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NT: A war without heroes

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  • mariuslab2002 <mariuslab@shaw.ca>
    The New Times Feb. 2003 A WAR WITHOUT HEROES By Vladimir Voronov Chechnya. How can one survive where there s no life? A nation where the number of heroes is
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2003
      The New Times Feb. 2003

      By Vladimir Voronov

      Chechnya. How can one survive where there's no life?

      "A nation where the number of heroes is regarded restricted
      information meant only for those officials who give out awards while
      real heroes get no awards at all is powerless indeed. It will lose
      all its wars, because it is always in the wrong place and on the
      wrong side".

      It's difficult to argue with these bitter words of Anna
      Politkovskaya, especially since the author of these lines was as
      unsuccessful in his attempts to reach the Department (or the entire
      Directorate now, which is unbelievable!) for State Awards attached to
      the president's administration. My attempts to talk to their long–
      time and elusive boss, Nina Sivova, at least by phone, failed too
      (she was on a sick leave… on a business trip… meeting with her
      superiors… caught a cold…). And why did I need her? Just to find out
      how many people had received awards for the previous Chechen war, the
      First one…

      Politkovskaya finally managed to reach her only to hear: "… This
      information is classified… for the sake of security. We do not want
      those persons to have any trouble…"

      The response of the government official is just fantastic: the heroes
      of the bloody war are now afraid. Or maybe somebody is concerned
      about their safety. The statement of Sivova can also be interpreted
      one more way: it is safer being in a war zone than in civilian life
      in your own apartment, and the huge state machinery is incapable of
      guarding its heroes!

      But why should they be guarded and from whom? And what did they do if
      their names are classified and they have to hide from revenge?
      We find the answer on the same pages of Politkovskaya's book: a war
      is being waged which is not a sacred, popular undertaking, but rather
      a dirty, bloody and criminal business. Can there be any heroes among

      Sometimes you may come across some heroes though, for people are
      different, and not all are murderers. Anna Politkovskaya tells about
      Magomed Yandiev, a colonel in the Ingush police force who risked his
      own life to bring 89 elderly people out of a retirement home in
      besieged Grozny. He was recommended for the "Hero of Russia"
      decoration. He did not get this award, and never will! For "Yandiev
      is an Ingush, and Ingushes cannot be trusted". It isn't even his
      nationality that matters, for Hero bars are conferred on murderers
      rather than rescuers. This is why Putin will never approve the
      highest award for rescuers… And now Magomed Yandiev is sitting in
      front of me – an ordinary hero of the sick nation. He never robbed or
      raped anyone, nor did he slip the trophy women's underwear into the
      bosom of his camouflage. He rescued people.

      For this very reason he is not a general, and his `Hero' papers are
      rotting in Moscow safes.

      Though an old truth says that a feat is the other side of someone's
      baseness and sloppiness, you should agree that a war without heroes
      is not only an appalling, but a devastating diagnosis.

      It is this side of the war without heroes that Politkovskaya
      describes in her Novaya Gazeta every week. Her main character is
      simple and unpretentious: a man in a Chechen street, not necessarily
      a Chechen by nationality, more often a common man in the street who
      does not care about the political or economic background of the
      bloodshed, even less so about the stratagem behind it. His main
      burden is how to survive always and anywhere: under bombardment, mop–
      ups and aviation raids, when crossing a minefield, passing a post or
      going to a marketplace, when you may run into a landmine, a stray
      bullet or the same mop-up. Our tired average man with a heap of his
      own problems does not know anything about this side of "living" in
      the territory which is humbly designated as "the zone of the counter-
      terrorist operation". And in all sincerity we should admit that he is
      not willing to feel any empathy. If asked he would condemn militants
      and call for carpet bombing them. When he is bored with the news, he
      simply switches his TV-set to a different channel where it shows in a
      serial how these bearded men are wiped out in public places by cool
      guys wearing masks and camouflage.

      However, the average man refuses to accept the truth of the matter:
      they do not wipe out militants, but rather the same kind of average
      men engaged in making a living, and they don't do it in a battle, but
      rather in everyday life. Nor would the average man know anything
      about the mop–ups which degenerated into marauding massacres long
      ago. The average man plugs his ears, refusing to hear anything about
      the cruel tortures inflicted not on captives, but on commoners like
      himself seized in their own homes, streets or at military posts. Our
      snug average man wouldn't even want to admit to himself that men in
      masks and camouflage are common district police officers from the
      Motor Licensing and Inspection Department, or colonels (like Budanov)
      who work there in a "trade" which is not mentioned in reference-
      books –"sadism". They charge people for everything: for passing
      through a post, for the bodies of their loved ones, for the
      redemption of the living and for many other "services".

      The characters of Politkovskaya are real, not fictional, and that
      horrifies (if anyone is still capable of feeling any horror): they
      are refugees, officials, brigands in uniform and without it. And
      there's actually not a single person worthy of emulation, as they
      used to say several dozen years ago. Certainly it is neither the
      rapist and sadist Budanov, the former mufti Kadyrov, nor 16-year-old
      Magomed Idigov who was tortured with electric current, had German
      shepards set on him, led to the place of execution, and whose kidneys
      and lungs were badly damaged…

      This book will hardly be a big success. Pain is a poor commodity,
      even when it is in print. And Politkovskaya's book is so packed with
      appalling pain and horror, that the reader feels sick at once,
      imagining himself in this concentration camp! Only personal military
      experience helps get through this book, though the reading is like
      torture. I haven't felt such hopelessness since the days of horror
      that I experienced in the cellar of a Grozny five-storied panel house
      which was being bombed during the winter assault of the First war.
      The absolute gloom and hopelessness of the war has become a way of
      life, a livelihood for countless officials, a way of functioning for
      the entire nation.

      They may reproach (and they actually do) the military reporter
      Politkovskaya: yours is a one-sided picture; it shows nothing bright,
      only hangmen and their victims. But that's how it is. And who could
      give a comprehensive and all-round "picture" of this gloom? Someone
      must make at least some of us take a look into our national military
      machine. Someone must show us our possible future so that none might
      be able to say later, when jackboots rumble nearby and a "filter"
      operation with all its "delights" touches the indifferent with its
      tender bony hand: "We didn't know anything and hadn't been
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