"Bes" begins election campaign in Chechnya
By Ruslan Isayev
The parliamentary election campaign that got off to a start during the past week has already managed to make itself known by its first scandal when, after several years of absence, the republic saw Beslan Gantamirov, former Mayor of Grozny, and ex-Minister of Press and Information appear on the political scene.
Gantamirov intends taking a very active part in the parliamentary elections scheduled for mid-November this year. By appearing on the scene, he is not only able to reshuffle the cards in the republic’s present leadership, but has also provided the basis for rumors about a possible change in the federal centre's policy in Chechnya.
His appearance is connected with a recent incident that took place in his native village of Gekhi where at the end of May a unit of "Kadyrovites" conducted an unauthorized search of his brother’s house and confiscated several firearms. In response, Gantamirov wrote to the Kremlin administration and to all Russian power ministries demanding that they protect him from the "bandit raids of the Kadyrovites.” He also complained that the Kadyrovites had seized part of his Grozny business. Therefore, he felt that they had intentionally provoked him into an armed skirmish and hinted that he has many supporters in Chechnya ready to come to his defense.
However, Ramzan Kadyrov, Vice-Premier of the Moscow-backed Chechen government, said that several personal firearms and an RPG, which had not been registered with the Interior Ministry, were confiscated at Gantamirov's house. Kadyrov also accused him of maintaining links with anti-government guerrillas and trying to advertise his presence in order to increase his chances in the elections. There is also a reference to a remark Kadyrov made about the Moscow-based Chechen businessman Malik Saydulayev, who put himself forward as a candidate in the past Moscow-organized presidential elections in Chechnya (“Just let him try"). Saydulayev tried twice - and lost both times.
But Kadyrov will find Gantamirov harder to deal with. Although he may not have the financial resources that the millionaire Saydulayev has, in the eyes of the Russian authorities he has achieved considerably more in Chechnya. In both the first and second Chechen campaigns, his units joined the Russian soldiers waging war against Chechen guerrillas. Gantamirov has already proved his loyalty to Russia in that he has never opposed it with armed force. And without serious support from Moscow he would never have decided to return to Chechen politics, knowing full well that problems would arise with Ramzan, who is not inclined to tolerate rivals in Chechnya.
Gantamirov is from the Chinkhoy teyp (clan); a legend exists among Chechens that one Chinkhoyevet even defeated the Devil himself in an argument. So far it cannot be said that this example could be applied to Gantamirov, one of the most odious and scandalous pro-Moscow politicians in Chechnya. But the fact that those close to him call him "Bes" ("Demon") makes one wonder whether this is an abbreviation of his first name or a description of his character.
Nevertheless, one doesn’t have to be a political scientist to realize that regardless whether or not the two Chechen rivals quarrel, it will all be decided in Moscow. Gantamirov must surely know this. And Kadyrov must not forget it.
Ruslan Isayev is Prague Watchdog’s North Caucasus correspondent.
Translated by David McDuff.