A monument to tyranny
TODAY RUSSIA celebrates the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazism in a spectacular display of military and state power. It is the culmination of years of rebuilding an aggressively patriotic public culture.
The government's emphasis on heroic clichés has left very little room for reflection about the terrible suffering that the war brought to Russia's people. The Russian public increasingly sees Stalin as a positive wartime leader, and many leading politicians have displayed complete unconcern for crimes committed during the war in Poland and in the Baltic States, denouncing critics of Russia's unrepentant stance as the representatives of ''fascist" states. The official silence on the victims of Stalinism during the war is deafening.
The focus of President Vladimir Putin's celebration is entirely on the state and military might of Russia, and one of the most paradoxical displays of that power is taking place in the ruins of Grozny, Chechnya's capital. Here, in this closed off, artificially isolated war zone, Russia celebrates its military presence by laying the foundation for a monument -- not to the victims of the war in Chechnya but to former Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated last year on this day, May 9, 2004.
Kadyrov, who became president in illegitimate elections forced on a terrorized population, represented the Kremlin's ''Chechenization" strategy. A year later, the situation inside Chechnya continues to belie all official claims of normalization.
Kadyrov's son Ramzan has considerably more influence than Kadyrov's official successor, President Alu Alkhanov. The younger Kadyrov controls thousands of armed men, many of them amnestied separatist fighters, and he has placed his supporters in key posts throughout the administration. Others close to him control much of the money that flows into the war-torn region.
All movement into and inside the republic is controlled by checkpoints surrounded by ecological disaster zones, razed of trees for miles, littered with wrecks and ruins. Passing the roadblocks means enduring humiliations and chilling threats, searches, and paying bribes.
A special caste of bosses who earn special privileges but do not actually live in the republic come for short visits accompanied by armed escorts. They feed off ''ghost" subsidies and pensions paid to nonexistent recipients created during Russia's last census, which artificially inflated the number of people remaining in Chechnya.
The terror of Kadyrov's men props up this elaborate deception. With the support of Moscow, Ramzan has created an instant personality cult, complete with flattering pop songs about himself and his father, street renamings, and the creation of a Kadyrov foundation. The projected monument to Akhmad Kadyrov, a work by Moscow sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, will be a lifelike representation of Kadyrov in a business suit. Located on Kadyrov street (formerly Lenin Street), it will be at the center of a memorial complex with an Eternal Flame in honor of World War II, and a Kadyrov museum.
Preparations for May 9 in Grozny have been made in total secrecy, for fear of a terrorist attack like the one that killed Kadyrov last year. The monument to Kadyrov is deeply resented and the construction site is heavily guarded. The massive foundation is the only new object on a street filled with gray ruins: former government buildings, the remants of a hotel, the skeleton wrecks of apartment blocks.
Putin came to power with the promise of victory in Chechnya. The war opened the road to power to countless ''siloviki," representatives of the security services and armed forces, and the Russian president has explained almost all of his antidemocratic administrative reforms by the need to strengthen the ''vertical of power" in a titanic struggle with terror and separatism. The mammoth celebration of Victory Day reinforces the illusion of victory in Chechnya and strengthens the logic of war in society and domestic politics, while Putin's message to the world leaders who are his guests is that the Soviet Union's achievements in the victory over Nazism make Russia a powerful ally in the global war on terror.
Kadyrov's statue, however, testifies to a Russian policy in the Caucasus that is spreading fraudulent elections, administrative purges, violence, and terror throughout the region. It is a monument to tyranny. It is offensive not only to survivors in Chechnya, but an affront to the memory of those who perished in the war against Hitler. In the ruins of Chechnya, Russia celebrates a hollow victory.
Zaindi Choltaev is a political scientist who represents the Moscow-based Center for Ethnopolitical Research and Regional Studies. Michaela Pohl teaches history at Vassar College.