September 20th 2003 · Prague Watchdog / Timur Aliyev · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Of cabbages and kings or Secrets of compensation

Of cabbages and kings or Secrets of compensation

By Timur Aliyev, special to Prague Watchdog

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings." (*)

Despite the extensive agenda, the walrus’s story was short and soon every single one was eaten. Thus the walrus said nothing about shoes and ships, sealing wax, cabbages and kings. So we’ll do that for him. But in place of kings we'll substitute presidents, and instead of cabbages.....

The payment of compensation to Chechens for their lost dwellings will begin at the end of September, announced the Russian Minister for Chechnya Stanislav Ilyasov in late August. However, the date has already been postponed three times. In August the Premier of the Moscow-backed Chechen government, Anatoly Popov, announced that payments would start in October, even though they were initially scheduled for early September; and then the dates for application acceptance were postponed from August 1 to August 15, and again changed to September 1.

A "Royal" Decree

The uncertainty about these dates primarily implies low viability of the campaign, and signifies that it’s more a political issue than an economical one. In fact, the necessity for giving people compensation was announced by Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin at the end of February, which was later confirmed by Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov and Russian Minister for Chechnya Stanislav Ilyasov. And even on March 22, right before the Moscow-organized referendum on the new Chechen Constitution, President Putin personally stated it was necessary.

Leaving aside the disputes about the exact voter numbers in the referendum, one can say with certainty that a part of the electorate were seduced by promises about peace and economic prosperity, which implied compensation.

Yet despite all the efforts made by the government and various commissions during the past six months no results have been achieved - no one has received any money. Only the amount of payments was agreed upon: from 136,000 rubles to 350,000 rubles. From this amount 50,000 was earmarked for loss of property, and 300,000 for completely destroyed homes.

There are 39,000 families who should receive compensation. According to Ilyasov, the Russian government allocated 14 billion rubles for this purpose, to be paid during 2003-2004. However, this is all rather dubious since these figures were mentioned already at the very beginning of the campaign.

The "spice cake" stage

Promising Chechens compensation for completely destroyed homes and lost property is nothing more than a big PR campaign created by the Kremlin prior to the presidential election that Moscow intends to organize in Chechnya on October 5.

Who will become president of Chechnya is not so important to the Russian Federation. The Chechen presidential election is not the ultimate goal of the compensation campaign. It is merely an interim stage before the finish - the Russian presidential election.

If Putin takes meaningful steps in Chechnya, he will have a chance of winning the Russian presidential election. But in order to do that, he needs to continue solving the Chechen problems first. That means ending military operations in Chechnya, establishing legitimate power, albeit under Kremlin control, and make refugees to return home from Ingushetia.

And the Chechens, lured by compensation, have already begun leaving Ingushetia for their native land. It’s no secret that the absence in Chechnya of a place to live was the second reason for not returning (the first being lack of security guarantees).

The old "a whip and spice cake" method, transmuted into the "mop-up and compensation" method in present day Chechnya, worked during the referendum and is still being used.

The tents in Ingushetia are to be dismantled and thus one of the most overt and severe problems will disappear, and international observers will no longer be able to blame the Russian authorities for not observing democratic methods to improve the situation. So with refugees returning home to new housing, it can now be said that a peaceful life has been established.

Should the rescue of drowning men be left in their own hands?

It cannot be said that after the Chechen presidential election the issue of compensation will be completely forgotten. Ilyasov stated in advance that this would take two years, from 2003 to 2004. Yet the question lingers of who will actually receive the money. Will it end up going to the criminal element?

But even if the Kremlin does decide to pay, no one knows if this money will be found in the Russian budget. Russian Finance Minister Kudrin himself said earlier that taking into account inflation, trillions of rubles would be needed. And these funds are not available in the budget, he added.

However, financial analysts say that many more funds will be needed to reconstruct Chechnya than was announced by Ilyasov. Ruslan Khasbulatov, for example, said a low estimate of the damage caused in Chechnya is at least $100 billion.

Therefore, allocating 14 billion rubles will have a minimal effect. And one cannot exclude another trick of the Russian government - the Accounting Chamber already said that reconstruction of Chechnya will have to come from the budget of the Chechen Republic.

The Accounting Chamber calculated that the Chechen budget revenues amounted to 1.4 billion rubles last year, triple the figure stated in 2001. They therefore assume that the republic’s income will keep growing and thus allow it to pay the compensation from their own budget.

There is yet another way of obtaining funds for the republic. Chechens who have businesses in Russia were allegedly offered that if they wish to continue in them, they should sponsor Putin's election campaign by taking part in the compensation campaign. They should pump money into the Chechen budget, at least through investment in the republic. And as a reward, these businessmen had been offered the chance to become candidates in the Chechen presidential election.

What has history taught us?

If one looks at this from a historical perspective, then he’d see that Russia has never rebuilt any Chechen settlements. According to the Chechen historian Murad Nashkhoyev, between 1819 and 1859 the inhabitants of Chechnya were subjected to destruction no less than fifty times; and each time their own resources were used to rebuild their homes.

The recent period is no exception. In 1995, nearly 30% of Grozny has been reconstructed, of which 80% was rebuilt by owners in the private sector. The centre of the city, including the presidential palace, remains as it was because the Turkish and Swedish construction firms hired for the job never received any money to begin the work.

(*) Lewis Carroll: The Walrus and The Carpenter from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There



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