Russian Survey: Evolving Popular Views Of Chechnya

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 1

The average Russian is increasingly likely to favor peace negotiations rather than a military solution to the Chechen conflict. But he has at the same time become more likely to agree with the Kremlin line that peaceful life is already returning to Chechnya. These seemingly contradictory findings of Moscow’s independent opinion-poll center VTsIOM-A, reported by Novye izvestia on December 25, apparently reflect the fact that most Russians now have no source of information about the conflict other than what their government tells them.

The VTsIOM-A survey of some 1,600 Russians across forty regions found that 59 percent of them believed that “war is continuing” in Chechnya, while one-third are confident that peace is being restored. Those taking the latter view, while still in the minority, have been growing in numbers for some months. But also growing is the number of “dovish” answers to the pollsters’ question: “Do you consider that military operations in Chechnya should continue, or that it is necessary to begin peace negotiations?” Four years ago only 47 percent chose the latter position, while now 67 percent do so.

Emil Pain, the influential specialist on ethnic relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Novye izvestia that this “split in mass consciousness” is a “reaction to the signals which the average resident is receiving from the state-controlled media.” He noted that “the system of non-government information is no longer functioning.”

Supporting Pain’s interpretation is another VTsIOM-A finding: Some 52 percent of those polled said that the British court decision rejecting Moscow’s request for the extradition of Chechen diplomat Akhmed Zakaev was the result of the British government’s desire to “thwart Russia in any circumstance,” while only 20 percent thought that the Russian procuracy had failed to prove its case.

“Much more frightening,” in Pain’s view: “Not only rank-and-file citizens but even state officials have now fallen into the trap of those prohibitions which the powers that be have set up for themselves. We now have an ideological taboo on the discussion of certain themes…For example, one is permitted to discuss surges of guerrilla activity in that republic only in the context of intrigues by foreign mercenaries; nobody even asks what fraction of the total number of guerrillas these mercenaries may represent. Nobody analyzes the role which the anti-terrorist operation itself is playing in stimulating guerrilla activities–to say nothing of the fact that in addition to the well-known Basaev and Maskhadov there has now arisen a whole constellation of young field commanders such as Chitigov, the Munaev brothers, Doka Umarov and Gaziev….How can we plan our own tactics if we are afraid to discuss out loud any but the most pleasant nuances of reality?”