May 22nd 2008 · Prague Watchdog / Andrei Babitsky · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Why has Timur Mutsurayev returned (or not returned)?

By Andrei Babitsky, Prague Watchdog

It's not known for certain whether Timur Mutsurayev has returned to Chechnya. But the rumours persisted in the republic all last week. Somehow it doesn’t seem very credible so far, but let us suppose Mutsurayev is indeed in Chechnya. I think that many people would have some bitter feelings, but would not be surprised. Such things do happen… Let us talk for a bit as if the return had taken place.

Of course, in order to discuss the personal motives which may have guided Chechnya’s most popular bard and warrior, one must have at least a minimum of information. This we do not have. We know only that efforts to persuade him have been in progress for a long time now, and that he seems to have had some kind of meeting with Kadyrov. The denials of the reports that Mutsurayev has returned may indicate among other things that Kadyrov is sparing the singer’s pride, protecting him from rumours and complaints. But Mutsurayev’s reputation leaves no doubt: his action (if it has indeed occurred), was most unlikely to have been some banal flight from poverty and insecurity in exile. But that is the sort of explanation that the man in the street is ready to believe, as his limited vision leads him to the genuinely held view that the world is populated with base and venal souls whose concern for their own welfare pushes them to betrayal now and then.

Whatever the emotional background of Mutsurayev’s decision to return (painful nostalgia, or prolonged depression deriving from a sense that the struggle for freedom of his motherland – a struggle he praised in his songs – was no more than a myth), let us suppose that his emotions were lofty and tragic ones, that the choice did not come to him easily, and that he experienced heavy doubts and the pain of breaking with old associates and former ideals.

Such a reconstruction is not at variance with his legendary image of a mojahed of the unit of Khamzat Gelayev, an image woven from the soul-rending intonations of songs the lyrics of which, though unprofessional and primitive, are permeated with a deep faith in the triumph of freedom.

It was said that after he became a devout Muslim in the forest, Mutsurayey refused to sing any more, as he considered it an unworthy occupation, contrary to the teachings of Allah. That may have been so, though there are indications that in his Baku exile the bard continued to perform his songs. Whatever the truth of the matter, popular rumour has carefully cherished the heroic image of a man who was able to make his guitar and voice a source of pure courage and military valour. Mutsurayev’s songs are by now an epic, the chronicle of a war, the history of a people and their spirit.

It is not for nothing that the singer’s recorded albums have sold out, not only in Chechnya but also far beyond its borders. The living spirit of struggle and sacrifice in the name of freedom and national existence are dear to any people, including the Russians. Although at first sight it may seem paradoxical, the fact is that the work of Mutsurayev is particularly close to the hearts of Russian nationalists.

If he really is back home now, may God forbid that he has ever had occasion to regret his choice.

Mutsurayev’s presumed return once again raises the question of the very nature of the phenomenon: what has caused the mass capitulation of the mohajedin to Kadyrov in recent years? We shall turn our back at once on the idle rumours of incalculable riches and blessings that have bought men who only very recently were fighting with arms for the right to live in liberty, whose deadly serious motto was a dilemma – "Freedom or Death!" While some may indeed have been bought, it is obvious that for many the choice in favour of Kadyrov was the result of reflections, by no means straightforward, on the fate of their motherland. And Mutsurayev may have been the best example of this.

How do former fighters for a free Ichkeria, many of whom continue to believe in an independent Chechen state, justify the fact that they are now working for Ramzan Kadyrov? The range of arguments can be reduced one simple thesis: the Kadyrov model of Chechen separatism has proved to be the most successful one. Russian jurisdiction over Chechnya is no more than a formality, the sign of a fictional outward loyalty which Kadyrov is compelled to use in order to try to cover up the building of an autonomous, separate Chechen society that is free from Russia. In addition, the by now somewhat chastened romantics of Dudayev’s call to arms have learned to think in the categories of historical necessity. No other version of separatism could be implemented under the current circumstances, they say. Russia’s military power has left the Chechens no chance of victory in war, and so true independence must be born and grow to maturity within a shell of servitude. That is not defeatism, the grey-haired separatists argue, but rather an understanding of the need to wait for the right moment to rouse the people to fight for liberty again. Indeed, that is exactly what Kadyrov junior was not abashed to say out loud a few years ago, when explaining why he was working for the Russians.

In 1921 a magazine called Changing Landmarks ("Smena Vekh"), from which the present-day so-called National Bolshevik movement takes it bearings, was published in Prague. It brought together a significant number of White Russian émigrés from the scientific and creative intelligentsia who had made a choice in favour of Soviet Russia. These activists conducted an extremely lively and effective campaign for a return to the Motherland, lobbied the Bolshevik government in the West, and built up a positive image of the world's first workers’ and peasants’ State.

For all the difficulty of drawing a comparison between the historical scale of the two revolutions – the Bolshevik one and the Dudayev one, for all the dissimilarity of ideologies and geopolitical circumstances, the dramatic experience of the Changing Landmarks movement provides some keys to an understanding of the current "returnism" of the Chechen insurgents. Professor Nikolsi Ustryalov, National Bolshevik movement’s chief ideologist and inspirer, believed that the communist ideology was an abstract, unviable theory, which as the Soviet state grew established would give way to the liberal-bourgeois idea. The purpose of intellectuals was to serve the Russian state, which by virtue of historical necessity would sooner or later be transformed into a democratic republic, and voluntary helpers from the ranks of the émigrés were capable of accelerating the process of transformation.

Many of the Changing Landmarks Bolsheviks saw the building of the Soviet empire as the revival of a Great Russia. That is why not only liberals but also many well-known monarchists took part in the movement. This point deserves particular attention, as in the case of Chechnya we are talking not about another version of Ustryalov’s imperial statism, but about a model of national statehood that inspires the supporters of Chechen independence in different camps – both pro-Kadyrov and anti-Kadyrov.

Like the vast majority of his confederates, Nikolai Ustryalov met a tragic end. In 1935 he returned to Soviet Russia, and in 1937 was arrested and shot on charges of espionage. Neither he nor his colleagues ever realized the simple truth that the Soviet state was inextricably linked to the ideology of Bolshevism, and that in practice it succeeded not only in implementing most of the tenets of Communism, but also in spreading the red infection to half of the planet. And of course the Soviet empire did not develop in the course of natural evolution into a democratic state – quite banally, it collapsed as the result of an enormous disintegration, which could also be called a revolution.

Is it possible, despite all the differences, to cite the history of the National Bolshevik movement as a historical parallel that can help us to decipher the behaviour of the Chechen “returnees"? Undoubtedly. Even when we consider that it is easier to correlate Dudayev’s revolutionaries with the Bolsheviks, who were hypothetically able to survive defeat. But the Changing Landmarks Bolsheviks are united with the supporters of Chechen independence by a blind faith in the absolute priority of the State, which they place above law and democratic values. The only difference is that while Ustryalov tried to see in Soviet Russia the image of a bourgeois republic, the Chechen "capitulators" dream of a national State.

One thing we can say with certainty. From the beginning of the second war, Kadyrov senior repeatedly tried to persuade his fellow Chechens that they had no future outside Russia. He spoke to them about the stagnancy of their national traditions, about their archaic social institutions, their lack of civic sentiment and experience of nation-building – those qualities which in his opinion condemned separatism to historical defeat. The Chechens were incapable of establishing a state of their own, he claimed. Whether that is true or not does not really matter. The important thing is that at some point “Akhmad-Khadzhi” (i.e. Kadyrov Sr) really did begin to see the union of Chechnya and Russia as the only viable project for the future of his people. I believe in Kadyrov’s natural evolution, in the fact that he was one of the first to be truly disillusioned with "Ichkeria". Has his son also learned these truths? Most likely, yes, although being a young man and not too experienced in matters of doctrine he has probably not yet been able to form his own views on this (and not only this) issue. One cannot assume that the current leader of Chechnya will ever attain intellectual maturity, but the logic of events is such that it almost inevitably offers Chechnya the option of a mild and gradual adaptation, a levelling of political and economic living conditions until they are equivalent to those of Russia as a whole – of Putin’s Russia at any rate, which Russia will remain for rather a long time yet, at least from the point of how it feels to live there.

It is sometimes said that today's Chechnya has been able to achieve a significant degree of independence from the federal centre – independence which, within the framework of a formal loyalty, has brought about a real implementation of the separatist ideas of the early 1990s. Wartime Chechnya was a space in which no law prevailed and was entirely dominated by barbarism, revenge and arbitrary violence. Now it shows considerably more signs of being a territory in which the jurisdiction of the state has been restored. Ramzan Kadyrov’s dictatorship is not the primitive lust for power of an illiterate country lad. The excessive – as seen by Russian public opinion – authority Putin has bestowed upon a thirty-year-old nincompoop and profiteer is not a random gift granted at the ruler’s whim. This state of affairs arises from the scarcity of any real possibilities that the situation can be managed in some way. Chechnya, which has in no way exhausted its rebelliousness and is far from having drained its accumulated potential for giving Russia the boot, can be straitjacketed and immobilized only by the use of crude force. As for the limited power of the federal centre, there are still in Russia instances to be found where an ethnic province has for one reason or another been set free to fend for itself. Kalmykia is one such example.

Thus, at the same time as one gives "defectors" like Timur Aliyev or Timur Mutsurayev their due, in the assumption that their choice in favour of Kadyrov was not a primitive surrender, in the belief that that they plan to go on cherishing in their hearts and minds the beautiful image of an independent Ichkeria without hope of material gain, one should also note that their faith is a starry-eyed and fragile one, that it is incapable of resisting the practical "activism" of Kadyrov, who is leading Chechnya ever deeper into Russia. And leading it into Putin's Russia, because in the "other Russia" Kadyrov has no place.

(Translation by DM)


 · Mutsurayev's address to Chechens (in Chechen, Rutube, 2.6.2008)
 · Timur Mutsurayev on Wikipedia
 · Website about Timur Mutsurayev



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