"Russian autocracy and the savagery in Chechnya". Commentary by prominent politicians and intellectuals (Daily Star)
- The Daily Star
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Russian autocracy and the savagery in Chechnya
By Prince El-Hassan bin Tala
Vaclav Havel, Andre Glucksmann, Prince Hassan bin Talal, Frederik Willem
de Klerk, Mary Robinson, Yohei Sasakawa, Karel Schwarzenberg, George
Soros, Desmond Tutu
It is extremely difficult for an honest observer to break through the
closed doors that separate Chechnya from the rest of the world. Indeed,
no one even knows how many civilian casualties there have been in 10
years of war.
According to estimates by non-governmental organizations, the figure is
between 100,000 (that is, one civilian out of 10) and 300,000 (one out
of four). How many voters participated in the November 2005 elections?
Between 60 and 80 percent, according to the Russian authorities; around
20 percent, reckon independent observers. The blackout imposed on
Chechnya prevents any precise assessment of the devastating effects of a
But censorship cannot completely hide the horror. Under the world's
eyes, a capital - Grozny, with 400,000 inhabitants - was razed for the
first time since Hitler's 1944 punishment of Warsaw. Such inhumanity
cannot plausibly be described as "anti-terrorism," as Russian President
Vladimir Putin insists. The Russian military leadership claims to be
fighting against a party of 700 to 2,000 combatants. What would be said
if the British government had bombed Belfast, or if the Spanish
government had bombed Bilbao, on the pretext of quelling the IRA or the ETA?
And yet the world remains silent in the face of the looting of Grozny
and other Chechen towns and villages. Are Chechen women, children, and
all Chechen civilians less entitled to respect than the rest of mankind?
Are they still considered human? Nothing can excuse the seeming
indifference displayed by our worldwide silence.
In Chechnya, our basic morality is at stake. Must the world accept the
rape of girls who were kidnapped by the occupying forces or their
militias? Should we tolerate the murder of children and the abduction of
boys to be tortured, broken, and sold back to their families, alive or
dead? What about "filtration" camps, or "human firewood?" What about the
villages exterminated to set an example? A few NGOs and some brave
Russian and Western reporters have witnessed countless crimes. So we
cannot say "we did not know."
Indeed, the fundamental principle of democracies and civilized states is
at issue in Chechnya: civilians' right to life, including the protection
of innocents, widows, and orphans. International agreements and the
United Nations Charter are as binding in Chechnya as anywhere else. The
right of nations to self-determination does not imply the right of
rulers to dispose of their people.
The fight against terrorism is also at stake. Who has not yet realized
that the Russian Army is actually behaving like a group of pyromaniac
firefighters, fanning the fires of terrorism through its behavior? After
10 years of large-scale repression, the fire, far from going out, is
spreading, crossing borders, setting the Northern Caucasus ablaze and
making combatants even fiercer.
How much longer can we ignore the fact that, in raising the bogeyman of
"Chechen terrorism," the Russian government is suppressing the liberties
gained when the Soviet empire collapsed? The Chechen war both masks and
motivates the re-establishment of centralized power in Russia - bringing
the media back under state control, passing laws against NGOs, and
reinforcing the "vertical line of power" - leaving no institutions and
authorities able to challenge or limit the Kremlin. War, it seems, is
hiding a return to autocracy.
Sadly, wars in Chechnya have been going on for 300 years. They were
savage colonial conflicts under the czars and almost genocidal ones
under Stalin, who deported the whole Chechen population, a third of
which perished during their transfer to the Gulag.
Because we reject colonial and exterminating ventures, because we love
Russian culture and believe that Russia can bloom in a democratic
future, and because we believe that terrorism - whether by stateless
groups or state armies - should be condemned, we demand that the world's
blackout on the Chechen issue must end. We must help Russia's
authorities escape from the trap they set for themselves and into which
they fell, putting not only Chechens and Russians, but the world at risk.
It would be tragic if, during the G8 summit scheduled for St.
Petersburg, Russia, in June 2006, the Chechen issue were pushed to the
side. This dreadful and endless war needs to be discussed openly if it
is to end peacefully.
Vaclav Havel was president of the Czech Republic. Andre Glucksmann is a
French intellectual. Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan is moderator of
the World Conference of Religions for Peace. Frederik Willem de Klerk
was president of South Africa. Mary Robinson was president of Ireland.
Yohei Sasakawa is a Japanese philanthropist. Karel Schwarzenberg, a
former chancellor to President Havel, was chairperson of the Helsinki
Conference for Human Rights. George Soros is chairman of the Open
Society Institute. Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. THE DAILY
STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate