Social democracy in peril.
The new fascism.
Coming Together at the Seams
The view from Porto Alegre ...
... and direct action in New York.
Not Just Black and White
LOCAL MOTION: Oak Park, Illinois
A Scandal Bigger than Enron.
An Open Letter to George W. Bush
Kenny Boy? Never heard of him.
The military busts the 2003 budget.
Bush stealth-attacks reproductive rights.
Bush hands AIDS policy to the Christian right.
Chechnya remains mired in misery.
Ann Pettifor: Discrediting the Creditors.
BOOKS: Micah Sifry follows the third way.
BOOKS: Randall Kennedy's Nigger.
MUSIC: Something is in the water.
FILM: Let's play Rollerball.
February 19, 2002
Chechnya remains mired in misery.
SLEPTSOVSK, RUSSIA Zara Bashayeva is a statistic no one in Moscow or
Washington wants to hear about. In early January, Bashayeva gathered up her
three children and left the family home in Serzhen Yurt, eastern Chechnya, for
the relative safety of a muddy and squalid refugee camp just inside the neighboring
republic of Ingushetia.
Why did she flee a war the Kremlin has repeatedly declared over? Life
has become impossible in Chechnya, she says. There is no food, no
jobs, no electricity or gas, no schools, no doctors. But all that might be bearable
if not for the constant zachistki, periodic Russian security sweeps
aimed at uncovering arms caches and rebel fighters concealed in civilian areas.
Bashayeva fears mainly for her two sons, ages 13 and 11. The Russian
troops come and seize the men; sometimes they are never heard from again. At
least in a refugee camp, my sons will not be taken.
Its hard to independently assess her claims, since the Kremlin and Russian
military still severely restrict journalistic access to most parts of Chechnya.
But international aid workers and Chechen refugeesmany of whom are enduring
their third winter living in rough Ingush tent camps and abandoned buildingssay
conditions in Chechnya are actually worsening. Life inside Chechnya has
broken down, and there is only a grim hanging on for most people, says
Tamara Khaduyeva, a Chechen psychologist working for a Dutch NGO that provides
services to war-traumatized children. In the first war things were tough,
but people endured it. Now everything is ruined, the feelings of terror are
escalating, and people just want to get out. The idea that Chechen life is normalizing
can only be heard from officials who are paid, and protected, by Russian troops.
Chechnya, a mountainous, Muslim republic on Russias southern flank, declared
independence as the former U.S.S.R. was disintegrating a decade ago. Since then,
Moscow has invaded twice in an effort to crush the secession movement. The first
offensive ended in 1996, when Russian troops were forced to withdraw, and the
Kremlin recognized the election of rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov as the republics
president. But Maskhadov failed to build a viable state, Chechnya spiraled into
lawlessness, and Moscowblaming Chechens for a wave of terrorist bombingsinvaded
again in 1999.
Virtually all of Chechnya is now occupied by Russian troops, who fight against
a vicious insurgency campaign led by Maskhadov that continues to kill about
a dozen Russian soldiers weekly. Chechnya has become a chronic problem
for us, like Northern Ireland or Palestine, and the Russian elite appear incapable
of even understanding this, says Alexander Iskanderyan, director of the
Center for Caucasian Studies in Moscow. The situation is growing harsher
and more hopeless with every passing month.
As always, it is civilians who bear the brunt in the continuing conflict. A
handful of human rights organizations, including the courageous Russian group
Memorial, struggle amid almost impossible conditions to investigate allegations
against Russian troops by the increasing flow of refugees.
Since September 11, Russia has largely succeeded in convincing the United States
that the war in Chechnya is a department of the global battle against Islamic
extremism and terrorism, and that has practically driven the issue from Washingtons
official dialogue with Russia, as well as from the pages of most Western newspapers.
Nevertheless, there seems little evidence to back Kremlin allegations that
Chechen rebels are tightly linked with Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terror
network. During the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, the Western media
regularly reported rumors of thousands of Chechen volunteers fighting
beside the Taliban and al-Qaeda. One Chechen warlord, the Jordanian-born Khattab,
who goes by just one name, is a veteran of the anti-Soviet Afghanistan war of
the 80s; he is known to have taken money from Saudi Arabia and other sources
to promote the austere Wahabbi Islamic fundamentalist sect in Russias
Caucasus region. Moscow also claims its troops have killed a few Arab mercenaries
fighting alongside Chechen rebels in the past two years. But it has yet to produce
proof of systematic contacts with bin Laden or his organization, and, according
to the New York Times, no Chechens were among the 3,500 Taliban prisoners
being held by U.S. forces and their allies in Afghanistan in early January.
Every day Russian TV says, as if it were a known fact, that Chechens
are allied with Osama bin Laden. But I have never met any Chechen who supports
him or has ever had anything to do with his cause, Khaduyeva, the Chechen
psychologist, says. Our people have suffered terribly, and we have only
sympathy for victims of terrorism.
After almost three years of savage, grinding counter-insurgency warfare in
Chechnya, the promised Russian victory seems as elusive as ever. Yet the Kremlin
remains adamant there will be no talks with rebel leaders. For the tiny republics
long-suffering people, that would seem to augur endless war, misery and exile.