All quiet on the clan front in Chechnya
By Gennady Skorin, special to Prague Watchdog
The attention aroused by the recent shooting of the pro-Moscow Chechen politician Ruslan Yamadayev can be explained by factors that go beyond the unprecedented audacity of the crime and the expectation of an inevitable blood feud. Various Russian media publications raised the question of the political implications of the assassination attempt: might Yamadayev’s death shake the foundations of the current Chechen government led by the Moscow-backed president Ramzan Kadyrov, a figure who has become a source of constant irritation and even hatred on the part of Russian citizens?
Having forgotten the devastating war experienced by Chechnya, many now view this republic as a region that is wholly dependent on the federal centre, draining enormous funds from the federal budget at the expense of the federation’s other constituent entities. Many Russian citizens are also convinced that Ramzan Kadyrov is using Russia’s money to build a despotic state in the style of the “wild east”, one that lives by its own laws and is only formally part of Russia.
In the case of Yamadayev, however, public reaction has also included a hitherto secret fear of an alien force which threatens to undermine the fabric of the social and political life of present-day Russia. Many are convinced that the Caucasus is exporting its brutal, bloody customs onto Russian territory, and their effect is already starting to spread not only to people from the Caucasus, but to everyone else as well, without exception.
Of course, both the fears and the commonly-held ideas about the customs of the peoples of the Caucasus are extremely far from reality. Even if one assumes the presence of a Chechen trace, Yamadayev’s slaying was no different from other recent killings of people who were not of Caucasian ethnicity. But it is very difficult to explain to a fearful society that is trying to compensate for the losses of recent decades that there is really nothing to fear.
Russian society believes that as the Chechen government gathers strength, it will sooner or later stumble upon its own internal enemies. Not without reason has the most widely discussed topic in the Russian media during the last few days has been that of blood vengeance. The man in the street is trying to find a weak spot in the informal arrangement of the Caucasian world, a categorical imperative that might launch the self-destruction of that world. That is why the same media have been enthusiastically reproducing any and every mutual accusation by the parties concerned.
But to what extent is such destruction possible? What is actually happening in Chechnya in the context of this killing?
However strange it may appear, the Chechen man in the street has no more of an idea of what is going on around him than does his Russian counterpart. The fact is that the Kadyrov regime operates outside the formal tenets of the Chechen legal system – adat – and deliberately promotes a jurisdiction that is quite a different one. In its repressive practices it relies instead on the criminal code, the rules of conduct that govern a tightly centralized and isolated criminal group.
Indeed, the degradation of adat is a process of long and irreversible standing. With the increasing complexity of society the tribal law that preceded statehood is inevitably breaking down and being replaced. With the introduction of civil law, adat is left with a peripheral role as a regulator of standards of behaviour that are tightly bound to the life of the ethnic community.
Adat and civil law exist in a state of permanent conflict. For example, if the former calls for the absolute priority of family ties and blood kinship, the latter denies them. That is why Ramzan Kadyrov, who sees himself first and foremost as a public official, doesn’t recognize the authority of adat. He perceives no need to use informal mechanisms in order to resolve intra-Chechen conflicts, because any person acting in a traditional society to protect the interests of the state is forced to go against the interests of that society. If every public official tried to negotiate their actions in the context of the archaic traditions, it would lead to a total paralysis of all the institutions of government.
So Chechens, who are undoubtedly well aware of the existence of blood vengeance, cannot rely on such knowledge to help them understand the logic of the way in which today's events unfold. The Chechen man in the street is convinced that Kadyrov is behind the death of Ruslan Yamadayev. In this situation, they believe, the brothers must take their revenge – but the reality of modern life ousted that custom long ago.
How many of Kadyrov’s blood feud enemies, or those who can be considered as such today, are merely sitting quietly in their corners, unable to decide on any action? Dozens, hundreds? No one will give you an exact figure, but any Chechen will confirm that there is no shortage of people who have reconciled themselves to Kadyrov or have even gone over to his side – the side of the man on whom it is possible to lay the blame for the death of one’s relatives (though not necessarily, as according to adat, guilt is apportioned depending on circumstances).
Whether the Yamadayevs will take their revenge or not it is hard to say. However, the hopes that Russian society has placed in the traditional Chechen way of life, which is thought to be capable of putting a stop to the Chechen leader’s bloody, arbitrary activism, are unfounded.
The illustration is borrowed from the Scorpion Studio web site.
(Translation by DM)