Not by bread alone ... (weekly review)
By Dzhambulat Are
GROZNY, Chechnya – Having announced the almost complete rout of the “bandit underground”, Ramzan Kadyrov has begun to address a new, though perhaps slightly less important problem. He has turned his attention to consumers of hard liquor, of whom the republic appears to have quite a large number. On January 21 a special conference was held in the Chechen capital on the fight against counterfeit alcohol production.
In Chechnya the attitude to alcohol, as to many other things, has varied depending on who was in charge of the republic. After the arrival of Soviet power, that privilege was enjoyed by representatives of the urban poor and the working peasantry. To celebrate the revolution local government employees organized annual republic-wide festivities which involved dancing, horse races and the firing of revolvers.
During the exile of the 1940s and 50s the Chechens had few problems with liquor. Although it can be said that alcohol became a necessary attribute of their life in exile, vodka never became as deeply entrenched a part of their existence as it did in Russia. In the Checheno-Ingush Republic of the late Soviet period drinking was a rather casual activity which lacked the addictive obsession of the Slavic approach. Therefore, no special restrictions were imposed on the sale of alcoholic beverages.
In the early 1980s nearly all uncultivated land, and sometimes also land that had been reserved for other crops, was occupied by vineyards. Significant grape harvests from these plantings coincided with Gorbachev’s decree on combating drunkenness and alcoholism. Under the axe fell tens of thousands of hectares of vineyards which had begun to yield crops of the highest quality. By this time Chechnya was already making vintage wines, and 8-, 10- and even 16-year-old brandies had been put into production. Moreover, it seems that these products were starting to become highly competitive throughout the whole Soviet Union.
But the fall of the Soviet Union saw a complete loss of control over the quality of alcoholic products from Chechnya, and Grozny’s markets began to sell bottles of brandy with large numbers of stars on the labels. In fact, they were bottles of tea, to which industrial alcohol had been added.
The recent wars caused real damage to this branch of Chechnya’s economy. It was natural that the republic’s wine and brandy factories should be among the first to attract the attention of the federal units. With the capture of yet another “objective”, the troops would simply refuse to advance. Alas, there is not much point in denying that the wine industry must bear much of the blame for the fact that the operation to restore constitutional order in the republic took so long, and that it eventually failed.
The war the Wahhabists waged on the wine and liquor trade and, more importantly, on its consumers, was obviously doomed to defeat. By day and night the Sharia groups scoured the markets and bars, seeking the forbidden vodka, wine and beer. Both the bottles and their users were exhibited at public show trials. But people in Chechnya continued to drink as they had done before. Not until the Russian troops had taken the rebel republic’s territory under their control did the bacchanalia come to an end. The free and open sale of vodka was the first sign that Russian power had been restored in Chechnya. For the past eight years the Chechens have enjoyed the easy availability of hard liquor without particularly caring about its quality. And now this shortcoming has finally drawn the attention of Ramzan Kadyrov.
According to the estimates of the Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare in Chechnya, some 7,177 litres of illicit home-made vodka with a total value of 933,010 roubles were discovered during 2007. A decision has been made to conduct the fight against fake vodka by traditional methods – in other words, raids on the points of sale. To this end, Kadyrov dispatched a team of inspectors directly from the conference hall, headed by Grozny’s mayor, Muslim Khuchiyev.
Kadyrov has long claimed the role of the omnipotent Padishah who is able to count all the hairs on the heads of his subjects and to solve any problem, no matter how insignificant it may seem. If that is truly the case, then there can be no doubt: in the near future, all those in Chechnya who are causing irreparable damage to their health by consuming fake vodka will soon be provided with high quality 40 percent alcohol.
The photograph is borrowed from the website of astrakhan.aif.ru.
Previous weekly reviews can be read at http://www.watchdog.cz/weekly.
(Translation by DM)