Independence and state of Chechnya
Date: August 6, 2000
The reason why the Chechens want to create their own state is clear. For centuries, Chechens have been victimised and persecuted by Russian authorities. Russian czars in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Bolsheviks in the early 20th century, Stalin in mid-20th century, Yeltsin in the 1990s and now Putin, they all have had the same policy towards the Chechens. The Czarist regime in Russia was replaced by a Bolshevik one in 1917, that in turn was replaced by a so-called 'democratic' regime in 1991. And yet, the Chechens felt little difference. They have always been victims of Russian imperialistic policies. The Chechens have been given only two options: to become Russians by assimilating to the Russians and accepting "Russian moral" (as General Shamanov put it) or to die as Chechens. We have always chosen the second option. Therefore, what the Chechens want to achieve is security. Under the current world order, only statehood is able to provide security for the Chechens. Thus, this is the aim of our struggle, and nothing less than full independence is acceptable.
In order to understand what kind of state we want to build, it is essential to understand why we have been so determined in our struggle for so long. Our determination has been defined by our eagerness to be self-masters. Therefore, independent Chechnya will never be based on anything except the will of the people. Chechen society is characterised by a large number of taips (clans). Every Chechen identifies himself first with his family and second with his taip. A society with such a structure is bound to seek a formula that enables the interests of all to be presented in government. Although there is no perfect solution, the best available form is democracy. However, different democratic states are characterised by different types of democracy. In addition, state structures also vary. Thus, we sometimes speak of social democracy, liberal democracy, and even of totalitarian democracy. We sometimes also have the same form democracy in states that have different structures. Or on the contrary, we can find states with similar structures but with different forms of democracy. Surely, Chechnya is bound to find its own type of democracy and state structure.
Here, Chechens should look back at their past. Up to the 19th century, Chechnya had well working democratic institutions and procedures. Every village had its own democratic assembly called "Urt-Khell", which had its deputies in National Assembly "Makhk-Khell", which represented a supreme authority. The National Assembly had authority to decide issues of national matter, while the local assemblies dealt with local issues. It was a decision of the Assembly that appointed Dagestani Shamil as an Imam of Chechnya. Ironically, it was Imam Shamil's decision to name his son Gazi-Magomed as his successor that destroyed Chechen support for him. Something similar occurred in 1997, when several leaders decided to set up a so called "Shura" - "Council". The idea might not have been bad, if it was not done in a wrong way: the opinion of the people of Chechnya was not sought. That is, democratic procedures and democratic institutions were ignored. This is why the Shura failed. In reality it was an anti-constitutional coup, which did not have any chance for success for 400 years of resistance to Russian rule, any attempt to impose a totalitarian rule almost automatically caused natural resistance from the Chechens.
These two examples prove that totalitarian rule will not survive in Chechnya. This is also why so called "Russian Presidential Rule" and Moscow-imposed puppet governments will never gain support among Chechens. And this is why independent Chechnya is bound to be a democratic state. This is also true because democracy is not a western innovation for Chechens but rather something that they invented long time ago. Since Chechens love a large degree of personal freedom and choice, liberal democracy seems to be the best option. However, concepts of negative and positive liberty coexist in Chechen society in a most interesting way. While there is a large degree of freedom for individuals in every family, there are also a large number of common rules and common values that cannot be ignored. For instance, it is perfectly accepted in Chechnya that everyone knows his best interests better than someone else. However, there are many common unwritten rules, wisdom of which no one doubts. For example, certain decisions by the elders on different issues are strictly complied with. Nevertheless, certain issues are considered to be within 'the jurisdiction' of the young ones. Thus, in the beginning of the 1994-96 Russian/Chechen War, the decision to fight was made by the younger generation.
Woman in the Chechen society is seen as a caring sister, a loving wife and a kind mother. Housework is also left for women. However, there are no restrictions as to women education and employment. The best example perhaps can be the fact that the Official Representative of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria to Lithuania is a woman, Mrs. Aminat Saieva. For centuries of fighting, women have always been a part of the resistance and Chechen folklore is full of songs and stories about various heroic acts by Chechen women. The latest example can be the courageous anti-Russian demonstrations of Chechen women in Grozny in 1995 and 1996, which have been shown on TV around the world. A number of Chechen women were also awarded the highest State awards during and after the first war. Women also held various public offices in various government agencies before and after the first war. As they always have done, women continue to play a significant role in Chechen society.
Chechnya is populated not only by ethical Chechens. Almost 10% of the population are non-Chechen. Luckily, there have never been ethnic problems in Chechnya. Chechen society has always had a tolerance towards ethnic and religious minorities. It is a well-known fact that many Russians and North Caucasians fled from Russia to Chechnya even while Russian-Chechen Wars were going on. In the 18th and 19th century the main reason for this was Russian serfdom. Czarist soldiers also fled to Chechnya because of 25 years long military duty in the Russian army, which almost always meant that that the only chance to survive for the soldiers was to flee. Moreover, each time when a Russian-Chechen war broke out, there always was a limited number of ethnic Russians that fought along with the Chechens. Although Islam was propagated among them, there has not been a single case of forceful conversion. Indeed, it is well a known fact that Imam Shamil in 19th century allowed Russian soldiers that were present in his Army to build Christian churches in Chechnya. It is also true that despite of the fact that Russians have always been intentionally destroying Muslim Mosques in Chechnya, not a single Christian Church was destroyed by the Chechens. On the contrary, the Central Christian Church in Grozny was almost totally destroyed by Russian bombs and shells in 1995. An estimated 18.000 ethnic Russian civilians were also killed by the same bombs and shells during the 1994-96 war.
Despite of attempts by Russian security services to cause anti-Russian violence in Chechnya, ethnic hatred has never appeared. Moreover, there were a number of cases when local Russians saved Chechen fighters and Chechen property during the first war. For instance, when the Russians captured Grozny in 1995, it were local ethnic Russians who prevented my brother's apartment from being robbed and blown apart by Russian OMON units in the Breaks area of Grozny. Of course, there were cases when some local ethnic Russian individuals would ask the Russian military units to detain some Chechens in order to occupy their property. However, this never became a mass tendency.
Another fact from history deserves some attention too. After the Chechen deportation in 1944, a local rabbi organised a meeting of a local Jewish community and warned everyone not to take any Chechen household goods or any other property. This story is still remembered by the Chechens and passed on from generation to generation. These and numerous other similar facts prove that there is no reason for ethnic intolerance and discrimination in independent Chechnya. Indeed, having been so severely denied rights and freedoms, and having fought for them for centuries, Chechens have developed a natural sense of hatred to injustice and are bound to provide all necessary rights and freedoms for religious and ethnic minorities in Independent Chechnya. These rights and freedoms are quite clearly fixed in the Chechen constitution and have to be uphold strictly. Peculiarities of the Chechen society require to be taken into account in reforming the current structure of the Chechen State. Taips should not be seen as negative externalities but rather as positive features that if rightly understood can provide stability and consensus in political and social life in Chechnya.
It seems to be a positive idea to replace the current one chamber Parliament by a bicameral one that is divided into Upper and Lower House. The Upper House should be represented by elected heads of taips as well as elected heads of ethnic minorities in Chechnya. It should be given authority similar to the House of Lords in Britain, with some corrections. In addition, death sentences should be subjected to approval by the Upper House. Presidency in the House should be passed from one representative to another after a short time (EU model).
There will be a number of benefits from such innovations. The most important two are as follows:
1) It will better represent the interests of the Chechen society, including those of minorities.
2) It will provide a mechanism for a consensus between and among taips and different groups of Chechnya.
The Lower House should retain the current mechanism of composition. However, some of its powers should be given to the Upper House. The Lower House should also be substantially reformed. Formation and strengthening of parties should be encouraged in the political life of Chechnya. Prime Minister and Cabinet members should come from a party (or parties) that holds a majority in the House. Presidency should be retained but the powers of the President should limited to foreign policy.
The main reason behind this is that such a mechanism will bring a team to power, not just an individual. The problem with election of a president is that whenever a president is elected, he/she spends almost half of his/her term-time building up his/her team and the second half preparing for re-election. While a party-based government is likely to have well-thought policy plans and be ready for the office duties. Moreover, composition of a party will enable the electorate to see not only who is a leader but also who his team-mates are. A similar model is seen in Britain. On the one hand, a 'shadow' minister, who knows the relevant issues as much as the government minister does, subjects the relevant government minister to professional criticism. On the other hand, such a system enables the ruling party to pass bills through parliament easily, since the party has a majority in the House. Furthermore, a leader of a party is likely to be a person with real abilities to lead. All the reforms discussed above should be well thought out and clearly fixed in the constitution. None of this will work if the constitution is not obeyed strictly. The constitution is supposed to be a supreme law and it must be maintained as such. The principles of the rule of law should be propagated and upheld. Particularly, no-one should be above law.
Such political reforms are likely to create a consensus in the society. Nevertheless, economical reforms will matter almost as much as the political ones. The post-war government will have to start almost from the beginning. A free and fair economic reform is essential, since the Chechens' struggle for freedom should not be understood as only a struggle for a national/political freedom but also as struggle for the right to live a decent life. Thus, no oligarchs should be tolerated and monopoly of few should be avoided.
Generally speaking, a balance between inward- and outward-looking policies will have to be found. First, all major industries and companies will have to be nationalised. However, Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' will work only in a free market. A well thought out privatisation program has to be carried out. Importantly, foreign companies should be given a free and fair access to the privatisation process. After all, it does not matter who owns a company, what matters is how many taxes are paid by the company into state budget. Oil exports should be pursued, but the oil revenue should be spent on import substitution policies. Crucially, an own currency should be introduced as soon as possible. There is nothing scaring about it. To decrease inflation expectations, a fixed exchange rate should be maintained in the beginning. Without developed financial markets, downward pressure on the currency is likely to be absent in the first decade or so of independent Chechnya. Introduction of the currency will also expand government's possible expenditure frontiers. This is so because day-to-day demand for foreign currency is likely to be less than 100% - basically, a simple banking principle.
Education should be encouraged across Chechnya. A man with a gun should be replaced by a man with education and business success. Government should provide scholarship programs for education in Western universities. English should have to be taught as a compulsory language. Private schools and universities should be encouraged. However, state owned education should also be provided.
To create security in and around Chechnya, integration with Caucasian states should be pursued. Ideally, an EU model for Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Chechnya should be advocated. However, this is a long-time goal. In the immediate future, cultural and economic integration should be followed. Sport can play a major role as a starting point. Chechnya should advocate the elimination of conflicts in Abkhazia and Karabagh, as well as in other parts of the Caucasus. This should only be done by diplomacy and co-operation with all interested parties. In no way should Chechnya get involved in any kind of military incidents in the Caucasus and indeed anywhere else.
However, Chechnya should seek a role in the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe and OIC. Perhaps the UN will benefit from Chechen-based peacekeeping troops. At least, there will be no embarrassment for the UN as in Sierra Leone and Bosnia. Relations with Russia will have to be normalised. However, this will be possible only if Russia will desire it too. There should be neither defeat nor victory for Russia or Chechnya. Acceptable terms of a political solution should be found. Losing a former colony is always painful. Chechnya should help Russia to see the independence of Chechnya not as a Russian defeat but as a victory for the healthy forces in Russia. Russian interests in the Caucasus should not be blindly ignored. However, imperialistic policies should not be tolerated. Independent Chechnya can give Russia stable southern frontiers, while Russia should stop interfering in Chechen internal affairs as well as persecuting Chechens inside of Russia. There are positive sides for both parties; they just have to be found.
The author has graduated from studies of international politics and international law in British universities, and acts now as the head of the Political Department of the Chechen Foreign Ministry.