Friday, October 21, 2005

Half a Bridge

In what to many observers seemed a rather half-hearted intervention, Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who has served since June 2003 as rapporteur on Chechnya for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), gave an interview to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on October 19. His intention is evidently to appear "even-handed" - to the extent of "expressing cautious optimism that Russian authorities have permitted a faction 'that does not share their viewpoint' and which aspires to 'build a bridge' between the warring sides in Chechnya to participate in the 27 November elections to a new Chechen Parliament." He also took care not to ruffle the sensibilities of the Russian federal government, explaining his equivocal approach by saying that "we always have to keep the Russians on board, because you can't find a solution to the conflict without them."

None the less, some of Gross's remarks are worthy of attention. He is at least straightforwardly condemnatory about the present intolerable situation in Chechnya, and the Russian government's attempts to cover it up:
Gross was dismissive of official Russian claims that the situation in Chechnya is reverting to "normal." "I think the situation is not normal and is far away from normalization," he said, pointing out that "we don't have a free, democratic society" in Chechnya, but one that is "broken," and that the population is "fed up with all kinds of violence."

He said the danger of repeat violence will persist as long as there is no effort to reach a compromise between the interests of the various factions in the conflict. In that context, Gross noted that an opposition party that does not share the views of the Russian authorities and which aspires to "build a bridge" between the warring sides (by which he probably meant the Chechen chapter of the Union of Rightist Forces) has been permitted to register candidates in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 27 November. Gross admitted that "they are very weak and it's a very fragile attempt," but "it is still an attempt," and for that reason "I have not lost all hope," even though the situation is "extremely difficult." At the same time, he said he is particularly concerned that "the Russian authorities...are relying too heavily on forces who are closer to [being] criminals than democrats." Gross made it clear later in the interview that he meant the so-called presidential guard headed by Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

Gross said that he expressed these concerns during a meeting three weeks ago in Moscow with Kozak, and that even though "many in Russia are aware of the problem.... I have to say I sometimes have the impression that the Russian authorities are not aware that they have to do more, they have to be more engaged in a civil way...and that they themselves have to do things which today they delegate" to groups that have forfeited the support and trust of the population -- a clear allusion to the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership
One might have expected him to go further, and condemn the widespread,long-term violence that is directed by federal and federal-backed forces against Chechnya's civilian population, violence ordered and encouraged by the Kremlin. But "even-handedness" won the day, obviously.
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