Schizophrenia as ideology
By Usam Baysayev, special to Prague Watchdog
On February 23 Grozny remembered the Pskov paratroopers. A Soviet-style subbotnik [voluntary cleaning and tidying] was performed on the street that has been renamed in their honour, and then flowers were laid at the obelisk on which the names of the victims are inscribed.
The event was attended by representatives of the Chechen city administration and members of the Young Guard, a youth organization of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. There were also guests from Pskov – deputies from that city’s Duma. In addition to flowers, there were large numbers of blue flags with a bear in the middle, and jackets in the same style. There were speeches about duty fulfilled, eternal memory, and gratitude.
But almost at that very same moment in another part of the city NGO activists were gathering. Admittedly they were not very many, no more than thirty or forty, but given the present circumstances that was still a respectable number. They said a prayer by the now dilapidated memorial to the victims of the 1944 deportations of Chechens and Ingush. Here there were no high-ranking officials of any kind, no flags, no jackets – and no journalists. There was only a subdued and unostentatious sadness...
The first event was being held in advance, a week before the anniversary of the deaths of the “lads from the 6th company”, while the second marked the date on which the Vainakhs had been expelled from their homeland at rifle point. One was in honour of the soldiers and the army, and the other in memory of their victims, but participating in both were the children and grandchildren of the deportees, and it was possible that many of them had survived the two recent military campaigns only by chance. There was the sense of a split, of a kind of schizophrenia.
One of the speeches given on that day was a welcoming address delivered to the participants of a special conference being held in Grozny on the theme of “The Deportation of the Chechen People and Stalin’s Genocide”. The speaker began with the obvious: “...the wholesale deportation of the Chechens and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union led to an unprecedented tragedy for hundreds of thousands of innocent people. The date February 23 will remain forever in the Chechen people’s memory as a day of mourning.” And then, without any transition, he imparted the information that this date was also “an official state holiday in Russia”. Were it not for “the negative associations“, he continued, the Chechens “would have celebrated the Day of the Defender of the Fatherland along with all the other Russians.”
I found neither of these messages appealing. For some reason I am disinclined to suppose that, were it not for 1944, the Chechens would take a different view of this holiday. The last two wars are quite sufficient for the majority of the population to roundly reject the “Defenders of Fatherland” in Russian military uniform. And the second message – the Chechen people’s tragedy, the most serious test it has faced in its entire history, has been reduced to the level of an event which merely gives rise to “negative associations”. The word “genocide” that figured in the conference title was not included in the speech of welcome. Instead, the speaker used formulae of a gentler kind: “the principle of collective responsibility”, “repression”, “tragedy”. The cautious vileness of those expressions lies in the fact that they efface the planned, intentional and basically inhuman nature of the crime that was committed. Repression was universal all over the Soviet space, and that was why it bore a general, national character. Just fancy, a tragedy! There are so many of them on the roads every day. And as for collective responsibility, isn’t it still practiced today?
The person who gave this speech is a Chechen official whose rank is by no means among the lowest in the land. He is Shamsail Saraliyev, the Minister for External Affairs, National Policy, Press and Information – all rolled into one. I have spoken with him several times, both before and after his ascension to power. He seemed a pleasant man. Especially when, shrugging off the role of official, he attempted to be an ordinary Chechen. I therefore find it hard to swallow his parting recommendation to the participants of the conference: “... today is vitally essential that, as Russian patriots of our great Motherland, we should all strive for a common vision of the past”.
Attempts to bring everything under a common denominator in this way may lead to silence about inconvenient facts and the protrusion of others that are less important and sometimes even false. That has happened in our history more than once.
Although they erased from official history all mention of our ethnic “troubles”, the Soviet authorities were unable to remove them from the souls of the people. A schizoidization of society took place, whereby many of its members thought one thing, but were forced to live according to its opposite. The signs of this condition may also be seen in today's Chechnya, as the two public ceremonies and the above-quoted speech attest.
(Translation by DM)