Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 13

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov on March 28 praised a roundtable on Chechnya held in Strasbourg on March 21 under the auspices of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Alkhanov called the meeting “constructive and productive” and said that the European community now understands that the political situation in Chechnya has entered a new stage, Itar-Tass reported. “We did not stand on totally different positions, as it used to be before; indeed, we had a dialogue,” said Alkhanov, who was attending a meeting of the council of the heads of the Southern Federal District’s constituent republics in Kislovodsk. The people of Chechnya, Alkhanov said, have unambiguously declared their wish to build a peaceful future as part of the Russian Federation, adding that the “doors are open for those who want to take part in this peaceful, constructive process.” He also said that former members of the pro-separatist parliament of the mid-1990s will participate in the Chechen parliamentary elections scheduled for this autumn. “The fact that so many of the former members of [the late separatist leader Aslan] Maskhadov’s government are working in the Chechen government shows that we are adherents of peaceful policies, which have been decided by the people,” Alkhanov said. “If we agree that the people’s wish is the determining factor, one has to take this into account. We are ready to accept anybody who adheres to this policy.”

The Russian human rights activists who attended the March 21 roundtable, however, came away with a significantly different impression of what happened and what was accomplished. Vremya novostei on March 28 quoted Svetlana Gannushkina of the Memorial human rights group as criticizing the fact that Chechen separatist representatives could only have participated in the roundtable if they agreed to recognize Russia’s territorial integrity. “It turned out that the matter is as follows: separatists can take part in the work of the roundtable, but only those who are ready to talk exclusively within the framework of Russian legislation,” Gannushkina told the newspaper, adding that it was necessary to give the separatists the legal possibility to defend their ideas. “A dialogue arose between me and Alu Alkhanov,” Gannushkina said. “He said that the separatists in Chechnya are a clear minority that must submit to the majority, inasmuch as this is the main feature of a democracy. I responded that the characteristic of democracy is that representatives of the minority legally have the possibility to put forward their point of view without fearing for their lives.”

Tatiana Lokshina, chair of DEMOS Center for Information and Human Rights Research and Moscow representative of the International Helsinki Federation, told Vremya novostei that the representatives of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration at the roundtable wanted only to discuss the “successes” of Chechnya’s economy and to ask Europe for reconstruction aid, while the representatives of the federal government wanted only to discuss international terrorism. on March 28 quoted Lokshina, like Gannushkina, as saying that no political dialogue is possible in Chechnya as along as publicly declaring separatist views results in a de facto death sentence for those who declare them. This state of affairs will prevent the holding of free elections, Lokshina said, adding that elections should be postponed until a pluralistic space is created that would allow moderate separatists to participate in elections.

It is interesting to note, however, that Vremya novostei quoted the Russian human rights activists who attended the roundtable as saying that Andreas Gross, the Swiss parliamentarian who was the event’s main organizer, is holding “intensive negotiations” with Akhmed Zakaev, the separatists’ London-based representative, about their possible participation in future roundtables sessions.