…an Ominous Calm In Grozny

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 1

Lokshina found Grozny to be genuinely more peaceful than it had been two months earlier: “The night was quiet, almost without gunfire….no comparison with October.” She saw this as a sign that “during these two months much has changed. The war has ended, but in its place has crept in a slippery, muddy, criminal, black nothingness. Strange as it may seem, this swamp is even more frightening than the war. After all every war eventually comes to an end, with negotiations and a peace agreement. But this all-devouring swamp has no end; it could go on forever. That’s what is really terrifying.”

Another contrast with October, she wrote, was the new reluctance of Grozny’s residents to speak candidly with a journalist–even in the anonymity of the open-air market. Two months earlier vendors and shoppers had been willing to vent their opinions freely, even to denounce Kadyrov, but in December their response was to smile politely and change the subject. Lokshina’s Chechen traveling companion explained that “everyone is now afraid to say one unnecessary word. There are security sweeps all over the city…They now have no hope whatsoever, so they keep their mouths shut.”

Lokshina was also struck by the total absence of progress in the physical rebuilding of Grozny. Previously she had entertained what she called “the illusion that Kadyrov as president, for self-promotion or just for decency’s sake, would get busy with the quick restoration of Grozny. It somehow seems strange to talk about the revival of peaceful life when the capital city is in ruins. But my illusion dissolved within minutes–it turns out that not one ounce of flesh has appeared on the city’s bare skeleton.”

On December 7, election day, Lokshina visited various polling places both in Grozny and elsewhere, just as she had done two months earlier for the presidential election. The biggest change she noticed was that, in December, Grozny’s residents did not flee to the countryside from fear of terrorist attacks. The bazaars and shops were open; the streets had their usual flow of cars and pedestrians. But she found the same cynicism about politics: “When I asked people how the election would go, they answered ‘Just like the presidential election. Nothing depends on us, it’s useless to vote.'” Billboards and other advertisements were in evidence for only two parties: United Russia and the People’s Party.

In the Grozny polling places that she visited, “the representatives of the local election-district commissions–all of them, without exception–complained about the low activity of the electorate. As of 11 a.m., on the average only about 10 percent had turned out to vote.” True, officials told her that more would be coming out to vote in the evening–a familiar tale from her October experience. In one district, where only 100 of some 1800 eligible voters had appeared as of noon, the head of the local commission said that she was hoping for a total of 600. This was in contrast to what she said had been a turnout of 1500 in the October balloting.

One other recent novelty: The personnel inspecting passports at the military checkpoints now include women. They sometimes conduct body searches of female Chechen civilians, who are regarded with greater suspicion than they were a year ago–for obvious reasons.