Chechnya pacified and renewed: that is the image that has been shattered by the assassination of Natalia Estemirova. And once again it raises questions about the nature of Russian authority.
In April, Russia had announced the end of a ten year anti-terrorist operation in the province. In May, for the first time in five years, Chechen troops paraded in Grozny to commemorate the end of World War Two. 20 000 Russian soldiers are set to withdraw next September; the Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov claimed the rule of law had all but been re-established.
“There is a rule of law here, on the territory of the Chechen republic,” he said. “Yes there are still some bandits out there, tens of them, but every day we catch them, destroy them, we have special insitutions dealing with them, like the interior ministry, our government is doing its work and through the joint efforts we have prosperity and stability, people are happy.”
A reconstruction programme was launched by Kadyrov, while in parellel the police and military presence was increased to reinforce security. Estemirova herself however warned that despite appearances violence continued under the surface.
“We’ve recorded many fewer cases of kidnapping, but that doesn’t mean to say they’ve stopped. Before people disappeared completely whereas now most of the time they return home two or three days later, brutally beaten. These people prefer not to tell anyone about their experience and that creates the concept of hidden crime in Chechnya, the level of hidden crime is very high.”
She opposed the imposition of the islamic headscarf in schools, arguing tradition was being manipulated to serve authoritarianism.
“I think first of all it is a result of the desire to install dictatorship and to subdue certain parts of the population. And the men are silent about it, they don’t say it contradicts tradition. Because it is one way: it is men who impose the scarf on women.”
In April Kadyrov argued polygamy might be a good idea to make up for the shortage of men in Chechnya after more than a decade of armed conflict.
He suggested this might be a way of ensuring Chechnyan women get a good start in life.