The Russian boomerang
By Usam Abassov, special to Prague Watchdog
The first wave
VIENNA, Austria – On November 27 1990 the Supreme Council of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic adopted a Declaration on State Sovereignty. This date is considered to be the watershed which marked the beginning of the exodus of the republic’s ethnic Russian population. In fact, some Russians had begun to leave even earlier. The Communist Party nomenklatura and senior leadership moved out after the appointment of Doku Gapurovich Zavgayev to the post of Party First Secretary in 1989
A change took place in the governing elite. The post of First Secretary had always been one of the most important and active on the Party’s regional committee, and when for the first time in the history of the autonomous republic it was occupied by a Chechen, the leadership resigned. Sensing that changes were inevitable, the various party and economic bosses and their circle of helpers sold a large amount of their property to the Chechens in their circle and quietly left the republic, mostly for the regions of Krasnodar, Stavropol Krai and Rostov. One or two moved to Moscow and Leningrad.
At a very rough estimate, the number of “emigrants” in the first wave of migration did not exceed 20-25,000, i.e. approximately 4-5% of the total Russian-speaking population of the Chechen-Ingush Republic. Almost all of them managed to settle successfully in Russia.
The 1990 Declaration on State Sovereignty of the Chechen-Ingush Republic was the logical completion of the process which accompanied the development of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika initiatives and saw the gradual demise of the Russian-speaking Communist Party nomenklatura. Against the background of the sensational and historic changes that were taking place in the USSR, Zavgayev & Co. dreamed of concluding a treaty with Moscow that would establish Chechnya as a federal republic. The declaration of sovereignty was even confirmed by the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR.
In 1991 the USSR fell apart. The days of Zavgayev’s regime, which had supported the GKChP, or State Committee for a State of Emergency, and had thus lost the support of Moscow, were numbered. The leadership of the republic now passed into the hands of the young Soviet general Dzhokhar Dudayev, and a new era began. As his first decree, the new president declared the independence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (CRI) of the Russian Federation.
Like their Russian-speaking colleagues two years earlier, Zavgayev and his circle mustered their families, friends and belongings, and moved out of the republic. Their departure provoked a mass exodus by most of the Russian-speaking population. Among the first to leave were the educated and professional classes: people with high social mobility, who included engineers and experts in various fields – the humanitarian and technical intelligentsia in the broadest sense. The intelligentsia was followed out of the republic by the workers, though in fact fewer of them left.
In the early 1990s the Chechens were actively included in the process of the redistribution of Soviet property, and colossal amounts of cash began to circulate in the republic. These criminal funds were largely used for the purchase of property which had been abandoned by Russian-speaking who had left Chechnya. This explains why in 1992-93 the confiscation of wealth was not carried out on a mass basis.
The second wave
In 1992, the peak of the voucher privatization fraud arrived. There was so much cash in the republic that it was carried about in KAMAZ trucks. There was likewise no shortage of people eager to sell their houses and apartments. The demand exceeded the supply, with the result that the price of housing rapidly fell. This was, however, caused not by market forces, but rather by the social and political situation which had brought about the exodus of Russian-speakers and was characterized by non-economic factors such as the collapse of the government, and rampant criminality.
One of the main problems lay in the accusations which the Chechens made against the Russians. This was a result of the inequality that existed between Russians and members of the indigenous ethnic groups in the entire Soviet space.
From the 1930s onwards, it was the Russians to whom the Soviet authorities granted the control functions for the numerous peoples that made up the Communist empire. The Russians were the social unit who were given the dominant positions in all areas of Party and economic management, science and culture. Small wonder, then, that after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the national revolutions in the Russian republics the Russians became an object of hatred for the indigenous ethnic groups who had suffered discrimination for many decades. In this way the Communists placed a time-bomb under the Russian-speaking communities all over their empire.
The third wave
On the one hand, the collapse of the Soviet economy left the inhabitants of Chechnya’s rural and mountainous districts without a means of livelihood. On the other, it was precisely on the rural population that Dudayev grounded his appeals for the revival of Chechen national traditions. As a result, it was this rural population which, in the hope of a brighter future, became the driving force behind the revolution and turned into a professional revolutionary class which considered that its place was in the capital. Many of the men who subsequently expropriated the land and property of others originally emerged from the ranks of the rural revolutionaries..
In Chechnya, criminal elements frequently operated behind the slogans of independence and the need to restore the justice that had been trampled on by Soviet power, and even by the Tsarist regime.
It would be shameful and wrong to remain silent about the fact that cruel forms of the confiscation of property were inflicted the most helpless and vulnerable. In the majority of cases, people were simply driven out of their homes and sometimes killed. In addition, in an anarchic world where no one controlled anyone any more, other forms of violence began to spread. Very often it was poor and uneducated Chechens who tried to protect their Russian-speaking neighbours from the depredations of Russian-speaking criminals – sometimes successfully, sometimes not, but it did not alter the overall picture. During the military operations Russians also took Chechens under their protection. This, incidentally, had very little influence on the actual course of events.
The Ichkerian functionaries who received apartments and dachas and took over the homes of the former elite were not too worried about the fate of the Russians whom they turfed out of their Khrushchev-era apartments and adobe cottages. Throwing their masters into the street or shooting them, leaving the bloodstains on the walls, they sent their messengers off to the villages, inviting all their relatives for a housewarming party.
The boomerang of evil
By the end of 1994 the people who remained in Grozny were the old and the lonely, who owned nothing but their dwellings, and who hoped with all their heart and soul for the restoration of order, even though they were not too concerned about what how that would be done – by constitutional means or otherwise. They did not lay claim to anything other than a quiet old age. Grozny was their home.
These were the people whom the Russian generals said the troops had come to protect in 1994, restoring “constitutional” order as they went. Despite the advances in technology and the “precision” bombing, the bombs and missiles did not distinguish between Russians and Chechens. Those houses and apartments, or rather their basements, which people struggled so hard to defend, became mass graves for all.
But I repeat: we cannot deny that there was violence against the Russians, though time after time Russian propaganda exaggerated its extent. The boomerang returned to Chechnya, and the evil sprouted into today's reality. Tens of thousands of Chechens are in exile, while those who stayed at home live under gangster rule.
(Translation by DM)