative Committee, which deals with these matters, to perform certain investigative actions. They have tried to stop or suspend criminal proceedings, but we have constantly appealed their actions in the courts.
Well, we understand how our courts and investigators work. Could Kadyrov, for example, just not pay attention to your work?
We publicly talk about all of it. We point out that the Investigative Committee in the Chechen Republic has not been investigating such-and-such a case, although the evidence is there: for example, the case of Murad Amriyev, the case of Islam Umarpashayev, and other matters. We point out that a certain person has not been questioned only because he serves in the Akhmad Kadyrov Regiment, and the investigator is afraid to summon him. We have made such things public on many occasions. We have sent white papers on these cases to all the factions in the State Duma. We have periodically appealed to Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee. Moreover, we have done it openly, by publishing reports, and we have talked about cases not being investigated. I have also spoken about this at the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. There has been a lot of press about our work. Naturally, it infuriates Kadyrov.
Does it merely infuriate him? Or does he see your work as a serious threat?
Apparently, he does in fact see it as a threat. I think that from time to time he get signals he should stop illegally prosecuting people he does not like. I imagine the powers that be wag their finger at him. Until you stop, they say, your republic will be written about as a lawless land.
Why has everything intensified in recent days? The incidents involving your committee in a single region have been in the headlines for a week running. Whose toes have you stepped on lately?
No, there were incidents before this, too. It was just that nobody wrote about them. If it were not for the March 9 attack on the journalists, which made such a big splash, then no one much would have written about my getting pelted with eggs, probably. The two incidents just happened to coincide. In fact, we have been under intense pressure for at least the last two years. Many things have happened. I cannot detail all of them right now.
For example, three days ago, there was an incident at your committee’s office in Grozny.
Yes, three nights ago, people broke into an apartment in Grozny we use as an office. They tried to turn off the security camera. They thought they had succeeded, but the camera kept on working. So on the recording you can see Emergency Situations Ministry officers and police officers breaking open the door and entering. Then, apparently, they got to the router, and the signal went dead. Basically, one of the reasons I came to Grozny was to get to the bottom of what was going on with the apartment: inspect it, file a complaint with the police, and so on.
Your colleagues at the committee told Fontanka.ru that security officials also went into your office in Ingushetia on March 9.
It was not an office in Ingushetia, but an apartment where we kept documents. And that is important, because we have not done any work in Ingushetia. We do not have a single case in Ingushetia. We do not annoy the security officials in Ingushetia in any way. Moreover, I have had a great relationship with Yunus-bek Yevkurov, head of Ingushetia, and he has had generally good relations with human rights activists, even with the ones who annoy him. So Yevkurov was not behind it, of course. I cannot tell you who these people were. But people at the level of the North Caucasian Federal District have got involved, and I imagine the Interior Ministry could easily establish whether it was policemen or someone else.
Meaning, you are confident they have decided to figure it out?
No, I’m not confident, not confident at all. But if anyone can figure it out, it has to be federal district officials. But if it was security officials who were involved, they were not from Ingushetia.
Why could your committee’s employees not work in Chechnya quietly, without advertising themselves?
That is the specific nature of our work. We are not gathering information, after all; we are lawyers. We are constantly involved in public legal proceedings. Once or twice a week, for example, we are involved in court hearings dealing with the Investigative Committee’s unlawful actions or their inaction. The court sessions are open to the public. Information about them is posted at the entrance to the courthouse or on the court’s website. We are simply legally bound to operate publicly. That is, we have three areas of work: we do paperwork and file documents in court, we are involved in court hearings, and we take part in police investigations. It is quite easy to identify us. And there is nothing to be done about it.
You work to prevent torture, which is a crime. Theoretically, the state should have a stake in the success of your work. How does it help you? Perhaps by physically protecting you?
You know yourself how it “helps” us.
What if I didn’t know?
The work of the Committee against Torture, which is purely juridical and wholly confined to criminal proceedings, was deemed work aimed at changing state policy, and as such the committee was placed on the register of foreign agents. Honestly, I still have not recovered from the shock. We never denied we received foreign funding, but to say that the Committee against Torture had been trying to change state policy is—
A full confession?
In my opinion, it is self-incrimination. When a person says such things, it is called self-incrimination. But here it was the state saying this. Nevertheless, our organization was deemed a foreign agent. So now we have another organization: the Committee for Prevention of Torture does not receive foreign funding. True, they are trying once again to register us as foreign agents. Because they feel like it.
Okay, money from foreign organizations is a very bad thing. But has the Russian government subsidized the prevention of torture?
In 2013–2014, we got our first state subsidy, a so-called presidential grant. Then the organization was declared a foreign agent, and we announced we did not intend to go on working with this status. We discontinued operations and registered the new organization, which for the time being has not received anything from anyone.
How do you survive, then? Legal aid, trips to the regions (you operate in more than just Chechnya), and collecting information are probably all expensive things, no?
Legal aid is not the most expensive thing. And what information collecting do we need to do if people come to us themselves? We need money for other things—for collecting evidence and conducting forensic examinations, and for ensuring people’s safety. We very often send victims to a sanatorium, not only so they get medical treatment there but also to spare them from the intrusiveness of the law enforcement agency whose officers we suspect of having committed the crime. This is what we need money for. For example, last year a man sought our help. He told us a deputy minister of the Chechen Republic had tortured him: the minister had attached electric wires to his body and so on. The victim was in hospital. Moreover, he was disabled: he had only one leg. And he showed us so-called electrode traces, claiming they were evidence of torture. We had this conversation approximately a week after he had been tortured. To force the Investigative Committee to accept this as evidence, you need to carry out a quite complicated forensic examination. So we sent this man with a chaperon (since he was disabled) off to Moscow. In Moscow, we contracted with a licensed, state-accredited forensics bureau, which offers paid services among other things. They did the examination. When we did the numbers, it turned out the examination alone cost us over 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,300 euros at current exchange rates]. They are not always so expensive, but such forensic examinations are required in each case.
So maybe the examinations should be conducted at government expense as part of the investigation.
The Investigative Committee is not going to conduct them, and not only because it is expensive but also because they are afraid of finding out the results. When it does not want to deal with a criminal case, the Investigative Committee’s primary tool is delaying the forensic examination so it is impossible to establish either the nature of the physical injuries or the circumstances in which they were received. So in each case we have to carry out the forensic examinations ourselves.
But someone does pay for it, don’t they? Who are they? Charities, private sponsors?
Our work is divided. There is the Committee for Prevention of Torture. It employs lawyers who go to court, file appeals, and so on. It is a public organization that has no foreign funding. But there is another organization, also noncommercial, which works on the forensic examinations, collects evidence, and so on, that is, on things where money is absolutely necessary, including international protection. It receives foreign funding.
Have I understood you correctly that the fight against torture in Russia is subsidized by foreign organizations?
Yes, that is correct.
You want to return to Chechnya. I gather that the challenges you went there to solve have not been addressed.
The task I have already told you about has lost its relevance. I wanted to inspect our apartment in Grozny, but it is clear I am not going to be allowed to do that. So we will have to solve the problem differently. For example, attorneys can inspect the apartment along with police officers. But I had another objective: to try and organize a press conference in Grozny. Now I would not even risk inviting anyone to go there. In Chechnya, there are reporters who write good things about Kadyrov, and they are not in any danger. But those who have at one time or another permitted themselves even a bit of criticism had better not go there.
What will happen now to the cases your committee has been handling in Chechnya? Will you abandon them?
No, we do not abandon cases. We simply do not have the right, either the moral or the legal right. We will continue to be involved in them. For the time being, I cannot say how we will set up the work and where our lawyers will do the paperwork. It is obvious we will not be allowed to work in the Chechen Republic. Kadyrov himself has said so many times. But we will continue the work itself.
Your staff will still have to travel to Chechnya, won’t they?
Yes, they will. But we are officially involved in criminal cases as counsel for the victims. The investigative authorities are obliged to ensure our safety. They had better do it.
Kadyrov Is Not Chechnya
Grigory Tumanov Snob
January 26, 2015
Kommersant newspaper correspondent Grigory Tumanov has returned from a trip to Grozny and reports everything you hear about modern Chechnya and its bloodlust is a myth invented by Ramzan Kadyrov
If you said the pro-Ramzan Kadyrov rally, held last Friday in Grozny, was a kind of vote for Kadyrov, you would have to admit it was a failure. It has long been argued the event was meant to hide some of the Chechen leader’s deeper problems, and he had begun to haggle with Moscow not by offering stability in exchange for a free hand, but by offering the explosive situation in the region. But on the ground it turned out all the stories about how, as soon as Kadyrov resigns and loosens his grip, the entire republic would secede from Russia, immediately impose sharia law, and establish a free Ichkeria are a myth.
I remember January 19, 2015, in Grozny: the rally for the Prophet, which had also been organized not without the involvement of the local authorities, to put it mildly. The vast majority of the people at the rally had, of course, never seen any Charlie Hebdo cartoons on the web, the cartoons that sparked the brutal murders of the magazine’s journalists. Despite this, however, from early morning there was a huge traffic jam even on Chechnya’s border with the neighboring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan. Yes, there were state employees. Yes, ralliers were bussed into Grozny. Yes, there were quotas and roll calls, and prototype placards imposed by the higher-ups, and campaigning in dean’s offices. It is odd, of course, to try and assess the degree to which those people went involuntarily to the Heart of Chechnya Mosque that day, but it should be said they stayed on the square both at twelve o’clock to perform the midday prayer and afterwards.
Several days later, every other car was still sporting a “We Support the Prophet!” placard. It made sense. How, in a Muslim region, would you say no to the question, “Are you going to the rally for the Prophet?” You wouldn’t say it, of course.
“I have not seen the cartoons, but I am a Muslim, so I have no choice but to come out. Rally or no rally, how could I not come out? For some reason you all say we should not be offended by cartoons about something that matters to us. But why should you decide for us? You don’t believe in it!” one rally attendee told me.
It was a conclusive victory for Kadyrov. People really did come out for the rally, driven not only by official lobbying but also by their own indignation. So it was a great way for Kadyrov to announce his candidacy for the post of chief defender of Muslims in Russia.
Contrary to the official Instagrams posted by Chechen officials and Kadyrov himself, it turned out that the personal pull exerted by the head of the republic was still not comparable to that of Muhammad. The Chechen Interior Ministry reported that over a million people gathered on the squares of Grozny last Friday. This is not true. I stood on the roof of the judicial department of the republic’s Supreme Court and saw with my own eyes that there were hardly 100,000 people in attendance. And as soon as the officials moderating the rally announced it was over, all those one hundred thousand people literally evaporated from the square. It was impressive. I was especially touched by the way that people who were not employed in the state sector proudly said they would not be going to the rally.
“Oh no, I am going to stock up on potato chips and sunflower seeds and plop down on the sofa. If it is a day off, then let it be a day off. No one is going to force me to come out for the tsar,” a private entrepreneur in Grozny told me.
“Maybe we will not be allowed to work on this day, but we are not going anywhere, so if you suddenly feel like some tea, stop by,” the proprietors of a kebab place near the hotel where I stayed told me on the eve of the rally.
While it was true there was no smoke coming from their grills the next morning, all the place’s employees were in fact at work, watching with curiosity as state-sector workers carrying placards shuffled by them on their way to the Heart of Chechnya Mosque.
Yes, everyone with whom I spoke in the crowd on the square spouted off rote phrases about how Kadyrov had raised the republic from ruins, and that he needed support, since Ilya Yashin had launched a real vilification campaign against him. But it was no less impressive to see how people squinted and smiled ironically as they said this, to see placards embossed with slogans about Kadyrov and against Navalny just lying in the flowerbeds after the rally, and how policemen quickly tried to clean them up when they noticed the interest they aroused among photojournalists.
All of today’s Chechnya is a myth invented by Kadyrov. The bloody seriousness and the obsession with sports and Islam are a myth. Another such myth is the stability Kadyrov provides, thus reining in the unbearable craving of Chechens for secession from Russia and terrorism. Talking about politics in the republic frightens everyone, especially talking about politics with reporters. There is the risk you will find yourself on a treadmill with your pants pulled down. Both critics and supporters of the regime agree on the main point, however: the wars are over, the bombing has stopped. However, if you get both critics and supporters to talk, all of them will admit that the choice between nocturnal visits by men in cars with KRA license plates [i.e., marked with Kadyrov’s initials] and Russian bombing raids is not great.
Ruslan has a cafe. If you walk down Putin Avenue and then turn into the courtyards, walk past the houses, go down into a basement, and push the door with a yellow sign featuring a guitar, inside you will find something resembling the Mos Eisley Cantina in the first Star Wars movie. The place is terribly smoky, and there are strange groups of people sitting all round it. Only the drum kit is empty. The alien band that produced the whimsical sounds in the movie has been replaced by a young boy now quite long-windedly showing his support for FC Bayern Munich, whose match is on the telly.
Ruslan was a physical education teacher and was about to get housing in a dormitory when the first Chechen campaign started. On the day Russian forces stormed Minutka Square, he was trying to find bread. Ruslan says he cannot eat supper without bread.
Ruslan also cannot live without the blues. While he never has learned to play the guitar, he knows so many artists by heart it would blow your mind. The cafe is not even a business to him but the chance to live as he likes. Sometimes, friends come to the bar and perform jam sessions, and a bottle of cognac can always be found for regulars.
“Around the New Year it was totally excellent here. Everyone would dance until dawn to Pink Floyd, and they were barely standing when they would go home early in the morning,” says Ruslan.
He understands that even in Moscow a blues cafe is a very niche establishment, not to mention Grozny, but this is how he wants to live.
“I would have long ago earned money from the cafe by showing football matches and letting customers make bets. It is quite profitable, but in Chechnya you are not allowed to engage in bookmaking. It is permitted all over Russia, but here it is forbidden. It is forbidden, and that is that. Why should I regard this as normal?” he says, incensed.
Here it is not the custom to say out loud that there is anything wrong with Kadyrov, but the cafe owner does not like having to choose between war and autocracy.
“Look, no one here has any illusions. By all means, let it be Ramzan and Ramzan. But could they just leave us in peace? I want to work in peace, not to be hassled by anyone. People have nothing to eat, but all day long they show on the telly how Kadyrov went for a sleigh ride, what car he drove and where. It is like a reality show,” says another resident of Chechnya, who has a small business.
For him, the pro-Kadyrov rally was an additional irritant. I do not know whether some good people in Moscow actually explained to the Chechen leader he should not appear before his happy people on Friday or maybe he figured it out himself, but I heard a fair number of jokes about the big theatrical production without the main character on stage.
On the eve of the rally, there were rumors in Grozny that now as never before Kadyrov had to demonstrate people’s gratitude to him, and so the presence of media at the rally that were not subordinate to local authorities was undesirable. Allegedly, the nervousness of the local government had reached such levels that members of patriotic youth clubs had been instructed to seek out federal and foreign journalists in the crowd and prevent them from doing their jobs any way they could.
Ultimately, this did not happen, but such a nervous atmosphere could hardly have arisen if the leader were confident if not in the people’s absolute loyalty then at least in its absolute fear.
Some wonder what to do with the republic’s zombified population when Kadyrov goes. But it turns out that nothing in particular has to be done at all. Kadyrov is not Chechnya, and the Chechens are not the pumped men in camouflage you see in the Instagrams, signed with nicknames ending with the number 95 [i.e., the regional code for Chechnya on Russian license plates].
These are people who are insulted to hear they are wasting Moscow’s money. These are people who are afraid men will come for them in the night. These are people who want to open the kinds of cafes they want to open, and who do not want to stand holding identical placards at eight in the morning instead of going to work, and who do not want war. And what sets them apart from the vast majority of Russian citizens (it has become all the rage lately to oppose the two groups) is that they remember war quite well.