"Kadyrov has been able to convince me of his sincerity"
In an interview for Prague Watchdog ex-journalist Timur Aliyev explains why he has joined Ramzan Kadyrov's administration.
Prague Watchdog: I expect it’s no secret to you that many of your friends saw your decision to become an adviser to [Chechen President] Ramzan Kadyrov as another sad example of an intellectual capitulating to a tyrant in the way that’s traditional in Russia. A man of democratic convictions – former or still-surviving – in the service of a dictator. Some thought you were motivated by a desire to secure a cushy job, while others considered that while you may not have acted out of self-interest, it was impossible not to see what you had done in a negative light. Did you feel hurt by reactions of that kind? And please explain again what impelled you to this step?
Timur Aliyev: I don’t know whether I found them hurtful... It was unpleasant that people who share my way of thinking and who know me pretty well could see the step I took as an attempt to gain preference. If I’d been in their place, I don’t know what I would have thought of a switch like that. I think I’d have reacted differently. I’d be more understanding of such a person’s motives, but again seen in terms of my own experience.
And for about one and a half years now my own experience has been telling me that at present it’s impossible to change anything in the situation that has developed both in Chechnya and in Russia as a whole if one remains within the sector of non-governmental organizations. In other words, that sector is a resource with limited possibilities, and its impact on society and the power of government tends towards zero. I’ve long believed that it has exhausted itself, and about a year and a half ago I started to think about finding new and more effective methods of influencing public life and the state.
Impelled by this need, I began to engage in political activity: I joined the Union of Right Forces, ran for a seat in the State Duma. And there again came to the conclusion that in Russia the political parties – both because of the way are, and because of the current circumstances – are unable to act as effective means of influence. And so I gradually came to the perception that it is possible and also necessary to reform the system from within – to enter the government , in other words, and try to make some changes in it.
I often hear people raise the objection that one person acting alone is incapable of mastering the situation – the system will crush him. But it seems to me that it’s possible to accumulate a certain critical mass of people who are trying to bring about change, and that when that critical mass is reached it may be possible for the system to evolve.
PW: And how did your own evolution take place? In the 1990s you were an advocate of an independent Chechen state, and only a few years ago you supported the Resistance movement. How is it that you’ve become a loyal Russian official who must now proceed from the idea of a united and indivisible Russia?
TA: A united and indivisible Russia may take different forms: a federation, a unitary state. A federation can be an asymmetrical system of government. In such conditions, even within the framework of a united country the regions have an opportunity to develop.
PW: Yes, but what we’re talking about here is development within a framework of autonomy, and not about the national sovereignty which you once supported. And those are two quite different forms of Chechen statehood.
TA: The new situation isn’t something that developed today, but rather some time ago, when the slogans of independence and sovereignty came to be perceived not just as breaches of censorship but as actions punishable by law. And today, according to certain interpretations of Russian law, by adopting such slogans you are committing a criminal offence.
PW: But that surely doesn’t mean that all the supporters of independence have changed their views and become law-abiding Russian citizens?
TA: I don’t hear any public pronouncements on that subject, I mean within the Russian Federation's laws.
PW: Okay, let’s accept that the law is an external constraint which you cannot fail to take into account. But there really have been some changes in the views you hold: you’ve come to the conclusion that the idea of national sovereignty is a mistaken one, and that Chechnya should be part of Russia?
TA: I have no objections to the idea of independence as such. I understand that any ethnic group has the right to self-determination and to a government of its own. But on the other hand, if we look at the situation in the country from the point of views of pragmatic considerations, we see that the idea of a separate Chechen State isn’t relevant – for practical reasons, perhaps. In other words, today it is quite simply impossible to get the Chechen Republic back on its feet again, to restore it, by acting alone. That can only be done in alliance with others, if we say that Russia is a federation.
PW: You said discreetly that under the present circumstances in Russia, the NGOs and opposition forces are ineffective. But what are those circumstances? Why in democratic countries are the same kind of NGOs and opposition movements highly effective public institutions?
TA: In saying that, I had in mind not just the fact of external pressure on the NGOs and opposition forces in Russia, but also the personalities of the activists in those organizations. I’ve been associating with our [NGO] activists for quite a long time, I know them well, have worked in that sector myself. In the people who concentrate there I never saw a desire to influence anything – and not only that, but even an idea that might make such social forces and organizations necessary.
Many simply used the NGOs as a platform to promote their own personal careers, and working with such people made it difficult to achieve results of any kind.
PW: How would you define the political system that has developed in Chechnya? What is it: a democracy, an authoritarian regime, a dictatorship?
TA: It’s really an authoritarian regime with elements of democracy, or even with the external attributes of democracy, such as the separation of the branches of power... What else can I say? I think that perhaps it’s an authoritarian regime that is temporary, for a time of conflict.
PW: Do you imagine that Ramzan Kadyrov will ever evolve into a politician who will personally provide the opposition with the chance of conducting their own activities in a legal fashion? After all, today he destroys any opposition at its source and will tolerate no criticism in his regard.
TA: Well, perhaps not at the present moment, no, I don’t imagine so. But this is a man who learns very fast and, if he sees that a competitive political struggle can have its pluses, I think he’ll be ready to accept the need for democratic institutions. As far as I can see, it’s just that right now he’s convinced that without a certain centralization of power and consolidation of society, the economic restoration of the republic will be impossible.
PW: Tell me how your assertion that the Kadyrov regime is not a dictatorship fits in with the methods he and his entourage have used and still use to fight their enemies? One could mention the amateur shots that have circulated widely on the Internet, where he’s seen directing the abduction of a man whom his guards are pushing into the trunk of a car, the numerous testimonies of torture in Khosi-yurt that have been collected by human rights defenders, or the reports of numerous kidnappings and arbitrary executions.
TA: Indeed, I have heard those stories about torture in Khosi-Yurt ,and also about the other things. I’ve been working with this man for the past six months. I have visited Khosi-Yurt several times, and I can confidently assert that there’s not even a trace of anything like that today. Whether the allegations that such things happened before are true I can’t say, because even in the past I never got enough convincing evidence that they did.
On the other hand, I saw that right Kadyrov tried not to take revenge on his opponents but first sought compromise and negotiation with them. So I don’t agree that the authorities massacre their opponents, I simply don’t see it.
PW: But before you went to work for Kadyrov, didn’t you think of possibly trying to find out whether he was guilty of all the crimes he’s accused of? After all, for someone with a conscience there’s a moral aspect to all this: you can’t work with a criminal who may possibly – let’s not claim that it is so – have personally taken part in abductions, torture and killings.
TA: I repeat: the people who said there was torture and killing didn’t present me with any evidence.
On the other hand, when I decided to work in the government I had several talks with Kadyrov. During those conversations the usual accusations about him came up, one way or another. When that happened, he refuted them quite convincingly. For me it was proof, if not of his total innocence, then at least of the fact that he wasn’t involved in those incidents.
But really, what happened was not that they said to me: “Let’s work together” and I just threw everything aside and replied: “OK, let’s!". I actually received an invitation from Kadyrov to participate in joint projects long ago, but at the time I refused, because I evidently didn’t yet feel strongly enough convinced that this man was able to ensure the future of the republic and its social fabric. After the first invitation about a year went by, and during that time Kadyrov was able to convince me, and not only me, of his sincerity. Of the fact that he is also quite effective in his present role of President, and that all the talk about him is the slander of competitors.
PW: You mean, he doesn’t have blood on his hands?
TA: Yes, something like that. Yes.
(Translation by DM)
(T) RELATED ARTICLES:
· Many people welcome change of Chechen President, but others take no joy (PW, 17.2.2007)
· Grave human rights situation in Chechnya (PW, 19.11.2006)