DOSSIER. Although the official line is that the Chechen civil war is over, Chechnya continues to be one of the most unstable countries in Europe. The conflict between Chechen separatists and Russian unionists has not only worsened in recent years but has also become more complex, with new factors – such as Islamic fundamentalism and large numbers of refugees – coming into play.
In recent years the Chechen Republic has come to symbolize the failure of successive Russian governments to solve the manifold identity conflicts within and on the borders of the Russian state. After a declaration of independence, two wars and a victory for the pro-Kremlin camp, Chechnya is, in theory at least, a democratic country, but violence is a daily phenomenon and the country acts as a negative exemplar for the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Given the current status of the frozen conflict, a solution is unlikely to be found in the short-term. The official Chechen administration, headed by President Ramzan Kadirov, is openly pro-Russian, and often boasts about the high turnout recorded in recent elections compared to elsewhere in the Russian Federation. Support for the dominant political party, Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, is always greater than 80% and turnout rarely dips below 90%, figures which the established democracies of Western Europe could only dream of. A few days before parliamentary elections were held in Chechnya, Kadirov joked that turnout would be "100% or even higher." Click here for the Prague Watchdog article.
But not so long ago, following the collapse of the USSR, the group that today constitutes the separatist opposition in Chechnya governed the country as an independent state between 1991 and 1994, with Dzhokhar Dudayev as president. After the Second Chechen War between Russia and guerrilla separatists (1999-2000), Chechnya became a federal subject of the Russian Federation once more and a pro-Russian regime was installed. The separatists established a government-in-exile under the secular president Aslan Maskhadov, who was assassinated in 2005.
A further layer of complexity was added to the Chechen conflict in 2007, when Dokka Umarov, one of the main rebel leaders, proclaimed himself leader of the Caucasus Emirate, which - he argues - includes the Chechen Republic as one of its provinces. As a result, the Chechen resistance camp is currently split between an Islamist group and a secular group, the former being the most visible because of its ongoing armed campaign. For further information on the recent history of Chechnya, visit the MónDivers website.
The major problems faced by Chechnya today, then, include the daily violence that affects most of society and is often used simply as an extension of political operations, with high rates of kidnapping, assassinations and theft; the lack of real democracy, an issue raised by international observers after every election and by the election results themselves; human rights abuse, as denounced by independent journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya, NGOs such as Memorial and juridical bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights; and the increasing threat of Islamic fundamentalism, which exploits the fact that ordinary Chechens (and indeed other communities in the North Caucasus) feel impotent before the Russian authorities. Chechnya also has to cope with large numbers of internal refugees - an estimated 500,000 live in refugee camps - and refugees in neighbouring countries, as well as an economy destroyed by years of warfare. See Nationalia for further information.