Linked with Anna Politkovskaya – Russian Federation (1958 – 2006), and with Children of Chechen “Spetzoperations”.
From the Polish daily newspaper “Rzeczpospolita“, April 27, 2002, interview with Anna Politkovskaya:
Karol Wrubel: President Putin has been ruling Russia for two years. During that time the economy has been revived and foreign policy has been reoriented. Only the war in Chechnya is still going on. Society is observing it with growing apathy.
Anna Politkovskaya: I get a lot of letters, 40% of them are against the war, in the rest of them people condemn my anti-war views. In the Russian media there’s a lack of information regarding this subject, not like during the first war from 1994-96. In this information emptiness, actions of authorities are supported by a huge propaganda machine. This machine has been able to create a picture of the enemy. This enemy living down south, they called them “blacks”.
Thanks to that, for many people it’s easier to put up with reality of life or break down with nostalgy for the past: to live with the enemy is much more comfortable – it’s possible to devolve the responsibility for defeats, failures on it. There’s no absence of verbal abuse and swear-words in letters addressed to me. But, people read my articles because there’s no information in the media. If we’re going to have more of this kind of articles, maybe the Russian public opinion will change its views, on what’s going on in Chechnya.
Q: During the first war you hadn’t written about Chechnya?
A: I was working at “Obshchaya Gazeta” then, this subject was taken by my collegues, they had appropriate conctacts, experience, I was writing that time about military hospitals, refugees. For the first time I flew to Grozny in 1998, to conduct an interview with president Maskhadov. People were kidnapped at that time, there was trafficking in prisoners, and Maskhadov himself didn’t really know how to cope with this. This biggest impression on me made those crowds of bearded men – for them, all of journalists from Russia were officers of the FSB; waves of fleeing people, I’ve had worked already for “Novaya Gazeta” and editor-in-chief asked me to take the subject of Chechnya seriously. In the Caucasus, the big role play contacts with people, they give you some warranty of security, after each trip there’s more of them.
Q: Since then, you’ve been to Chechnya more than 40 times. You were arrested last year, you were threaten with death, Gazeta had had sent you to the West. Your son, before he gets into a car, checks it out very carefully to find if a bomb is not planted on it. Are you afraid?
A: I’m afraid a lot. During every trip. But, if I wanted to live without fear and risk, I would became a teacher or a housewife. There’s a risk written in the profession of journalist, so this talk about my fear doesn’t have any sense. The editor-in-chief asked me to take this subject and that’s enough.
Q: It doesn’t make you think why people don’t flee Chechnya? There’s still shooting there, soldiers perish, civillians. A Russian woman – acquaintance of mine told me, if she were a Chechen mother, she would taken her children and fled. They would be more secure if she were to beg for bread near church in Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk.
A: Many Chechens dream about leaving, but to where they can escape? Does it matter that they’re citizens of Russia?. Nobody is waiting for them in Russia, not even for Russians who used to live in Grozny before. Those people are not able to create a new life somewhere else – the country rejects them. A Chechen had been killed, not so long ago in Ivanov, only because he was Chechen. This nation is exposed to agression and humiliation. Why they don’t flee abroad? Till now, the Interior Ministry instruction stating that Chechens musn’t get passports for travel abroad has been in full force. They can buy a passport for 250-300 USD, but that’s a sky-high amount for them. The poorest have remained in Chechnya, those better off have left it a long time ago.
Q: In Poland, every now and again, we hear about problems that Chechens are facing, trying to get political asylum. From the side of authorities we hear arguments that they don’t deserve this status, because after their return to Russia they’re not threaten with any repressions.
A: The Chechens are in Russia the nation non grata. Even for me it’s strange, that it has to be explained to people in Poland, that they meet with repressions in their own country and they have a right to get asylum in democratic countries. I had been describing many such cases: a Chechen comes to Moscow to do some business; police plants on him narcotics and grenades; the Chechen lands behind bars. At the start of war, soldiers called them “chekhs”, now they say about Chechens not otherwise than “apes”.
Q: In the eyes of authorithy’s representatives there are also “good” Chechens?
A: Even those who are pro-Russian, those who collaborate with the authorities, are barely tolerated. In one of my last articles, I’ve described a family with the totally pro-Moscow views. Father was a Colonel in the Russian police, his son had joined the Chechen one, he wanted to participate in bringing order there. He had been shot during one of many “zachistkas”. His body has been taken away somewhere, and till this day it can’t be found. Chechens who are employed in the administration complain that their Russian supervisers treat them as people of worse kind. Some Colonel of Chechen police complained to me that they don’t get promotions, rewards. Apes don’t deserve that.
Q: What’s a “zachistka”. Were you a witness to it?
A: Many times. Military surrounds a villlage or a town. The whole Grozny was subjected to this type of operations. Blockade can last for many days, there’s a ban on travelling to other localities, sometime it’s not even allowed to walk from house to house. Military controls documents. I used to know well some old man from Stariye Atagi, he came out in the front of his house convinced that his papers are OK. In next moment he was dead. That happened in the spring of 2000, just after the assault on Grozny. Today “zachistka” that’s an act of ordinary marauding. Russian soldiershave to be payed 1000 roubles, and then a man won’t be taken a filtration point. Price depends on the material situation of a house that’s being searched. It goes up if there’s furniture, kitchen dishes in it. Lately in Stariye Atagi, for 300-500 roubles Russian soldiers were ready to give up rape of local women.
Q: How do you explain this kind of behaviour?
A: It’s hard to comprehend this. From one side, those young men, who are a few months in Chechnya, without contacts with women, I understand – in this wild, war conditions – their hankering for rape. They want a woman, but if they get payed 300-500 roubles, they don’t want her anymore. Maybe for them, the more important than their sexual urge, is the need to humiliate? All kind of pleasure in humiliation. I promise her that I won’t rape her, but she must pay me 300 roubles…
Q: What are sources of this demoralization?
A: The young soldiers live in terrible conditions for months. It’s needed for a few weeks not to wash himself, to eat very poorly. Fear, alcohol, feet that have been rotting from dirt, a human being has been slowly changing into beast. Already, a long time ago they quit to obey all regulations. Anarchy and chaos rule in the military. Russia is sending its men in the military uniforms to Chechnya, in the same time they are told: are you sick and tired of everything? do you want to live to the fullest? lower your stress level?. Have a pleasure, Chechen apes are living there. You can do whatever you want, you don’t have be afraid of punishment, in any case as the military men say, “vali, vsiekh prikroyem” (in Russian – have a go, we’ll cover you all. M.L.).
Q: Doesn’t anybody in the military understand that these acts deepen a process of autodestruction of the army?
A: When I come to Chechnya, almost always some officer tries to arrange a discreet talk with me. I hear praises then: “I read your articles, you’re right, this what’s going on here is terrible, it needs to be stopped. If some help is needed, please ask myself.” But, the same officers in the presence of their collegues join the choir of condemnations and insults. Then, I hear that I humiliate and offend the Russian soldiers. In the last year, Colonel Anatoli Khriechkov, a military commisar, dared to give me an official interview. In his opinion, in Chechnya, it would be needed to introduce ban on alcohol, it’s imperative to stricly obey regulations, officers should be responsible personally for behaviour and actions of their subordinates, they should be accounted for it. Not long ago, I’d met colonel Khriechkov again, and he says: ” You know, after this interview I was really in trouble”. His friends in the high places in the General Staff were barely able to defend him.
In January of this year, in the Shatoy region, a group of GRU officers had killed and burnt six persons. This case was investigated and officers had been arrested, only because a Major from the Defence Ministry, who was a witness in these events radioed the Prosecutor Office. Thanks to him those murders had been cought practically red handed. But now, the Major is in serious trouble. And what about if he wasn’t there? In many cases of crimes that have been comitted by the military men, prosecutors arrive too late or not at all, or have problems to get a vehicle.
In September of 2001, a helicopter with two Russian generals on board was shot down over Grozny. One of them was Pozdniakov. He was sent to Grozny by the president, he gave him full powers to collect materials about crimes that have been comitted by the military. I didn’t know him well, but I was under impression that he understood the need to clean up the army. The official communique lied the blame for the death of general on “Chechen bandits”. I was in Chechnya then. The city was under total blockade. The helicopter could had been only shot down by people who were interested to hide truth. If death, for not minding their own business, threatens generals supposedly supported by the Kremlin, then we’ll have less heroes who are ready to follow their footsteps.
Q: In Chechnya, thousands of Russian soldiers have perished, many more have been wounded. But, the country doesn’t really care about it…
A: Mothers of soldiers who were killed in garrisons because of “dedovshchina” ( violent hazing of conscripts M.L) are often come to see me. “It would be better, if they were killed in Chechnya, at least they would recognized them as heroes.” – when I hear this kind of talk, I’m speechless. That means that they have also became victims of the state propaganda. After all, there’s nothing more important for a mother than her own child. In big cities there are working Soldiers’ Mothers Committees, some protests are taking place, the youth demands the right to substitute for the military service. So, in Chechnya mostly boys from the countryside are in the military service. I’m getting conviced about that when I’m visiting military hospitals.They were born in 1981-83. Those were times where our health and educational system was going down the tubes. Those boys are undernourished, uneducated, forgotten by their parents.
Q: From where people in Chechnya get money for their survival?
A: The best luck have those with grandpas-pensioners, for many families their pensions that’s the main source of cash. Women trade on bazaars in whatever is possible. Families with small children can count on some support, so there are some scams when they register “dead souls of children”.
Q: Moscow bureaucrats are assuring that Chechnya will be rebuild soon. Is that possible?
A: I’ve been hearing thist for the last five years. Buildings could be rebuild, however if you take under consideration our Russian corruption and sluggishness even this is doubtful. But what hurts me the most is that, there’s absolutely no chance that Chechens could trust and like Russia in the near future.
Q: The Chechen war will still play a role in Russian politics. Do you believe that Putin will be willing to sit down to talks and finish this war?
A: Putin that’s an intelligent politician, and for sure, he will be keen one day to come out as a creator of peace. Maybe before the elections to the parliament in the end of 2003, certainly before the presidential elections in 2004. But during his presidency, in the front of our eyes, there are things happening which can only arouse our dismay. During Yeltisin’s time, at the beginning of his rule, we were going in the opposite direction, from the official side we had been being assured that the most important is a human being and its rights. We can’t exist without our state, but its significance is much smaller then an individual person. Now, we’re hearing something different, well known from the Soviet times. Above all, only the state counts and its interest, a person counts when it is servicing its state. There has came an odour of our old, well known ideology. For many that’s a source of happines – now it’s going to be as it had been before.
Q: Do you want us, those living beyond Russia’s borders, to do something more on the issue of Chechnya?
A: Putin doesn’t care what the Russian media say and write about him. Although, he watches the Western ones, trying hard that they would shown him there in his best light. So, there is some chance. The world media should pay more attention to what is going on in Chechnya and the Caucasus. Happily, when I was in London not long ago, accepting the “Index” award, (Most Courageous Defence of Freedom of Expression from the English magazine “Index on Censorship” M.L.) I was surprised that the English press and TV were interested in what I was saying.
Q: Are you going to Chechnya again?
A: Yes I am, the next week.
Karol Wrubel talked with Anna in Moscow. Translation from Polish: Marius.