Survey of the Russian Regional Press, October 1-31, 2000
By Oleg Panfilov, director of the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations, Moscow
Special to Prague Watchdog
The Russian regional press differs a lot from the Moscow press, above all by the fact that besides official point of view coming from Moscow the local journalists make their own estimation of the situation in Chechnya. Russian regions are not only interested in Chechnya because there is a war going on in one of the subjects of Russian Federation but also due to the fact that servicemen of the Armed Forces or personnel of the Interior Ministry from those regions take part in this war.
A database of the Russian agency Integrum was used for making this survey. In the database of 230 newspapers Chechnya was mentioned 721 times in the month of October. In the newspapers Stavropolskaya pravda (39 times), Vecherny Novosibirsk (38), Volzhskaya kommuna, Samara (33), Tikhookeanskaya zvezda, Chabarovsk (33), Sankt-Peterburgskie vedomosti (31) more than in others. A majority of newspapers in the database mentioned Chechnya 3-6 times on average in October.
The newspaper Zvezda, Perm (10)
On October 3 the newspaper publishes the opinions of military and civil persons on the situation in the Russian army, including their opinion on Chechnya: "Sergey Fedorchenko, the director of the center Zdorovye of Perm regional society of soberness and health: Current experience in Chechnya shows our army’s unfitness for action. What is going on in the army now cannot be called reforms. It is better to have 500 thousand professionals under arms. Otherwise it looks like the life of our private or officer is very cheap. Yevgeny Pavlovsky, officer in reserve: We have had it all. I do not believe at all that there will be less generals after curtailment of the army. I fought in the first Chechnya campaign. Sometimes there was such big landing of generals that it would have been possible to man whole companies of generals. And, believe me, none of them was longing for battle".
On October 17 the newspaper publishes the article "The Permians performed all tasks" which described the return of Perm (town in Russia, note by Prague Watchdog) OMON troops from Chechnya. The author accentuated on the way the fighters of OMON had preformed their "mission". "The successful work of our troops was in honor of the memory of fallen OMON fighters of Prikamye. This was not anger or revenge but military operations of principle against bandits. We brought words of gratitude from the Interior Minister and the chief of mobile police troops of Grozny. But thanks received from civilians living next to us are more dear to us. They were telling us that as long as we were close they were not worried for their lives, for lives of their people. Actually, everybody is tired of war".
The newspaper Karelia, Petrozavodsk (6)
The article "Would I become a sailor?" of October 4 - navy sailor’s story of his service. His interview to the newspaper and the example the Chechnya and "Chechnya syndrome" is quite interesting: "Captains are kings, celestials on vessels. They render laws, they pay salary and are responsible for everything on a ship. He met captains who were drinking so much that they had delirium tremens. One of such people would run around the ship during hard drinking shouting that he was a veteran of special forces, had fought in Chechnya, would wave his hands playing a tough Woker and…stayed in his position for years. How come? Another would claim to buy salt for the money intended for the crew and promise to put all the salt to berth - take as much as you want. He paid the money just before leaving the vessel and only thanks to the representatives of force bodies who worked on the ship".
On October 11 the newspaper publishes a material about the draft to the Armed forces talking about Chechnya as a territory where not everybody wants to serve: "Unfortunately health situation of many people is far from being normal. That’s why it is so difficult to man groups to elite forces. Also the commission states a low educational level of the recruits. Far from all recruits will be able to serve close to their homes. But Petrozavodsk dwellers have minimal risk to get to Chechnya. In accordance with an order of the Minister of Defense just one motorized infantry unit remains in the Northern Caucasus. The rest of the serving troops are the Interior Ministry Forces. In general, recruits do not flee from army nowadays. In the spring draft there were 6 "refusers" in town and in current draft no one until now."
However, the article "Spetsnaz left for Chechnya" was published in the same issue: "On October 11th a spetsnaz (= special force; note by PW) prison guard troop left for Chechnya. This is a planned route, just like other units, a prison guard troop does its military duty in the Northern Caucasus."
On October 14 the newspaper publishes an article on another side of Chechnya problem: "Another blasphemous act is done on a holy place. During the night between October 8 and 9 some people without human consciousness stole a metal bell from a monument to the soldiers fallen in Chechnya. It’s characteristic that the center of municipal improvement did not raise the claim about that with the police until October 11. And again we are ashamed. We failed to preserve soldiers. Can we at least preserve monuments to them?"
The longest article about Chechnya fully devoted to the situation in the republic was published on October 25. It tells the stories of the spetsnaz fighters who served in Chechnya are. For example this one: "Chechens take out of the republic mainly non-ferrous metals, intensively carrying away what is left at industrial plants or in their ruins. This all goes to Russia to the closest receiving center. Proud mountaineers transport stolen cars from Russia to Chechnya". Or another "unique" account: "Another task is "mopping up" (zatschistki). The most frequent ones are addressed mop-ups. That means that some of the locals noticed that a guerilla fighter spent night somewhere. Then an addressed mopping up operation is conducted in this way. By the way, Dmitry Lesin told a story that during one of those operations they found a 75-year old woman who was actually a sniper. A sniper rifle with seven notches on the butt was found by her." This story added to an image of "terrible" Chechens: "Slave-trade is an ancient and national business of Chechens. Practically each homestead has a so-called "zindan" – a pit where hostages are kept. I was just astonished to learn that female slaves are traded for 1500-2000 rubles. A human costs practically as much as mutton. People are kidnapped on the territory of Russia and then sold in Chechnya". However, as the newspaper’s interviewees say, armed forces are to stay there forever, otherwise: "If armed forces leave Chechnya, the interviewees said, the majority of Chechens will not have anything to live from. Thus local inhabitants either directly or indirectly are interested in the presence of federal forces in the republic. Judge and make conclusions yourselves."
The newspaper Krasny sever, Vologda (4)
On October 4 the newspaper publishes an interview with Vladimir Pershikov, the chief of FSB (Federal Security Service) department of Vologda region, made during a meeting in the Union of Journalists of the Vologda region. Since journalists were invited to the meeting one of the questions concerned the problems of censorship. The FSB general replied: "I think that there is no press without censorship anyway. Any writing person is a censor to himself. I will be glad if journalists understand my reasons why they cannot write on some matter whatever they want. A little example: There was a recommendation about not mentioning personal details of participants of military operations in materials about Chechnya. The reason to that is that guerilla fighters gather information on those who fought against them using mass media for that. Another example: Information containing state secrets must not be disclosed".
The article "10 years of loneliness" analyzing the state of the Russian society was published in the same issue of the newspaper. Mentioning of Chechnya in this article is symptomatic for the Russian press: "No, years of service cannot be counted out of life; in fact these years make a man out of a boy. Our soldiers die in Chechnya and there is a never-ending flow of "cargo-200" (corpses of servicemen), submarines with whole crews sink, planes crash – we are worried about the boys who are to put on soldier’s uniform tomorrow. But, excuse the pathetic tone, man is born to defend his Motherland in the right hour".
The issue dated October 25 contains another patriotic article "Country of heroes", in which pathos of patriotism is changed by multiple questions in "Russian style": "The second Chechnya war has already brought four deaths to Cherepovets: Viktor Vinogradov, Kolya Zabaykin, Sasha Stepushkin. Denis Baranov, who had three younger brothers and an unemployed mother. All of them were 20-years old. All of them became heroes. All of them left disconsolate mothers in this world who need our help and support as much as families of boys-submariners. We get used to horrors so fast. We are able to avoid choking with our evening meal when the Chechnya war is shown on TV. Maybe we just cannot make Nevzorov’s Purgatory, the most terrible face of war, to the end. But we can be hysteric when we see sunken submarine. Because we see THIS for the first time. We are SCARED. We want to clean this away with tears, money, participation, memorial plaque. We cannot do more. But why can’t we for all those who fulfilled their military duty up to the end? And why only those who fought till the end meaning death? What about those who stayed alive and could not switch off this "purgatory" with the switches on their TV sets, who saw the awful face of war daily? And what about those women who fold their hands even when dogs go mad?"
The newspaper Novosti Jugry, Chanty-Mansiysk (6)
We can start the survey with the publication dated October 3, where the Moscow correspondent of the newspaper makes the following forecast in his interview with Tamara Globa, a famous astrologer: "Change in relations with Chechnya is expected in the middle of the winter, a move to an agreement in April, August." Even astrological forecasts can seemingly be interesting to readers, especially if they deal with Chechnya.
In its issue dated October 14, the newspaper publishes readers’ dispute concerning earlier published article "The Cossacks: Carnival or Revival". Letter of Anatoly Salov, veteran of the Second World War, who is negative about the idea of using of Cossacks in "defending of Motherland," is quite interesting in this context as: "In my opinion, all leaders of the Cossack movement are ex-party staff who failed to get their briefcases. The situation is way too far from the Cossacks brotherhood which our ancestors were so proud of. If a Cossack gets into trouble nobody will help him, I have my own experience. The majority does not wish to serve the Motherland. I went by train together with one Cossack chief from Nyagan recently. I asked him if there were any of his Cossacks in Chechnya. He answered no. I heard somebody was asking for admittance in the previous war but was refused due to a few reasons. And now it seems that the whole Cossack spirit failed. People I know said that they hadn’t started this war and were not going to fight. Dear Cossacks, it’s difficult to make out who organized this war but it’s clear that Russia is in danger".
A letter of N. Zmanovskaya, a teacher, mother of four children from Gornopravdinsk, published on October 31, is very symptomatic: "What is going on with us? What is going on with the society, country, people? We fight terrorism sending our children to Chechnya. And when they return their crippled souls get under intent attention from those whose businesses flourishes, who multiply their wealth on lives of boys and sorrow of mothers.
But if a terrorist with a weapon in his hands deserves everybody’s condemnation, how intense should be the indignation of mothers on those who secretly, gradually, little by little destroy and depraves young generation ruining the genofund of the nation". The letter concerns the problem of drug addiction but an example of Chechnya only strengthens its pathos.
The newspaper Ryazanskie vedomosti (6)
On October 11 the newspaper publishes the article "Whom should we entrust the defense of Motherland?" describing the autumn draft to the Armed forces of Russia. Military commissar of Ryazan region offered data concerning the results of the draft and said: "Ryazan people showed satisfactory during their participation in the military operations in Afghanistan, in "hot spots" in Chechnya. Names of the fallen are put into the Book of memory. "To avoid not-remembering," the commissar concluded the meeting.
Among articles mentioning Chechnya an article from October 27 issue, reprinted from the Europe magazine issued by the Council of Europe, is of interest. In particular, the position of the Parliament Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) concerning Chechnya: "The position of PACE concerning the anti-terrorist operation conducted in Chechnya made us freeze relationship with this organization, due to the same reason the relationship between Russia and the Council of Europe itself became even worse".
The newspaper Sovetskaya Chuvashia (6)
In the issue dated October 17 the newspaper publishes the article distributed by the site Washington-online, "The USA on the progress in defending the human rights in Chechnya and pre-election situation in Belarus." The article describes the report by "David T. Johnson, the representative of the USA to the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe, spoke at the conference of the Permanent Council of OSCE in Vienna following the speech of the Austrian diplomat Alfred Missong, the chief of the OSCE group for providing aid to Chechnya. Johnson said that the USA support Missong’s efforts and despite some hope-giving signals, they are not to be mistaken for "true progress" in the human rights situation in Chechnya or for return of the humanitarian groups to the republic".
The material "Putin and Peter I – brothers-twins?" about a seminar on the problems of Islam "in conditions of changing Russian Federation" which had taken place in Nizny Novgorod, was published on October 20. In particular Shamil Beno’s opinion is presented: "In his opinion, nothing else but "another Northern Ireland" can be expected for the Chechen position in Russia under current conditions. And this is still highly theoretic, in Mr. Beno’s opinion (by the way, Mr Beno is a former Minister of Culture in Zavgayev’s government). Otherwise floods of blood are inevitable… He claims there is nothing to be done with the Chechen claim of self-determination". However, the author of the article’s conclusion is quite original: "Vladimir Putin seems to be faced with a problem which arose in times of mutinies for Peter I. The Tsar-reformer solved the problem in his own way, turning the Holy Synod into practically normal Russian department fully subordinated to the governing body. Since then orthodox church has never been separated from the state, even in times of mass repression of priests by the Bolsheviks. If Vladimir Putin succeeds to make similar thing with Islam (in fact the state used to treat Islam the same way till recently) the situation will be much better in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Although one never knows…"
On October 26 the newspaper publishes the article "Spetsnaz has returned from Chechnya"- about the return of the troops of servicemen of the Ministry of Justice of Russian Federation from Chechnya to Cheboksary. Rather common story of routine days of "heroes" of the Chechnya campaign is nevertheless concluded in a quite banal way: "Now the spetsnaz fighters will have a month’s vacation, those who wish can have a rest in a Ministry’s health center. As colonel Volkov advised, the boys will get their salaries and travelling expenses reimbursed right away. As for their battle payments, a discussion concerning their lowering is going on on the government level and this matter is not settled yet. Meanwhile, the next spetsnaz expedition is expected in December this year, a rumor goes around."
On October 27 the newspaper publishes an article "It is bad if love to the Motherland is unrequited," which is virtually a repetition of the previous article. The first paragraph says: "These guys remained devoted to their oath and their soldier duty at the hardest moments. Did the Motherland appreciate their courage?" The author concludes: "The Motherland recruited them, taught them how to fight and threw them into a burning hell. But haven’t ever thought of the way to return the boys to peaceful life with less pain. Until now no funds have been allocated nor definite federal program of social protection and rehabilitation of servicemen participated in the military operations in Chechnya has been passed.