Everyone has been getting drawn into the virtual fight with Kadyrov. I, too, have been outraged by what has been said and done in Chechnya. But I am afraid of certain hasty generalizations that have already begun to take shape amongst the “opposition” (by which I also mean a certain detachment from the authorities, not necessarily confrontation with them).
First, it is shortsighted to turn the fight against the, so to speak, Kadyrovshchina into a fight with the Chechens. This is the principle of collective guilt all over again. We are falling into the same trap without solving the problems but only aggravating them. Kadyrov does not represent all Chechens. There are many people opposed to him, both moderate liberals and more aggressive radicals. The majority of people simply live their local lives and keep their mouths shut. They are occasionally dragged off to pro-Kadyrov rallies and forced to hold placards and shout slogans, but that does not mean they are ardent Kadyrov supporters. We just need to keep this in mind.
Second, the current regime in Chechnya is not something “Islamic,” “Caucasian,” “Asian,” and so forth, epithets that many liberals have been quick to pin on it, thus reproducing the white man’s colonial language. The Kadyrovshchina is a projection of the regime in the Kremlin. The Kremlin created it, the Kremlin has financed it, the Kremlin controls it, and one of the reasons it has done this has been to divert attention from itself. The current Putin regime and the Kadyrov regime, as part of the former, are not some kind of “Asian backwardness.” They are the peculiar system that emerged in the wake of Soviet modernization, with all its illusions, unfulfilled projects, traumas, and its incapacity for recycling this legacy in the post-Soviet period. As a consequence, we see a strange modern archaism or peripheralization.
Third, jettisoning Chechnya and punishing the Chechens can hardly solve the problem. Where we would jettison them? How would we punish them? We need to change the regime in the Kremlin, to establish a whole new regime in Russia, to create new development programs or programs for overcoming peripheralization, and as part of these programs think about how the former borderlands, colonies, and Third World can be included in this development, rather than building a wall they will beat against until they smash it.
This morning I got an urgent message from a friend, alerting me to the fact a funny sounding exhibition of photographs was underway at a downtown photo gallery I had never heard of.
It was true, as my friend pointed out, that the announcement for the show, an exhibition of portraits of Eastern Ukrainian pro-Russian separatist fighters (opolchentsy), taken by Petersburg photographer Mikhail Domozhilov, sounded quite dicey politically, as posted on the website of the exhibiting gallery, ARTOFFOTO.
It sounded a little less outwardly partisan when translated into English and printed on the flyers I would later find lying on a windowsill in the gallery:
“The self-proclaimed and still unrecognized state [of the] Donetsk People’s Republic appeared as a result of a civil war in Ukraine in April, 2014. The Donbass People’s Militia became the driving force of the new republic. In the year that passed after the declaration of the DPR, its militia transformed from an anarchic group of super activists [sic] divided into small groups and willing to go weaponless and die for an idea into a regular army with all its necessary attributes—[a] code [of military conduct], subdivisions [sic] and their chiefs, headquarters and machinery.
“This episode is about transition and transformation, about a shaky equilibrium between belonging to one country and to another, utopic in its essence. And also about the self-identification of the participants throughout the conflict. In several months former miners, builders, mechanics have become professional warriors, and a new, extreme reality has replaced the ordinary one. With major destruction, artillery shelling and [a] non-continuous front, these people suddenly found themselves in the middle of historical events and news reports.
“This episode includes several close-up portraits of militia members in mobile studios at military and training bases, as well as on [the] frontlines.”
(English-language flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman’s Pass [Opolchenskii Bilet], ARTOFFOTO Gallery, Bolshaya Konyushennaya, 1, Saint Petersburg, January 15–February 3, 2016)
It was also true that the photographer, Mr. Domozhilov, had shown a penchant in his career for subjects that might be characterized as rightist, such as this fascinating series on the ultras for Petersburg’s Russian Premier League side, FC Zenit.
The ultras series featured virtuosic albeit historically and aesthetically coded works such as this.
On the other hand, Mr. Domozhilov’s tearsheets included portraits, just as compelling, of pro-Ukrainian fighters on the Maidan in Kyiv.
But I did not think it fair to pronounce judgement on the work on the basis of a couple of websites, so I set off into the winter wonderland that Petrograd has become in the last week to see the show for myself.
You are proud of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya for telling the truth about the war. You are proud of the occupation regime established there on the bayonets of your fathers and funded by your taxes. You are proud of the “pacification” of Chechnya at the cost of Kadyrov’s terrorist dictatorship, which is quite similar to the most odious Middle East regimes, like that of good old Bashar Assad.
As long as the terrorist regime concerned only the Chechen themselves, you were barely indignant. You only squeamishly wondered that such a wild region bore the name of Russia. You did not ponder the fact the police chief’s teenage bride, Luiza Goilabiyeva, was actually a Russian citizen, and that your fathers had fought for her right to have a Russian passport. You did not think that Adam Dikayev, forced to humiliate himself by walking on a treadmill in his underpants, was just as much a citizen of Russia as was, for example, Vlad Kolesnikov, who was driven to suicide.
But now it suddenly transpires that Kadyrov’s terrorist dictatorship has been terrorizing not only the Chechen people but all of Russia. I hope now the time has come to realize what pride in the bloodiest war in recent Russian history has come to. It has come to the fact the proud son of a great father mutters something into a camera held by one of Kadyrov’s gunman, trying not to stray from the prepared text.
So this does not happen again, we have to realize, among other things, that Konstantin Senchenko and Adam Dikayev are in the same boat, and the Chechen War is not our pride but our greatest shame.
Translation and photo, above, by the Russian Reader
Critic of Chechen leader Kadyrov ‘apologises profoundly’ BBC News
January 16, 2016
A Russian politician who criticised Ramzan Kadyrov, the Russian-backed Chechen leader, has made a “profound” apology.
Konstantin Senchenko, a local politician in Siberia, had posted criticism of Mr Kadyrov on Facebook.
However, Mr Senchenko then posted a grovelling apology, leading to widespread speculation that he had been forced to do so.
Mr Kadyrov also uploaded a video of Mr Senchenko apologising on to Instagram.
In it Mr Senchenko is seen to say: “I apologise profoundly.”
“I was wrong—I let my emotions get the better of me,” he adds.
The row began on Tuesday when Mr Kadyrov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, branded some members of the opposition “enemies of the people and traitors” and called for them to be put on trial.
Mr Senchenko then wrote a Facebook post critical of Mr Kadyrov, calling him a “disgrace to Russia” and saying he should “get lost.”
He also implied that Mr Kadyrov was corrupt and ill-educated.
Beneath the Instagram video of Mr Senchenko’s subsequent apology, Mr Kadyrov wrote “I accept,” and added five smilies.
His own incendiary statement on Russia’s opposition is still displayed on his official website, unaltered, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford reports from Moscow.
Mr Kadyrov took charge of Chechnya with Kremlin support in 2007, and continued a long fight against Islamist rebels.
In exchange for loyalty to Russia, the authoritarian Chechen leader has been allowed to maintain his own security force and has largely had a free hand to run the southern Russian republic as he sees fit.
Human rights groups accuse Mr Kadyrov’s security forces of abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings.
When Will We Hear “Shoot Them like Mad Dogs”?
Boris Vishnevsky echo.msk.ru
January 13, 2016
“Enemies of the people,” “traitors,” “nothing is sacred,” “dancing to tune of western intelligence services,” “tried, with maximum severity, for sabotage.”
These are not snippets from a 1937 edition of Pravda or a speech made at a Party meeting during the same period.
This is how Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Republic of Chechnya, speaks of the opposition to Vladimir Putin and his regime.
For a complete resemblance to Stalin’s time all we are lacking are references to “monsters,” “humanity’s garbage,” and a “despicable bunch of scoundrels,” and demands to “wipe them off the face of the earth” and “shoot them like mad dogs.”
But never say never. We might hear these phrases soon as well.
Equating the opposition with a hostile force is a key feature of a totalitarian regime, which Russia is building at an accelerated pace.
In a normal country, after making such statements, Kadyrov, Jr., would be booted out of office overnight, at least.
In a normal country, however, he never would have been able to take office.
Boris Vishnevsky (Yabloko Party) is a deputy in the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly.
Translated by the Russian Reader
Putin ally says opposition should be tried as enemies of the people
Andrew Osborn Reuters
January 13, 2016
MOSCOW (Reuters) – One of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile allies has accused the opposition of trying to exploit the economic crisis to destabilize the country, using Stalin-era rhetoric to suggest unnamed individuals be put on trial for sabotage.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, called the liberal opposition, which has only one lawmaker in the 450-seat parliament, enemies of the people, a phrase recalling language used during the reign of terror unleashed by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in the 1930s.
“Representatives of the so-called … opposition are trying to profit from the difficult economic situation,” Kadyrov told reporters, according to a statement issued by his office late on Tuesday.
“Such people need to be regarded as enemies of the people and traitors. They should be put on trial, with maximum severity, for sabotage.”
Opposition figures and rights activists said they were alarmed by his words with some suggesting the police should look into them.
Mikhail Kasyanov, one of the opposition’s leaders and a former prime minister, said: “There is no such concept in our constitution, but from Soviet history it is widely known that in Stalin’s time that is what they called anyone who thought differently … and that such people were liquidated.”
Battered by low oil prices, Western sanctions and a falling ruble, real incomes are on the slide in Russia for the first time in Putin’s 15 years in power, presenting the Kremlin with a challenge of how to stop discontent bubbling over.
Kadyrov made his remarks ahead of a Russia-wide parliamentary election in September amid so far only limited signs of social discontent.
Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief-of-staff, said on Tuesday “radicals and extremists” must be prevented from getting into parliament in that vote, raising fears among the opposition that they will find it harder to contest such elections.
Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya since 2007 and Putin’s most high-profile ally in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus area of southern Russia, did not name the opposition figures he thought should be put on trial.
Starved of access to state media and restricted by strict laws on protests, Russia’s liberal opposition is still reeling from the murder last year of Boris Nemtsov, one of its leaders.
One of the suspects awaiting trial for carrying out Nemtsov’s murder, Zaur Dadayev, used to serve in Chechnya’s police and was described by Kadyrov after the killing as a “true patriot of Russia.”
Nemtsov’s daughter has said she wants police to question Kadyrov in connection with the case. Kadyrov told a Russian radio station in October the idea he was a suspect was “total nonsense.”
This is just by way of understanding the hierarchy of the people in power in Russia.
The political wrangling went on for ten months. In March, Putin “went to ground” for a couple of weeks when the siloviki were demanding he surrender Kadyrov. It was clear he would not give up Kadyrov. Then for several months they demanded Geremeyev and his high-ranking relatives, but ultimately they did not get him, either.
This is what it basically comes down to.
The toughest guy in the real table of ranks in Russia is Ramzan Kadyrov.
The second rank includes Vladimir Putin, the selfsame Chechen elite, and members of the State Duma and Federation Council.
The fourth rank includes any general in the Investigative Committee and Federal Security Service (FSB), and somewhere in there as well is Ruslan Muhudinov, driver of the deputy commander of the North Battalion [i.e., Ruslan Geremeyev].
Leonid Volkov is a project manager for opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. Translated by the Russian Reader
Zhanna Nemstova Moving Backwards: Russia’s Moral Decay
December 28, 2015 The Moscow Times
The Public Opinion Foundation conducted a survey this month asking Russians two questions: “What was the main event of the year in Russia?” and “What was the main global event of the year?”
Noteworthy is that fully 40% of the respondents had trouble answering either question. And the most brutal political murder in modern Russia – the assassination of my father – did not even figure in the responses. State-controlled television hardly mentions it, with the exception of the first few days after the killing, when commentators spoke of him in contemptuous tones.
But the problem is not only the silence of the Kremlin’s official propaganda. The problem is the condition of Russian society. A Levada Center survey conducted in March of this year found that one-third of all Russians are indifferent to my father’s murder. That is a moral numbness best conveyed by the popular Russian sentiments of “It does not concern me” and “That does not affect me.” The well-known military journalist Arkady Babchenko refers to that type of thinking by his countrymen as “infantilism.” Perhaps he is right.
This attitude finds expression not only in widespread apathy, but also in people’s inability to recognize even obvious causal relationships. It is understandable why some people cannot see the medium-term and long-term negative consequences of the annexation of Crimea, but it was not so difficult to predict that consumer prices would rise as a result of Moscow’s food embargo and the hefty tolls imposed on trucks traveling on federal highways.
The political system that President Vladimir Putin has built robs the Russian people of the ability to think, analyze, ask questions, formulate positions or remember the past. It offers no stimulus for that: Putin’s Russia has no need of people who think for themselves. It has reduced competition to a minimum in all areas, including the political field. And it is not always the smartest that succeed in this system.
It is a sad and potentially dangerous situation when the political playing field lies decimated and debates and discussions have been replaced with sometimes violent pressure from the authorities. That has also compromised the quality of the opposition itself and made it a truly heroic feat to even take part in the opposition movement in Russia. There are no democratic institutions and the activists are fighting for survival. Under such conditions, opposition figures have no chance to become public figures and the public has no way of knowing who is who.
People have short memories, and that makes life easier for Putin and his inner circle, who are constantly confusing their facts. First they claim there are no Russian soldiers in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and then they admit to their presence. First they promise not to raise taxes and fees, and then they impose new tariffs on long-haul truckers. Forgetfulness is a handy humantendency, and the Kremlin’s television propaganda exploits it to the fullest.
This explains why leaders have no personal reputations and remain unaccountable before the public. Perhaps the social apathy and the public’s lack of interest in politics is a defense mechanism, people’s way of responding to the flood of lies and aggression from the authorities. Nobody can figure out where the truth lies, and so it is best not to even go looking for it.
All politics in Russia are situational and as volatile as oil prices. Even loyal politicians and officials do not always manage to fall into line exactly as they should. For example, it is amusing to see how famed film director and die-hard Putin fan Nikita Mikhalkov gets outraged over the way his own patriotic show on state-controlled television is subjected to censorship.
The authorities and the ruling elite are out for their own survival. That end justifies all means, including the tactic of keeping military tensions high at all times. As a result, Russia is increasingly moving away from humanistic values and toward a confrontational relationship with the world. But perhaps that is not putting it strongly enough: maybe Russia is moving toward total apathy. However, war is becoming the context for all other issues in life.
Russian journalists often ask me why I fight for a fair and impartial investigation into my father’s murder. For me, the very wording of that question is sickening because it shows that medieval values now reign supreme in Russia: nobody understands that it is not just I who needs such an investigation, but all Russians if this country is to ever move forward.
We must wage a long and grueling fight for human rights. If we simply give up that struggle and accept the fact that, in Russia, someone can just go and kill a prominent public figure, a statesman and leader of the opposition with absolute impunity, then we must also come to terms with the fact that the same thing could one day happen to any of us.
Today’s opposition members are now at greater risk than ever before. I see the condescending attitude shown toward the small handful of people who continue to struggle for democracy in Russia. I have grown accustomed to the eternal question: “What do they offer?” But just imagine if one day even that small group would no longer exist. Who, then, would conduct anti-corruption investigations, participate in even nominal elections, initiate investigations into wrongdoings by Duma deputies or provide support for political prisoners? No one, that’s who.
My father long experienced that condescending attitude from others who behaved as if they were looking down on him from on high. And now he has been murdered – for his views, for daring to express his position, for his unwillingness to be indifferent or apathetic. And suddenly, his absence is sorely felt.
Putin’s Russia has not brought a revival of spiritual values, as state-controlled TV tries to convince us. It has caused Russia’s moral decay. And as long as Russians approach every problem through the filter of whether it will affect them personally, this country can move in only one direction – backward.
Zhanna Nemtsova is a Deutsche Welle reporter and the founder of Boris Nemtsov Foundation For Freedom.