Has Unemployment Fueled Chechnya’s War?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 30

A July 21 article for the Polit.ru website by Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Memorial human rights group suggests that Chechnya-watchers should give more weight to ongoing unemployment as a contributing element in the tensions that led to the secessionist movement and the outbreak of war in the 1990s. After returning from Central Asian exile in the late 1950s, Chechens found the southern highlands in ruins. For example, rural roads which had been neglected for decades required far more work than the infrastructure in the lowlands. The revival of agriculture was immensely difficult.

At the same time, the industrial jobs in Chechnya’s lowlands had been mostly taken by Russians whom Moscow had shipped in from elsewhere. Grozny, with its important factories, was predominantly a city of ethnic Russians—a situation which began to change only in the 1980s. A further complication was that the local authorities in Grozny continued for years to hope “naively” that it might be possible to send the newly returned Chechens back to Central Asia: after all, they reasoned, the Crimean Tatars and the Volga Germans had never been allowed to return from exile. So for various reasons, concluded Cherkasov, “the large amount of hidden unemployment became one of the engines of Chechen politics over the following decades. People who had grown used to relying on themselves, and to surviving under any conditions, found solutions…”