A few weeks ago the Chechen capital of Grozny once again briefly hit international headlines. This time it was not because of war, insurgency or human rights violations, but because one of its newly built skyscrapers was on fire. The contrast between the war-torn Grozny of yesterday and the new Grozny of skyscrapers could not be more stark. So what has happened to Chechnya following the withdrawal of Russian troops?
In 2009 the Russian government realised that it could no longer continue fighting the Chechen separatists, who had turned out to be a strong enemy. They instead chose another way to pacify this rebellious region. Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel himself and now President of the Chechen Republic, was given all legal and illegal powers available to crush his former ‘colleagues from the woods’ and to transform Chechnya into an obedient vassal of the Russian Federation. This plan has been working very well, with brutal raids on the villages now being carried out not by the Russians but by Moscow-employed Chechens.
Meanwhile, Chechen society is rapidly being transformed under a policy of complete Islamisation, which often goes against Russian law or even the Constitution of the Russian Federation. Islam is being taught in schools, a strict Islamic dress code for women is being enforced by a Saudi-style ‘moral police’, and new medical centres with Islamic healers are being opened by the government. In various interviews Kadyrov’s remarks have ranged from encouraging polygamy and claiming women are the property of men, to warning women that they should behave ‘properly’ or otherwise face honour killings.
It is becoming clear that women increasingly have no say in the direction Chechya is taking, and those who oppose or criticise the current government face harassment. In the centre of Grozny in the summer of 2010, women who were not dressed appropriately or had no headscarves were attacked by men with paintball guns and rubber bullets. Kadyrov later came on television and expressed his support for such actions because “those women got what they deserved”. Such degrading treatment is happening despite the enormous contribution and sufferings of Chechen women during the long years of war. It seems that the pursuit of complete control and appeals from hardline Islamic separatists have made Ramzan Kadyrov forget that while Chechen men were fighting the Russians, it was Chechen women who often were families’ sole breadwinners.
Tired of the bloodshed and the complete collapse of all social, economic and political structures, it will come as no surprise that many Chechens, both men and women, have bought into Ramzan Kadyrov’s new Chechnya. With the help of Russian subsidies, which constitute 90% of Chechnya’s budget, Kadyrov has been restoring running water and electricity, rebuilding houses, schools and hospitals, building mosques and even skyscrapers. In return for such generous economic help from those who caused the damages in the first place, the former Victory Prospect has now been renamed Prospect Putin. Such a symbolic gesture constitutes the little entertainment the Kremlin can draw from the realization that Moscow is now paying for what it has long been fighting against in Chechnya.
The train boarded by Kadyrov and Putin is going at full speed. Kadyrov is happy to exercise complete control over a Chechnya which, in his understanding, equates to a generous reward in the form of wealth and the presence of international stars Seal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Hilary Swank at his birthday party. As for Putin, he is satisfied as long as the Chechen President remains loyal and the Chechen conflict is confined to history. Yet one keeps wondering about the final destination of this train. One possible scenario is an autonomous, happy and prosperous Dubai-style Chechnya within the borders of the Russian Federation. This is very much what the Kremlin is hoping for by letting Ramzan do what he pleases. The second prognosis for Chechnya’s future is less pleasant. In view of the current behavior of Ramzan Kadyrov and his closest circle, it seems like a new Gaddafi is firmly establishing himself in the region and it is only a matter of time, possibly just a few decades, until the Chechens topple him.