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Time Has Come to End the Informational Blockade of Chechnya and of the North Caucasus in General
Last week, the human rights activist and an employee of Memorial Natalya Estemirova was murdered and buried in her native village. Everyone feels compassion toward the victim and sympathizes with her loved ones; many pose painful questions for themselves and for the authorities without answers to which Russia will never develop. But first, a few disclaimers have to be made.
Memorial’s director Oleg Orlov openly accused Chechnya’s procurator of killing Estemirova. Whether with Kadyrov’s prior knowledge or simply in order to please the boss, said Orlov, this was done by the people loyal to Ramzan, who has threatened Natalya, who hated her, and who has reasons to fear further exposure. In return, Memorial is wrapping up its operations in Chechnya. Kadyrov has announced that he is suing Orlov. The media is passionately debating who is in the right. But without working in Chechnya and only occasionally visiting the North Caucasus, it is impossible to estimate the degree of guilt and/or utter innocence of particular politicians, groups, cliques or services. Not for, and not against. Not a yes, and not a no. In reality, we know nothing, and this is the most important issue. Why don’t we know anything?
When it was being decided whether Chechnya will be part of Russia, whether the Russian Caucasus should be dragged into an internecine war or stop short on the edge, whether the country should break out with more cadaverous spots or whether the deadly disease should be “frozen” with hopes for a future recovery, it was clear why the authorities chose to reveal the maximum amount of information in return for the minimum amount of blood. Just as it was clear that after six years of fighting, mutual lawlessness, human trafficking and full-scale civil war there can be no honest and democratic decisions, there can only be general words and pretty slogans calling for peace and liberty. In reality, there are two options—to conquer the rebellious territory or to wave it goodbye.
With the consent of the majority of the electorate it was decided to go with the forceful appeasement solution. The appeased territory was thus “Kadyred” by an informal agreement of a temporary lease, on the terms of loyalty and for sake of establishing order. It doesn’t matter whether Kadyrov senior was a good person or not, just as it makes no difference what Kadyrov junior is like in his personal life. What’s important is that the deal with the Kadyrov clan presupposed an informational, judicial and political vacuum in the rented part of the state, not because someone specifically wanted it, but because it couldn’t have been otherwise. The central authorities were doomed to put Chechnya on media quarantine and to accept the moral responsibility for what was happening in the distant and mysterious Grozny, in order to grind their teeth later while reading Anna Politkovskaya, who often used unconfirmed rumors because there is no other kind of rumor on closed territory.
But hasn’t this transition period come to an end, and a long time ago at that? Is it necessary to presently keep Chechnya and the whole of the North Caucasus on a dry informational ration? Whether the news segments will be compassionate, irritated, objective or biased is of secondary importance, compared to the breakthrough that can be made in the deadlock. Only an idiot thinks that true patriotism lies in combating dishonest words about your country, and not in the honest rejection of its ugly deeds. A lie told about you will be on the speaker’s conscience while dishonesty on your behalf will be on your own. And if your goal is to overcome the dead end, then you must first return the right to know what is going on to the society. But if you are not planning to change anything, you simply block off access to information.
But preserving the status quo means hearing regular news on the murders of the unwanted, from Politkovskaya to Estemirova. This is a consequence of the landlord/tenant relationship between the center and the periphery, of the closed management type. The tenant leader doesn’t have to be bloodthirsty and wish death upon his informational enemies. But in a closed system, murders and kidnappings are like a pattern of wild signals—nothing can be said directly out loud, so let the shot speak, those concerned will hear it. Similarly, the attempt to “Kadyr” the neighbors with the help of doctor Zyazikov led to a catastrophic inflation of problems, which the sane Yevkurov later had to pay for. Note, the sane one, and not the democratic one—democracy can’t be jumped into, one has to build a foundation for it, and not pump explosive gas into the sinkholes.
It’s time to give up the meaningless discussion of whether Ramzan Kadyrov is a nice guy or the opposite, and it’s time to completely rephrase the question: is it possible to continue this landlord/tenant relationship? And if it should be continued, then for how long and on what terms? On terms of exclusive governance of the rented soil? No. With an eventual, planned and controlled return to the all-Russian norms? Yes. Although these norms are also far from perfect—we still think of state security purely as a defense of the external borders against foreign enemies and of the internal order against the opponents of the regime. The fact that the citizen’s safety is a goal, while military power and the special services’ capabilities are just a means of achieving it, has not occurred to the majority of us.
Generally speaking, Kadyrov is undeniably justified in his answer to Orlov. Take everything to court. Let the court decide who is in the wrong and who is in the right. But not the Grozny court—that would be like a legal battle between Yuri Luzhkov and Elena Baturina in glorious Moscow. Not the Basmanny and not the Khamovnichesky one, either, but to the independent court that we have to create if we are serious about getting out of the “civilizational” dead end. Without such as court there will be no free economy, no full-fledged politics, no liberal information and no acceptable societal life. There will only be more shots, mutual accusations and serial debunking.
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