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(en) Chechnya, CAN THE WAR TAKE CENTER STAGE?

From Zaczek <hydrozag@poczta.onet.pl>
Date Sat, 21 Dec 2002 06:31:36 -0500 (EST)


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Here's Laure Akai's article about the war in Chechnya, the antiwar movement and ideas why opposition to it wasn't stronger. 
[Written for the Arbetaren - Swedish journal of the anarcho-syndicalist 
SAC. I.S.]  

CAN THE WAR TAKE CENTER STAGE?

Finally after the dramatic and tragic events in a Moscow theater, has the
war in Chechnya come back into attention. How is it that such a
long-standing campaign can slip into obscurity and how can we explain the
absence of a large-scale international response to the war?

The facts speak for themselves: tens of thousands of people killed, tortured
and disabled, hundreds of thousand displaced. Cities completely destroyed
with no hope of being rebuilt any time soon. Hundreds, even thousands of
documented atrocities, yet the international community seems mostly to be
keeping quiet about Chechnya.

While hundreds of thousands protest against US plans to take military action
against Iraq, actions against the war in Chechnya have been few and far
between. There's no reason for it, no acceptable reason to say that this
potentional US agression is any worse than the Russian agression in
Chechnya. It's as if the world has forgotten that Russia is and was an
imperial power. The silence on Chechnya has been essentially tacit
permission to continue military operations there with impugnity. If we
ignore Chechnya, if it's not a top story in the news, if they are a small,
not well-known country, it's as if the worlds doesn't have to care. If it's
Russia committing atrocities, it's not as important as the US committing
atrocities. Worse yet are the voices who aren't sure whether ot not there
isn't a reason to really attack Chechnya - for example, those who figure
they're many Muslims there, so they're not going to protest against the war
because that can be perceived as supporting islam. The fact of the matter is
that there were practically no radical Muslims in the republic until well
after the war started and if there has been any growth in that area, it is
probably due in large part to the fact that the war carried on and there was
little or no response from any quarters except other muslims.

8 years on into the conflict with Rtussia, it is perhaps far too late to
start an anti-war campiagn - but it should be done anyway, if only to attack
racism and acknowledge the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Chechen
refugees who are harrassed on a daily basis in Russian, chased out of
refugee camps and deported from Western countries who refuse to take the
hardships of war seriously anymore.

RACISM

"No Caucasians need apply." Such warning were and are common in Moscow. Don'
t try to get an apartment or job. We don't want "blacks". This is the least
of the problems for Chechens refugees in moscow. Legally, residency permits
are still required to live in moscow. No permit, no work. No legal flat. No
school for your kids, no health care. Life becomes a serious of bribes and
payments. Random ID checks on the street. Apartment searches. Chechens in
Russia find themselves in very different cateogories. Some have lived there
all their lives - others are part Russian or have close Russian friends. But
for new arrivals, leaving Chechnya can mean different things. Some people
have family to help out - some people are able to find work in family
businesses. Others, perhaps not a majority but a group that is more comonly
known, have to rely on an underground network to work and otherwise get by.
Sometimes they fall in with mafia-controlled businesses. Sometimes they fall
in with something that isn't exactly the same as a mafia but what people
might mistake for one. In any case, many people become quite reliant on
certain small bosses to help them out and to protect them - mostly from the
Moscow police. Some eventually turn to crime. And so, racist Russian society
(ironically upset over their image as mafiosi abroad), has decided that
Chechens are all involved in crime and the mafia.

The racism has already passed sickening levels. There is no hiding the fact
that dark-skinned people are regularly harrassed by the police and that the
police are legally enpowered to do so. Pogroms of different scale happen
frequently. Politicians spit hateful diatribes, sometimes trying to hide
their racism, sometimes not even bothering. Nowadays, there are many
situations when it's hard to talk of racism in and of itself as a factor for
hatred. Concepts of "civilization" are strongly tied to racism. How people
live, organize their economy, decide to develop, globalize or not, organize
on a spiritual or material basis - European and American cultural biases,
linked strongly to capitalist development and its cultural and social
implications - play just as important a role and probably supercede race in
many cases as a basis for prejudice and hatred.

The anti-war movement in Russia was also the beginning of an anti-racist
movement in fact; it was equally significant to protest against racist
ideas, policies and practices.

Many people in the movement in Russia looked forward to the disintegration
of the Soviet Empire, but this doesn't mean that anyone was looking forward
to seeing nationalism grow as a mechanism to inspire national liberation
movements. For our anarchist position, we were never in favour of Chechen
statehood or nationalism - but we were even more critical of Soviet/Russian
imposition of Russian hegemony and economic exploitation in the area.

As for the connection between nationalism and racism, we see a clear
difference in how Baltic, Ukrainian and Kazakh national liberation movements
were perceived abroad and how the Chechen independence movement has been
perceived. In general, with the exception of Kazakhstan (which is a
relatively wealth country which had a 50% Russian population), independence
movements in the Caucuses and Central Asia are mostly reviled and feared and
worst, looked on in apprehension at best. We could see no compelling moral
reason why Latvians should be recognized as independent from Russia and
Chechens not - except for the "great culture" (great power) and European
chuavinism dominant in much of the world and in public perception.

THE WAR

Despite the occaasional protest letter or campaign, (and excluding support
by Muslim communities and activists) the anti-war movement really only
exists in several countries, for example, in Russia, Poland, Ukraine,
Georgia. Many involved in the anti-war movement were not activists before;
people like the soldiers' mothers are just normal people who needed to
organize themselves to save concrete lives. In general, there are few
grassroots social movements making public appearances on the streets in
these places, so there haven't been many large protests. (And the couple
that have been have been rather exceptional.) But work against the war has
been carried on for years. Organizations like Memorial have been ardously
collecting info and documentation for years. Trying to organzie humanitarian
aid and help refugees and victims.

The anarchist response to the war, although relatively small, has also been
significant for a number of reasons, mostly because it has been the main
public anti-war protest in the largest Russian cities. For years, anarchists
in different Russian cities have held weekly pickets (although in some
cities there were breaks after long periods of this ritual). In Poland,
dozens of protests were made throughout the country; 6 demos were held this
year on the anniversary of the beginning of the first war and aid collected.
Anarchists were also active in collecting and delivering humanitarian aid;
several years ago, two anarchists were in a group of people kidnapped in
Chechnya. They were eventually released. They still actively support the
anti-war effort.

PROBLEMS IN CHECHNYA

Many people point to certain problems in Chechnya as a reason not to support
an anti-war movement or even to support Russian occupation of this land. A
good example is when something like those kidnappings take place. Obviously
few people have any sympathy for people taking aid workers or volunteers
hostage. Yet the people who have been victimized are often the first to
point out that they don't blame the entire Chechen populace for what a few
people do. Obviously, few normal Chechen people are left in that country and
those who are have been hardened by war and seeing atrocities carried out
with no public outcry. We don't imagine that such things would happen if the
normal civilian population and normal life in that country wasn't so totally
destroyed. We understand that it is a problematic place, but it's been made
especially so by its recent history, not by any so-called barbaric nature of
the people. It seems that problems in Chechnya are usually magnified as a
pretext for tacitly supporting the war and maintaining a eurocentric
worldview.

CONCLUSION

 It is a terrible shame that the world did not react earlier to denounce
this war. Now, in a context where a "war against terror" has been called - a
war which largely is meant to shift blame for various geopolitical problems,
racist policies and problems arising from unwanted development and
encroachment of western civilization and capital - Russia claims that it's
racist and imperialist wars has been at the forefront of this war against
terror. To let such claims go unchallenged will have tremendous
reprecutions. The antiwar movement much realize this and start to react. We
call on people to spread information as much as possible on the history of
this war and to start protests at Embassies in your cities. We hope that one
day the pretexts for this war will be exposed, making them harder to use the
next time.




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