Chaos, Conspiracy, and Spectacle

The Russian War against Chechnya

in Social Analysis
Jakob Rigi Cornell University

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During the winter of 1995, I spent time with Chechen and Russian activists jointly campaigning against the first Chechen war, which was then in full swing. They demanded the immediate end to the war as they held rallies and handed out leaflets in public squares, factories, and schools. What was striking in the Chechen activists’ analysis was that they considered the war to be one fought by bandits. In their conception, it was a war between the bandits in Moscow and the Chechen bandits, and they depicted both Yeltsin1 and Dudaev2 as godfathers. They argued that they and the Russians belonged to the same Soviet people and that Chechnya should enjoy autonomy within Russia. They said that plunder was the main motive for war on both sides, and that the war had created its own economy from which both sides benefited. Neither the Chechen fighters nor Yeltsin were motivated by concern for the welfare of their constituent publics. In fact, Yeltsin was simply trying to gain political popularity and divert people’s attention from the misery his neoliberal reforms had created in Russia. More striking was the absence of any enthusiasm for the war among the majority of Russians. The chauvinists were a considerable minority, and most Russians opposed the war. They considered the war to be a domestic tragedy that had been triggered by the opportunistic politics of Yeltsin. Journalists, who at that time could still report freely on the events in Chechnya, harshly criticized the incumbent government (Gall and de Waal 1998).

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