Chechnya: a short Derridean reading

Perhaps unaware of the significance of the date, on 1 April Chechnya’s Kremlin-approved president Ramzan Kadyrov announced that after 15 years of conflict and human rights abuse, things in this Russian republic had returned to “normal”.

Once a place so damaged that it looked like it had suffered a nuclear war, “life is now normal” in the Chechen capital Grozny, according to the normality-loving Kadyrov. Kadyrov really doth seem to protest too much though. When the Russia authorities officially lifted Chechnya’s designation as a Zone of Anti-Terrorist Operations in April, it was quickly reimposed in several districts a few days later.

Lately Kadyrov has been going around saying that militants in Chechnya have missed their chance of a normal life because they haven’t responded to an amnesty offer. It’s all normal this, normal that with Kadyrov.

Years ago at university I used to get bombarded by stuff about Jacques Derrida’s (then very vogue-ish) theory of desconstruction and I reckon, in my crude undergrad way, that Derrida would have had a field day with Kadryov’s protestations. He might, for example, have had a hunch that everything that Kadyrov said or wrote was riddled with a trace of its “other” – in particular the fear that people actually think there’s a lot that’s very abnormal about Mr Kadyrov’s republic. For example:

How normal is it to preside over a country where construction workers digging foundations for new buildings keep coming across mass graves?

How normal is it that a country that has detected about 60 such grave sites in the last 15 years hasn’t set up a forensics team to check the remains or established a proper database of missing people?

How normal is it for people to quite regularly find as many as 100 face-masked armed men in camouflage outside their house at night, with male family members then being taken away for “investigation” never to return alive?

Indeed how normal is it for an investigative journalist like Anna Politkovskaya to be killed after researching human rights abuse in Chechnya?

(Actually, the answer to that last one is “rather too ‘normal’”)

new report from Amnesty today has 48 pages of this weird normality, not just in Chechnya but also in the Russian north Caucasus republics of Ingushetia, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkar.

Ingushetia, you’ll recall, is the place where last year Magomed Yevleov, who owned a website critical of the authorities, died after mysteriously sustaining a gunshot wound to the head while in the custody of Ingushetian law enforcement officers who’d just arrested him at an airport.

Ingushetia is also the place where the 29-year-old Ibragim Gazdiev was last seen nearly three years ago before “disappearing”, reportedly after being seized by armed men in camouflage. His father has been warned off from talking about his missing son.

It’s my view that you don’t have to be a believer in Derridean post-structuralist philosophy to have doubts about how normal the North Caucasus actually are (even without knowing, for example, that Kadyrov keeps a pet lion).

And you don’t need to be a believer in deconstruction to send an Amnesty appeal for Gazdiev. In fact, just follow this link!

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