Harun al-Rashid in Gudermes
By Dzhambulat Are
GROZNY, Chechnya – It is no secret that a considerable number of today’s Chechen officials, whose duties include the regular swearing of a public oath of loyalty to Russia, are former separatists. Also among them are quite a few men who served, no less faithfully, all the Ichkerian presidents, starting with Dudayev and ending with Maskhadov. To make reference – whether positive or negative – to the former Chechen leaders within the walls of state institutions is almost a crime, and so recent Chechen history long ago emigrated to the kitchens of private homes.
But, as the Latin proverb says, what is permitted to Jove is not permitted to the ox. Ramzan Kadyrov frequently avails himself of the right to recall the recent past whenever he wants to find arguments in favour of the simple thesis that though life was bad before it is better now. The last time he did so was on August 21 at a government meeting in Grozny, where, among other things, the problem of endemic drunkenness in Chechnya was discussed.
Ramzan Kadyrov accused the Maskhadov government of hypocrisy. He said that "by swigging vodka in the bathhouse themselves while meting out canings to people who’d taken one sip", they had discredited the very concept of Sharia. Kadyrov recalled how under Maskhadov people who had imported vodka into the republic were released in exchange for bribes, while those who were found with a bottle they had saved for the festive table were given the maximum punishment prescribed by the law.
"Maskhadov himself drank vodka, even though he promulgated Sharia law. His bodyguards told me how they used to go to Aushev’s to take a sauna, where they knocked back vodka and swilled wine," Kadyrov said. At the government meeting in question there just happened to be an eyewitness, whom Ramzan asked to confirm his words.
Having thus given away the secrets of Maskhadov’s court, Kadyrov talked about the present situation with regard to the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the land that is entrusted to him. The picture painted by the president was none too rosy. Deciding to emulate the example of the eight century Caliph Harun al-Rashid, Ramzan Kadrov secretly spied on the lives of his compatriots in nocturnal Gudermes and found himself impelled to pursue a drunken 17-year-old youth. The youth made off in a car at enormous speed, and when he was caught turned out to be one of Kadyrov’s close relatives.
But his drunken teenage relative apart, he was also struck by how openly the Chechens of today indulge in various sins. Not only do they no longer hide their cigarettes from their elders as they used to – they have absolutely no compunction in drinking vodka at the side of the road, placing the bottles directly on the roofs of their cars.
Actually, the endemic drunkenness in Chechnya is nothing new. If we are to be blunt, it is the result of a deliberate policy which dates back to Soviet times. For it was then that in order to secure advancement in their professional careers the natskadry [national minority officials] underwent a kind of rite of unification which involved acquiring a knowledge of the science of heavy vodka drinking. In modern times the practice has been updated by the military authorities. Chechens who drink during the "mop-ups" [zachistki] are automatically granted something akin to the absolution of sins in accordance with a simple logic: if he’s drinking it means he’s not a Wahhabite.
But despite the fact that it is now time for the struggle against drunkenness to begin, we may be certain that Ramzan Kadyrov is not about to impose Sharia law in the republic. Since the very phrase inspires a persistent aversion in people, he intends to stiffen the moral fibre of Chechnya’s citizens by applying the law of the ancient Adats. Of course, Kadyrov is aware that they must not clash with Russian law. It is just a manner of speaking, a verbal quibble aimed in the Kremlin’s direction.
At the meeting, Kadyrov revealed an important secret: among the fighting units of the guerrilla leader Dokka Umarov there are apparently men who have been planted there in order to gather information on the plans of the armed underground. For example, a group of Caucasus Emirate forces recently planned an attack on the Kadyrovites in the village of Saadi-Kotar. However, their scheme was uncovered thanks to timely information received from Umarov’s entourage. Six members of the group were successfully killed in an ambush. According to Kadyrov, three of them had joined the guerrillas only recently. Thus, in the opinion of the head of Chechnya, Umarov and his Arab instructors are sending new recruits into battle while they themselves take it easy up in the mountains. But what made Kadyrov most indignant of all was the fact that several girls had gone off to join the underground. "What sort of jihad do they plan to wage with the guys in the forest?" the Moscow-backed Chechen leader wondered.
Meanwhile, the republic’s authorities are also trying to take the members of the armed underground unawares by using non-traditional methods of struggle. Of late they have begun to operate through the guerrillas’ relatives. This is done in the following manner: while being videotaped, the families and loved ones of those suspected of belonging to the underground are forced to read out appeals to their relatives, asking them to leave the forest. Women tormented by the constant expectation of calamity are forced to renounce their sons and curse them for having disobeyed their parents.
In the city of Argun the local authorities have decided to expel the relatives of mujahedin from their village. The forcible removal of criminals from their local communities was tried once before. But matters have not yet gone so far as the strict application of Vainakh law. It looks very much as though during the over-zealous Chechen President’s recent visit to Moscow he received a snub from Kremlin officials who explained to him that questions relating to the deportation of populations lie exclusively within the jurisdiction of the federal leadership. When he got back to Chechnya, all that Kadyrov would say was that he did not intend to subject his compatriots to repression, but was simply conducting educational work with them. Doing so, however, according to the laws of the mountains – laws that still wait in the wings.
Compromat.ru archive photo
(Translation by DM)
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· "Police Sharia" in Chechnya (PW, 27.6.2007)
· Alleroy youths join the guerrillas (PW, 30.5.2007)
· Combating drug addiction and alcoholism in Chechnya (PW, 30.5.2007)
· The fight against drink-driving continues in Chechnya (PW, 3.5.2007)
· Islam as a uniting and dividing force in Chechen society (PW, 13.8.2005)