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Chechnya: elections vs reality

About the authors
Charlie Devereux is a freelance journalist and photographer. He was a member of the openDemocracy editorial team from August to December 2005
David Hayes is deputy editor of openDemocracy, which he co-founded in 2000. He has written textbooks on human rights and terrorism, and was a contributor to Town and Country (Jonathan Cape, 1998). His work has been published in PN Review, the Irish Times, El Pais, the Iran Times International, the Canberra Times, the Scotsman, the New Statesman and The Absolute Game

He has edited five print collections of material from the openDemocracy website, including Europe and Islam; Turkey: Writers, Politics, and Free Speech; and Europe: Visions, Realities, Futures. He is the editor of Fred Halliday's Political Journeys - the openDemocracy Essays (Saqi, 2011)

On 27 November 2005 the people of Chechnya will go to the polls to elect a parliament in the capital, Grozny. The process is seen by the Russian Federation – of which the north Caucasus republic is a constituent part – as an important step in the territory’s “Chechenisation”: that is, the gradual transfer of political and administrative responsibilities from Russia to local authorities.

Also on openDemocracy, a debate on political strains in the Caucasus, including:

Susan Richards, “Chechnya and Iraq: imperial echoes, militant warnings” (July 2003)

Jeremy Putley, “Crime without punishment: Russian policy in Chechnya” (July 2003)

Thomas de Waal, “The north Caucasus: politics or war” (September 2004)

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The wider background to the election is one of eleven years of horrendous violence: two brutal invasions by Russian forces, intense and violent resistance by Chechen nationalists, devastation of entire towns and villages, massacres and disappearances, and the degradation in the conditions of life of the vast majority of the republic’s approximately 1.3 million people.

The two Chechen wars (1994-96 and 2000-present) have failed to resolve the competing claims of the Russian state for full integration of Chechnya within the federation and of Chechen nationalists for full independence. Many Chechens, however – weary of war, ready to accept a compromise with Russia or cowed by its overlordship, ambitious for preferment, determined to oppose the current of radical Islamism among some Chechen insurgents, or persuaded that it is the best way forward for their country – have decided to participate in the Russian-sponsored political processes.

A new report co-published by several human-rights NGOs – the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Demos and Memorial – claims that these processes are a masquerade behind which human-rights abuses and a lack of political transparency persist.

The report – entitled In a Climate of Fear – “Political Process” and Parliamentary Elections in Chechnya – sees the 27 November elections as being conducted under a climate of fear and a threat of violence. In particular, it questions the role of Ramzan Kadyrov, successor to his father Akhmad – assassinated at a Victory Day parade in Grozny in May 2004 – as leader of the Russian-backed Chechen administration. The Kadyrov family, former warlords, have been granted control of the Chechen armed forces which they effectively deploy as their own private army (the kadyrovtsy) to intimidate any opposition to the settlement advocated by the Russians.

The report concludes that what Chechnya needs is not these controlled elections, but a new political dispensation: one where candidates who advocate independence from Russia can stand, where the media is free of intimidation, where a people now exhausted by continuous warmongering can think freely and plan their own future.

In the absence of these minimum conditions for a secure and ordered life, the Chechnya elections of 27 November 2005 will only serve “to consolidate the protracted conflict and feed the continuous cycle of violence.”

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