The most useful document for a Chechen trying to get through a military checkpoint as quickly as possible is a membership card in the pro-Putin United Russia party. That was one of the discoveries made by Tatiana Lokshina of the Moscow Helsinki Group during her visit to Chechnya to cover last month’s parliamentary election, which she reported in a long article published on the Polit.ru website on January 5.
In a village in the southern highlands, a school principal confided to Lokshina that “frankly, I hate this United Russia” even though “it is popular because the other parties in principle don’t even exist.” Especially attracted to the pro-Putin party are young men, the principal said, because “after all they have to find some way to travel! At checkpoints they can use a membership card in United Russia instead of a pass. Or if they are caught in a security sweep, they just show their United Russia card and they are allowed to go free.”
By chance, on her flight back to Moscow Lokshina happened to sit next to a vacationing Grozny policeman who confirmed the school principal’s words. He said that he had recently joined United Russia precisely in order to “get around easily.” Lokshina replied, “But you are a policeman, they should already let you pass without problems!” The young man explained that his party card was “a hundred times” more useful than his police I.D.–and also that “if you are a member of the party, they can’t fire you from your job.”