Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 15

Underscoring another of the tragic dilemmas created by the Chechen wars, some leaders of the ethnic Chechen community in Moscow are calling for special measures to attract back to the republic the ethnic Russians who fled the violence that was committed by both sides in the 1990s.

According to a report published on April 24 by the “Rosbalt” news service, some are now suggesting a quota system to increase the number of Russians in the Chechen government. What the report does not mention is that such quotas would also serve as a device for diluting the control of Kadyrov and his well-armed Chechen loyalists within the republic. The quotas would shift power toward people and groups on which the Chechen diaspora has more influence.

Nevertheless, it remains an undeniable fact that ethnic violence directed specifically against Russians erupted even before the first Chechen war in 1994. That left many of the Russians, especially the younger and more mobile, feeling that they had little reason to remain in the republic. As in Turkmenistan and other areas on the fringes of the old empire, economic decline and anti-Russian discrimination led to a wave of migration back into the Russian heartland. In a 1995 visit to Chechnya, Jamestown met ethnic Russians who clearly felt that it was physically dangerous for them to go about in public wearing such visible symbols as Orthodox Christian crosses.

On the other hand, an equally undeniable fact is that the greatest killer of Russian civilians in Chechnya has been the Russian state. Historically, Grozny was always more a Russian than a Chechen city, having been created precisely in order to serve as an urban stronghold of Russian rule over the traditionally rural Chechens. The Russian air force’s indiscriminate carpet bombing of Grozny devastated residential neighborhoods full of ethnic Russians, many of them elderly pensioners, who unlike their Chechen neighbors had no family ties in nearby villages and thus nowhere to flee or hide.

Rosbalt cited what it called “a typical story of someone who had to flee from Chechnya. Anna Artemovna, who had worked all her life as a librarian in Grozny, left Grozny in December 1994 with her seriously-ill husband. Chechen neighbors helped them to get to Ingushetia. Her husband had to have treatment for cancer, but he died a year later. By this time, Anna had heard from friends that the apartment house where they had once lived had been destroyed. Four years later, after many appeals to the authorities while working illegally and sleeping where she could in the homes of acquaintances, Mrs. Artemovna finally received compensation for her lost property–12,000 rubles. The only place where she could buy a new home with this amount of money would be in a land where it is impossible to find work. And how would she survive without work on a miserly pension?”

The “Rosbalt” article states that, “At the moment there are very few Russians in the Chechen government. Chechens in Moscow believe this situation could be rectified by introducing a quota for the Russian population, whereby Russians would have the same level of representation as they did in 1991. A statute on this must be inserted into the agreement outlining the balance of power between the federal government and that of Chechnya itself, as there is no mention of it in the new Chechen constitution. Interestingly, many republics are now choosing to reject such an agreement.”

The adoption of a pro-Russian quota system would thus be another step toward forcing centralized national standards on Russia’s most independent-minded province, even while other provinces are successfully resisting such standards. More realistic is the view of political analyst Vladimir Goryunov, who told the conference of diaspora Chechen leaders that “there is no chance of the Russian population returning to the republic. Everybody understands clearly that lawlessness in Chechnya may erupt again with new force at any moment. Russian refugees have not found either understanding or help in Russia and they are not going to return to the ashes of their former homes in order to risk losing everything again.”