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Book Reviews : Chechnya (2 titles)

Iuri Shchekochikhin, Zabytaia Chechnia : stranitsy iz voennykh bloknotov [Forgotten Chechnya, pages from the military notebooks] KRPA Olimp, Moscow, 2003, 303 p.

Silvia Serrano

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1Since the beginning of the war, Iuri Shchekochikhin, Chief editor of Novaia Gazeta, Iabloko MP and member of the Duma Security Committee, had regularly travelled to Chechnya as a reporter or as an MP for political or humanitarian missions. He  was able to observe first hand the conflict and its evolution. In july 2003, he died as a result of a strong allergic reaction, but the conditions of his death are not fully known and some people suspect he was actually poisoned1.

2This book, published in 2003, is constructed from his field notebooks -one each year-, the notes taken at the time of the events are followed by further details and comments written later on. The author does not pretend to bring about scoops or striking news; his book is rather a depressive chronicle of a dirty war, which cannot end. Even if the reconstruction of dialogues is not always convincing (with confusion between different periods), the evolution of the situation over ten years of war is made evident by the structure of the book. For example, it reminds us that, although there were more foreign fighterss in 1995-1996 than later on, the pressure at the time was directed toward voluntary soldiers coming from the former Soviet Union (Balts, Ukrainians, Georgians) rather than Islamic fighters.

3On that subject, the book gives some interesting facts : the Islamists arrested had Russian visas, and they mainly came to Chechnya through the Russian territory, not through Georgia, as it was claimed by Moscow. According to Iu. Shchekochikhin, the prestige, among Chechens, of the Saudi field commander Khattab was low; he also stresses that his influence as well as the jihadists’ were usually overestimated, although after September 11, the conflict was broadly depicted as a war against Islamist terrorism. Some questions of Russian journalists eager to know whether I. Shchekochikhin met with Ben Laden at a meeting between Duma MPs and Chechen separatists illustrates this shift in the perception of the war.

4The author depicts a depraved State despising Russian as much as Chechen citizens, civilians as much soldiers, where lies and trickery are the rule, and he shows the human consequences on the ground of widespread corruption and cynicism. Writing for the Russian public, he enumerates the questions left without answers about the goals of the war and its rationale: why was Khattab and Bassaev’s raid on Daghestan not prevented although the officials knew it was planned ? Who is responsible for the bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in September 1999 ?

5The author obviously sympathises with the victims of the war, no matter from which side they are. Even though his vision of Chechen officials is not naive, he shows Moscow as responsible for the war. As a reporter on Chechnya, he often visited Interior Troops, and he feels sympathetic towards these men compelled to wage a war they do not understand. Nevertheless, it is difficult to follow him when his indulgence turns into admiration and it is difficult to share his fascination for their courage and male values. The image of the brave and simple Russian soldier, passive victim of a war he is not liable for, is part of a stereotype. His vision of the Chechens is more diverse, even though he had few contacts with the civilians. Maskhadov –as well as his Minister for Foreign Affairs- is depicted as man of goodwill, dedicated to find a peaceful resolution.

6Private interests and political intrigues are given as the main rationale for the conflict. One can argue that the book, even if it was not its goal, lacks any key to understand why so many Chechens wanted independence from Russia. In spite of the author’s goodwill and his personnel involvement, the book depicts only a Russian vision of the story, illustrating, in this way, the lack of debate about the colonial dimension of Russian-Chechen relations.

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Notes

1 This came again at the front stage when the well known reporter Anna Politkovskaya was poisoned while trying to go to Beslan in September 2004. Luckily, she survived [Editor’s note].
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References

Bibliographical reference

Iuri Shchekochikhin, Zabytaia Chechnia : stranitsy iz voennykh bloknotov [Forgotten Chechnya, pages from the military notebooks] KRPA Olimp, Moscow, 2003, 303 p.

Electronic reference

Silvia Serrano, « Iuri Shchekochikhin, Zabytaia Chechnia : stranitsy iz voennykh bloknotov [Forgotten Chechnya, pages from the military notebooks] KRPA Olimp, Moscow, 2003, 303 p. », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 3 | 2005, Online since 03 October 2005, connection on 21 October 2017. URL : http://pipss.revues.org/422

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About the author

Silvia Serrano

University of Clermont 1, France

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Copyright

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License

This text is under a Creative Commons license : Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic

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