[Marxism] The case for Chechnya

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 27 09:22:46 MST 2004

New Left Review 30, November-December 2004

Eager to embrace Putin, Western rulers and pundits continue to connive at 
the Russian occupation of Chechnya, as Moscow’s second murderous war in the 
Caucasus enters its sixth year. Traditions of resistance, popular demands 
for sovereignty and Russia’s brutal military response, in Europe’s 
forgotten colony.




"What happened was what always happens when a state possessing great 
military strength enters into relations with primitive, small peoples 
living their independent lives. Either on the pretext of self-defence, even 
though any attacks are always provoked by the offences of the strong 
neighbour, or on the pretext of bringing civilization to a wild people, 
even though this wild people lives incomparably better and more peacefully 
than its civilizers . . . the servants of large military states commit all 
sorts of villainy against small nations, insisting that it is impossible to 
deal with them in any other way."

Leo Tolstoy, 1902 draft of Hadji Murat

In the decade and a half since the end of the Cold War, the map of Eastern 
Europe has been comprehensively redrawn. More than a dozen new countries 
have appeared as a result of the break-up of the Soviet Union and the 
Yugoslav wars of succession, an arc of newly sovereign states stretching 
from Estonia to Azerbaijan. The majority of them have, at the prompting of 
the us, been incorporated into Euro-Atlantic defence structures, and 
several were ushered into the eu earlier this year; Estonia, Latvia and 
Lithuania now form the outer perimeter of the Single Market, while Georgia 
and Ukraine have advanced their cases for nato membership. The continent 
has been transformed.

Chechnya provides a stark contrast to these trajectories. Here, as in the 
Baltic states, a national independence movement emerged during perestroika, 
and a broad national consensus for secession was democratically ratified in 
late 1991. Earlier the same year the citizens of Estonia, Latvia and 
Lithuania overwhelmingly voted for separation from the ussr; the results of 
the referenda were quickly approved by the ussr’s Supreme Soviet and the 
three new nations, with populations of 1.6 million, 2.7 million and 3.7 
million respectively, were admitted to the un within a matter of weeks. But 
Chechnya—at 15,000 square kilometres, slightly smaller than Wales, and with 
a population of around a million—has, since 1991, suffered two full-scale 
assaults by the world’s fifth-largest military force, and is now entering 
the sixth year of a vicious occupation designed to reduce the populace to 
starvation and submission. While citizens of the Baltic states are now able 
to cross Europe’s borders freely, Chechens must endure Russian checkpoints 
and zachistki—‘clean-up’ operations, ostensibly for checking identity 
papers—which routinely result in the torture, ransom, disappearance or 
summary execution of those arrested, as well as the pillaging and further 
impoverishment of those who remain. The devastation is unthinkable, the 
brutality endless and unchecked, while the casualties remain largely uncounted.

Discussions of the Russo-Chechen conflict have rarely focused on this 
staggering divergence of fortunes, often preferring the state-sponsored 
obfuscations of the ‘war on terror’, or else characterizing it as the all 
but inevitable product of a long-running historical antagonism. The legacy 
of Chechen resistance to Russian colonization—from the first confrontations 
with Cossack settlers in the sixteenth century to the southward expansion 
of the Tsarist Empire in the nineteenth century, and well into the Soviet 
period—has undoubtedly played a role in galvanizing the movement for 
secession. A strong impetus would also have come from the experience of 
deportation and exile suffered by several North Caucasian peoples in 1944. 
The immediate roots of the present war, meanwhile, can be found in the 
Kremlin’s cynical plan to hoist Putin into power, and to reverse the 
defeats suffered in 1994–96.

But underpinning Chechen resistance, past and present, has been a 
consistent struggle for self-determination. The Chechens’ demands are 
comparatively modest—full sovereignty, retaining economic and social ties 
with Russia—and have a sound constitutional basis. The response, however, 
has been staggeringly disproportionate, with Russian forces unleashing 
attacks of a ferocity unmatched in these lands since the Second World War. 
In the West, on the rare occasions that attention is devoted to Chechnya 
there has been almost total unanimity that Chechen independence is not to 
be countenanced, for the good of Russian democracy and its nascent 
capitalism. What follows is an attempt to demonstrate the weakness in fact, 
and shamefulness in principle, of the arguments used to deny the 
fundamental right of the Chechen people to govern themselves.

full: http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR26401.shtml

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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