For at least ten years, Chechnya has been regarded negatively all over the world. It symbolises not only the most violent forms of war and human savagery, the Apocalypse on Earth, but also separatist pride and rebellion against Moscow. At the centre of this is the Chechen people, depicted by great Russian authors, from Pushkin to Lermontov to Tolstoy, as one of the proudest and most indomitable in the world, fiercely protective of their origins, characteristics and traditions, which they are determined to preserve at all costs, and profoundly attached to their roots, their land and their pre-colonial past.
Davide Monteleone – Spasibo
Today Chechnya is an autonomous republic in the Russian Federation. Davide Monteleone went there very briefly for the first time in 2003 on a press visit, and then again in 2007. He saw how much the country had changed during these years: thanks to the billions invested by Moscow in rebuilding, skyscrapers, parks and new centres of power sprang up and exiles gradually returned home, though not all.
Subdued and pacified by force, Chechnya was depicted as a winner in official Russian rhetoric, held up as a model of virtue and an example for the neighbouring republics in the Caucasus. At the same time, democracy was abolished, the opposition crushed, all dissent silenced and there was a sort of freeze on social progress, or even an outright return to the Middle Ages. For his latest project, between January and April 2013, the photojournalist wanted to go back to investigate Chechen identity today. Above all, he wanted to know whether Chechnya or Russia had emerged victorious from the conflict. The answer is undeniably Russia. But if you look at it from a different standpoint, the answer is perhaps not so clear-cut.
Chechnya did not achieve the independence it yearned for, but today enjoys a level of autonomy from Moscow that is unthinkable for the other republics in the region or any other area in the Federation. The Putin protégé Ramzan Kadyrov, son of Akhmad, the religious and political leader assassinated in 2003, holds absolute power and has almost limitless resources and support from Moscow. He rules the little republic like a feudal lord, rebuilding and remodelling not only the destroyed infrastructure, but also and especially the attitudes and identity of the population.
In Chechnya today, people speak their formerly banned language, dance traditional dances to the exclusion of almost anything else, while there are few Russians left (orthodox Christians) who are mainly confined to a few military bases and the region north of Terek. Islam, the other great casus belli, is now enthusiastically promoted. In carrying out the Islamisation the rebels dreamt of, the government has given the religion a contemporary twist, creating a mixture of fanaticism and misogyny, of Sufi mysticism and medieval tradition, of orientalism and localism. Society is under close surveillance, alcohol is forbidden and polygamy encouraged, in blatant violation of Russian law.
Oil, however, remains in Russian hands. Chechnya receives a few royalties for its extraction, but it is one of the republics in the Russian Federation that receives the most aid from Moscow.
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