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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SEASON OF DISCONTENT: Bombs Offer Russia Slice of Chechen Life




Gangster State" -- that was the heading over a recent Newsweek article about Russia. We didn't like it much. "Can you really cast a shadow over a whole people and a whole government on the basis of a few separate and unrelated and not always reliable facts?" our eggheads fairly asked after reading the Newsweek article. For us, eggheads and lunkheads alike, it's much more comfortable to call somebody else a gangster state. Like Chechnya, for instance.


Nobody likes the Chechens. The common cry from the pages of newspapers and the screens of televisions concerning Chechnya is to "mercilessly destroy it," to "blow it to bits once and for all," to "plow it over and turn it into a parking lot." Quite typical, and justified, was the recent prodding by Nezavisimaya Gazeta's editor Vitaly Tretyakov for Russians to have a "shocked" and "fighting" reaction to the "insolent and unspeakably inhumane bombing of an apartment building in Moscow."


But there are things that we don't want to think about, things that the laws of psychological defense dictate we crowd out of our minds. As I write this, it is still not clear who is responsible for the blasts in Moscow that have brought down two apartment buildings in less that a week. But then we do know who is responsible for the "insolent and unspeakably inhumane bombing" of apartment buildings in the Chechen capital of Grozny from 1994 to 1996. Thousands of innocent people died as a result of aerial bomb raids and artillery shellings. Their deaths were no less terrible than those in Moscow. Bombs are raining on Chechen villages even today. While this conscious and pitiless bombardment continues to kill peaceful citizens of Chechnya, can we really expect to be viewed any differently by the Chechens than we view Shamil Basayev or Khattab? Russia shouldn't kid itself with myths about "surgical strikes at terrorist bases."


But to those who would still doubt the nature of the feelings of Chechens toward Russians I would recommend the writings of a Russian officer who was a participant in that eternal war with the Chechens. It is shocking but nonetheless required reading for anyone with the authority to make Russian policy decisions in the Caucasus. One hundred and fifty years ago, this officer wrote the following lines after another cleansing campaign in the mountain villages of the Caucasus: "The elders gathered on the square and, squatting, discussed their circumstances. The sensation experienced by all the Chechens from the smallest to the greatest was stronger than hate. It wasn't hate, but the denial of even calling these Russian dogs people, and such an aversion, disgust and incomprehension of the absurd cruelty of these creatures that the desire to eliminate them, like the desire to eliminate a rat or a poisonous spider, was as natural a sensation as the sense of self-preservation."


The officer was Leo Tolstoy and this is from chapter 17 of his "Hadji Murat."


There is only one thing that would force the Chechens to become citizens of Russia - the complete destruction of any Chechen capable of holding a gun. Technically, we are capable of grasping such a victory. But are we prepared for such a "final solution" to the Chechen question?


We, Russians and Chechens, have veered too far into mutual hatred and mutual atrocities. We have only two ways out. Either we live apart, or we die together in the name of our territorial integrity.