By Ruslan Nasipov, special to Prague Watchdog
GROZNY, Chechnya – I don’t know about bread, but at least public spectacles are already widely available in Grozny. Whenever one manages to get to the city one has known since childhood, one sees something that inspires a whole gamut of new emotions – not necessarily sad ones, but the kind that make one reflect and scratch one’s head, wondering what the purpose of it all may be.
This time was no exception: arriving for a routine meeting of our organization, I encountered a rally of protestors demanding that the killers of Stanislav Markelov should be found and punished. The rally took place on Tuesday, January 20, and one could not fail to be impressed by the swiftness with which it had been arranged. After all, less than twenty-four hours had passed since the crime in Moscow! I also found it a relief that the murder of a someone I knew personally had affected others, too: not only members of human rights organizations and NGOs, but also ordinary people, including students.
The authorities usually exploit those who are dependent on them – public employees and young people in higher education – for purposes of propaganda, lining them up in mass rallies and officially sponsored protests of various kinds. On this occasion, however, what brought the young people, both male and female, to Grozny’s International Friendship Square (nicknamed “The Square of Three Fools”, because of a Soviet-era statue there) was more the prompting of their hearts than the fear of failing their end-of-term exams.
There was also something else that struck one: the abundance of the flags and pennants the protestors were holding, which made the demonstration look from a distance more like the cheerful celebration of some joyous event. The uninitiated could only learn the true reason for the colourful procession by listening carefully to the many voices on the fringes of the rally raised in public speeches and heated discussion of the double murder in Moscow.
Standing out against the background of the dark sky because of their blue colour were the flags of United Russia and Young Guard. There were others: green and red ones, with profiles and without. The young folk waved them vigorously from side to side, creating the surreal mixture of truth and the most cynical lies that has become the characteristic mark of the present day. In the mixing process the truth has irrevocably perished – we all know what happens when even one fly is added to the ointment.
From the base of the monument words were hurled into the crowd about the need for the investigation of the crimes that have been committed in Chechnya, about the selectivity of Russian justice, about how the murder of Stanislav Markelov, lawyer to the family of the young woman killed by Yuri Budanov, was yet another spit in the face of the Chechen people...
True words, indeed, and no one really minded the fact that it was impossible to see those who were delivering them. As their speeches filtered through in fragments, the orators were almost completely obscured by the flapping banners and rattling flagstaffs of the party that is mainly responsible for all the misfortunes and horrors, and within which many common criminals have found a way to put their political convictions into practice. Though of course, those criminals have drenched the republic not in spit, but in human blood.
This discrepancy was noted by the human rights defenders and NGO activists – the murdered lawyer’s colleagues and friends who worked with him on the cases of the necrophiliac Russian army colonel whom Russian justice has now pardoned, and the severed-ear practitioner from Khanty-Mansiysk, who is still serving time. They huddled on the sidelines of the main rally, by the obelisk in memory of slain journalists. “I’m surprised the demonstrators didn’t bring balloons...” one of them commented. Another, taking a look at the flag-bearers, said sadly: “There’s a muddle in people’s heads, and it’s going to be there for a long time.”
When the necessary speeches had been made, the rally was over and the flags sailed away up Vladimir Putin Prospect in the direction of the new mosque that has just been completed. But I don’t think we Chechens are going to get there by going up a street with a name like that, with those symbols in our hands. We will certainly arrive at some muddled place in our heads, but we won’t reach the temple or the truth, and will therefore not attain peace in our hearts and minds...
(Translation by DM)