Wednesday, May 31, 2006

TACs in Chechnya and Ingushetia

The following is the first of two recent Prague Watchdog reports on TACs (temporary accomodation centres) and "compact settlements" in Chechnya and neighbouring Ingushetia. These have been housing Chechen refugees, but are increasingly threatened with closure, a step which will mean homelessness for large numbers of civilians, especially women and children. The translation is mine.

Situation surrounding residents of TACs in Chechnya remains unclear

By Liza Osmayeva

CHECHNYA - A month ago the head of the Moscow-backed Chechen government Ramzan Kadyrov called for the need to dismantle all the temporary accommodation centres (TACs), which house refugees who have returned from Ingushetia. Referring to them as "nests of criminality, addiction and debauchery", he demanded that the local authorities and law-enforcement agencies put the situation in order.

For this purpose a special commission has been created in the republic to control the observance of standards and regulations relating to internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in the TACs. It includes the heads of district administrations, representatives of the law enforcement agencies, and the migration service.

As a result of the commission’s work, the managements of nearly all the TACs on Chechen territory were replaced during May of this year. According to some reports, this was prompted by the revelation of numerous cases of embezzlement and other abuses on the part of camp commandants.

"The commission’s primary task is to track down persons who have accommodation of their own and are living in the TACs illegally, and also to double-check the lists of those IDPs who are actually in need of targeted assistance. A separate solution will be adopted for each specific case. People whose accommodation has been preserved must return to their homes. Citizens who have lost their accommodation and who have nowhere to go will be given help to rebuild and restore their ruined homes. No one plans to turn people out into the street,” says the Migration Office of the Chechen Republic.

At the same time, local human rights activists note that the real situation is somewhat different. In their opinion, the campaign to dismantle the temporary accommodation centres in Chechnya is being accompanied by violations of their residents’ rights. According to a report by the Memorial human rights centre, two TACs located on Depovskaya Street in the town of Gudermes were recently closed on the pretext of major refurbishment. However, no alternative accommodation was offered to their residents.

“A similar situation is developing in the TACs of Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district. After an announcement by the district head that the TAC buildings needed to be freed to serve as schools and polyclinics, regular identity checks began to be carried out. People can be evicted merely on the basis of the fact that they were not present during a night raid. Moreover, the members of the commission take no account of the reason for which a person was absent,” a worker of the Nazran-based Memorial human rights centre told PW’s correspondent.

The recent increase in the frequency of identity checks, and in particular the mechanism by means of which they are carried out, is giving rise to many protests by IDPs. People complain that various far-fetched pretexts are being used in order to deprive them of their IDP status. "We can’t leave the TAC even in the daytime, because if a person isn’t present during the check they cross that person off the migration list. But we still need to go out to work and earn money in order to feed and clothe our children," says Aminat, a 37-year-old refugee in Grozny’s Oktyabrsky district.

"Two years ago when we were returning from Ingushetia we were promised as a first priority that we would be paid compensation for our destroyed accommodation and property, but so far no money has been paid. My home is in ruins, but I have no chance of restoring it on my own. If they close the TAC tomorrow, then I’ll simply be out on the street with my children," she says.

According to some reports there are more than 30 TACs and 14 "compact accommodation points" on the territory of the Chechen republic, housing a total of more than 60,000 IDPs. In addition, the "compact accommodation points" on the territory of Ingushetia house some 10,000 more internally displaced persons from Chechnya, whom the republic’s government plans to return to their homeland this summer. Where these people will be accommodated, and to what extent their legal interests and rights will be taken into consideration, is so far unknown.

On this the Migration Office of the Chechen Republic declines to comment.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Porvoo Fire: Suspects Caught

Helsingin Sanomat reports that several young adults have been caught in connection with the arson attack on Finland's Porvoo Cathedral, which took place early on Monday. From the English-language edition of HS:
According to Chief Inspector Bengt Renlund, the apprehended individuals are suspected of aggravated sabotage. For now, the police are refraining from revealing the exact number of the suspects.

"More than one person has been apprehended. They have all been heard briefly, and the questioning will continue this morning. They are suspected of setting the Porvoo Cathedral fire", Renlund told the news agency STT.

Renlund does not reveal how the suspects were caught. He says the police will release more information on the subject later today.

After yesterday's blaze, all that remains upright of the upper part of the hilltop structure , which for centuries has dominated the Porvoo cityscape, are its blackened gable walls.

The interior of the church, on the other hand, survived the flames largely unharmed, thanks to the structure's thick vaulting and the fact that the fire department used foam instead of water to minimise water damage.

The heavy chandeliers fell down, but the condition of the centuries-old frescoes on the ceiling and the walls will only become evident on Tuesday, or a few days after that.

In any case, the overall cost of the damage is in the millions of euros, reports properties manager Boris Björkendahl from the Parish Union of Porvoo. Restoration work will begin on the building almost immediately, as soon as permission is received from the police.

See also, concerning an earlier fire at the beginning of this month: Helsinki Arson Attack

Radical Islam: the Soviet Legacy

Writing in the Caucasus Times, historian and Arabist Mikhail Roschin expresses the view that in certain regions of the Caucasus radical Islam is using the legacy of Soviet thinking:
In my opinion, such tendencies can prevail in those regions where Sufism did not have deep roots and any stable intellectual traditions, for instance, in Kabardino-Balkaria where even weak traditions have been erased during Soviet time. Therefore, process of religious revival and propagandists of vakhkhabism did not meet here any serious resistance unlike Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.
(via Alin Sebastian - see Balkan-Jews mailing list).

The Great Flood

A reader asked me about the significance of the "great flood" in Tove Jansson's first Moomin book. I think it's fairly clear from Tove Jansson's short introduction to the story what was in her mind when she wrote it (my translation):
It was the winter of war, in 1939. One's work stood still; it felt completely pointless to try to create pictures.

Perhaps it was understandable that I suddenly felt an urge to write down something that was to begin with "Once upon a time".

What followed had to be a fairytale, that was inevitable, but I excused myself with avoiding princes, princesses and small children and chose instead my angry signature character from the cartoons and called him the Moomintroll.

The half-written story was forgotten until 1945. Then a friend pointed out that it could become a children's book, just finish it and illustrate it, maybe they will want it.

I had thought that the title should connect to the Moomintroll and his search for his father - in the style of the search for Captain Grant - but the publisher wanted to make it easier for the readers by calling it Småtrollen och den stora oversvämningen ("The Little Trolls and the Great Flood").

The story is quite influenced by the childhood books I had read and loved, a bit of Jules Verne, some Collodi (the girl with the blue hair) and so on. But why not?

Anyhow, here was my very first happy ending!

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Study in Questions

The Hole is a study of the Estonia tragedy, the sinking of a giant passenger and car ferry in the Baltic Sea in September 1994 which caused the deaths of nearly 1,000 people in the space of 35 minutes, Drew Wilson presents the results of nearly three years of research and writing. He has assembled most or all of the available evidence, in order to contest and challenge the findings of the official investigation, which attributed the cause of the disaster to the failure of locks on the ship’s bow visor, and in order to survey and collate the results of all the independent investigations and theories that have sprung up as a consequence of the evident inconsistencies and loose ends left by the official inquiry.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a veritable industry in conspiracy theories developed around it. Some of these theories were promoted by Russian government sources seeking to generate disinformation from the event. An example is the so-called “Felix Report” – in reality the work of one FSB officer who in the 1990s was assigned the task of implicating Estonia and Chechnya in “international terrorism”, in order to turn Western opinion against those countries. But there were other, genuine independent investigations which came up with questions and demands for explanation which have still not been answered by the relevant authorities. Such, for example, is the work of the German journalist Jutta Rabe, who conducted her own investigations and wrote a book which accuses the Russian special services of being responsible for the sinking.

Drew Wilson has drawn attention to most of the theories and counter theories that exist in connection with the tragedy, and has done so in great detail, with the help of diagrams, photographs, eyewitness reports and many other materials. Above all, he is convinced that in order for the ferry to have sunk in such a short time – 35 minutes – it must have had a hole in the hull. In order to support this contention, he produces much convincing evidence, and also compares the disaster to events like the sinking of the German liner Wilhelm Gustloff by a Soviet submarine during a storm in 1945. Even after three torpedoes had struck it, the ship took one hour to sink – almost twice the length of the time it took for the Estonia to go to the bottom.

The book also focuses on the extreme eagerness of the Swedish authorities to control evidence of the wreck. In particular, it concentrates on the Swedish government’s proposal – a proposal very nearly implemented – of burying the wreck in concrete, a suggestion which immediately reminded many observers of the large concrete structure erected around the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. There is evidence, Wilson makes clear, that the Swedish authorities were and still are involved in some kind of cover-up in connection with the sinking of the Estonia, in which some 500 Swedish citizens lost their lives. Taking advantage of the suffering of the victims’ relatives, the Swedish authorities refused to allow the retrieval of the wreck on the grounds that this would be too disturbing.

The Hole is published at an appropriate time, with the recent release of the Estonian government special report on the military shipments which, it has been confirmed, Swedish military intelligence arranged in the early 1990s, using the Estonia to ferry quantities of secret electronic equipment from recently-vacated military bases in the Baltic States. Further investigation is, however, blocked by the Estonia Agreement of 1995, and it is to be hoped that the book will reanimate efforts to have the agreement rescinded, so that the true story may finally emerge.

What does emerge from Wilson’s book is the deeply uneasy nature of relations between the Russian Federation and the nations of Europe, including the Baltic States. It also throws new light on the real nature of the conflict in Chechnya, using the research of the murdered U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov to show that during the early 1990s the Russian government was involved in widespread covert criminal activities which were aimed first at undermining the newly-restored democratic order in Estonia, and then at destroying the independence of Chechnya, whose leaders had taken inspiration from the Estonian independence movement.

Drew Wilson: The Hole: Another Look At The Sinking Of The Estonia Ferry On September 28, 1994. Exposure Publishing, Diggory Press, April 2006.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Domain Wars

At Maidan, Ivan Pomidoroff writes about a shadowy business structure that is trying to gain control of the UA domain (currently the official DN for Ukraine-based websites).

Bergmansgatan 1

Helsinki's Vuorimiehenkatu 1 (Bergmansgatan 1), which in the very first years of the twentieth century housed the headquarters of Nikolai Ivanovich Bobrikov, the Russian governor-general of Finland who tried to impose the Russian language on the Finnish civil service and education system, is to undergo yet another change of character, a report in Hufvudstadsbladet notes. After decades of serving as a picturesque office block, the building is now to be converted into luxury apartments.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Russia and Sweden

From time to time I'm struck by how many instances of apparent conflict between the Russian Federation and the countries of Northern Europe, particularly Sweden, seem to be cropping up nowadays. Two of the most recent cases I've noticed are the pressures being exerted on Mikael Storsjö, and the resurfacing of the issues surrounding the 1994 sinking of the Estonia, highlighted in Drew Wilson's recent book on the subject. This book, which I'll discuss in a future post, puts the focus on tensions which have existed between Sweden and Russia ever since the beginning of the Cold War. It also tends to point to a Swedish government cover-up surrounding the circumstances of the sinking of the passenger ferry, and to the possible involvement of Russian forces.

In the same connection, Vilhelm Konnander has an interesting post on a growing diplomatic dispute between Sweden and Russia. In the conclusion of his post, he writes:
Sweden has long been regarded by Moscow as one of Russia's greatest critics in the European Union. This should however not serve to conceal the fact that Stockholm's policy towards Russia has become increasingly conciliatory during the last few years. Thus, Stockholm now criticises Russia only in much severer cases of e.g. human rights' abuses than before. The difference is perhaps that there today is so much more to criticise in Russian behaviour. The threshold for critique has risen but so has also the number of severe cases. It thus seems that Russia and Sweden all the more are heading into a dead end in relations. It remains to be seen whether they will have the will and ability to turn developments around.

Chechnya: 5-year-old boy shoots 6-year-old girl with pistol in Grozny

From Prague Watchdog:

May 26th 2006 (my translation)

5-year-old boy shoots 6-year-old girl with pistol in Grozny

By Ruslan Isayev

GROZNY, Chechnya – A tragic incident occurred in the Chechen capital yesterday (May 25). A policeman who dropped in at his home for a few minutes left his car unlocked, and his 5-year-old son who was playing in the yard got into it.

In the car the boy discovered his father’s authorized pistol. He began to boast in front of other children and point it at them. At some stage the weapon was fired at a 6-year-old girl from a neighbouring house. The girl died of her injuries on the spot.

An official investigation has been opened, and the policeman who left his authorized weapon unattended has been taken into custody.

Although such cases are very rare in Chechnya, many note that the age of children who know how to use firearms has dropped. It is not at all uncommon for parents, especially officials of the law-enforcement agencies, to teach their children how to handle a sub-machine gun and pistol. There is one purpose - to protect the family in case of necessity.

This dangerous fashion was advertised by the case of a Chechen police officer whose home was attacked by guerrillas. The policeman and his eldest son were killed. His younger son, aged 13, picked up his father’s sub-machine gun and shot several of the attackers in cold blood. The slain policeman was awarded the posthumous title of Hero of Russia, and his surviving son was given a special enrolment in the Suvorov Military College.

For a young teenager to be able to put up such resistance to grown-up men with long experience of fighting would seem impossible. It turned out that the policeman father very often gave his children shooting lessons, training them in the rules of battle.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Chechnya: Protestors demand removal of ORB-2 Police Unit

May 23rd 2006 · Prague Watchdog / Umalt Chadayev (my translation)

Protestors in Grozny demand removal of notorious federal police unit from Chechnya

By Umalt Chadayev

GROZNY, Chechnya – A protest rally by local residents took place today in front of the complex of government buildings in the Chechen capital. The protestors’ basic demand was the removal of the federal police – the Operational/Search Bureau (ORB-2) – from the territory of the republic.

Around thirty people took part in the protest action. Almost all who took part were relatives of local residents who have been subjected to unsanctioned arrest or have disappeared without trace after being detained by law-enforcement officials.

"We have one demand – the removal from Chechnya of ORB-2, whose officials flagrantly violate human rights, detain people illegally and subject them to maltreatment and torture in attempt to make them confess to crimes they haven’t committed,” said one of the rally participants, 48-year-old Dagmara, a resident of Grozny.

“As far as we know, this agency (ORB-2) is not accountable to the local authorities, but is under the direct control of the Southern Federal Region. Our republic’s leadership is therefore unable to intervene in the activity of the officials of this agency who take advantage of their total immunity and are carrying out the most arbitrary repression here.”

In April this year the Moscow-backed Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov also spoke out in rather forceful terms for the removal of ORB-2 from the republic’s territory. Kadyrov accused its officials of illegal arresting local residents and of the brutal treatment of detainees. However, the same accusations are generally made against Kadyrov's own forces, popularly called "Kadyrovites".

"ORB-2 is the only agency that still escapes our attempts to make it observe elementary legal principles,” Kadyrov said. “I know that the people at ORB-2 flagrantly violate the law. They fabricate criminal charges where no crime has taken place. They break into houses wearing masks, presenting themselves as "Kadyrovites", and they kidnap people. I will try to secure the removal of this unit from the republic, as its officials are illegally detaining citizens, beating them up and brutally mistreating them.”

However, in the opinion of a number of observers Kadyrov is only trying to secure the withdrawal of ORB-2 from the republic’s territory because it is under federal control.

"Unlike the other local law-enforcement agencies, ORB-2 is not subordinate to the republic’s leadership. This agency is headed by Colonel Akhmet Khasambekov, a man of rigid principle. Also, he’s not one of ‘Kadyrov’s team’. While it’s possible that ORB-2 officials are guilty of human rights violations, I don’t think Kadyrov’s desire to remove this agency from Chechnya stems only from that,” a local political analyst says.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Speaking at Delphi - IV

(Horace Engdahl on Pia Tafdrup [my tr.], continued)

One must, however, be careful not to exaggerate the homogeneity in Pia Tafdrup’s writing. Her poetry has a shadow side, which one does not see at first because of all the sunlight in one’s eyes. After the large-scale Queen’s Gate, named after the entrance for the woman who never existed in patriarchal Jerusalem but whom the poet’s imagination had to add, after the expansive orchestration of the hymns in a major key comes the unexpected contrast of Thousandborn, a collection of aphoristic four-liners written in a tone of defiance and resignation. The language which caressed is now the mouth of a pistol. Love is a long goodbye after the first sovereign soaring over the abyss. I can’t resist quoting from this book in translation:

Don’t look for poetry’s black box,
it hasn’t recorded any answers,
is merely full of the dream’s counter-questions
or a silence to feel one’s way into.

The virtue of a collection like this one – apart from the fact that one is allowed to consign oneself to melancholy, according to Leopold the condition in which one sees things as they are – is that it sharpens one’s view of a rebellious aspect in Pia Tafdrup. One rereads the poem “Meteor” in Queen’s Gate, in which the poet’s I most closely resembles a life-threatening war machine. One discovers that the prevailing season in her poetry is actually winter, the harsh, windy Danish winter with its endless wet snow. One finds the terrible “Waiting Blow” in The Bridge of Moments, a poem about how the effort to reach someone who has been close to one must be given up for ever, in the same way as one accepts an incurable illness.

From Thousandborn I should also like to quote this scene, which could equally well be a portrait of poetry:

The boy up in the tree
sits there all day,
he sings loudly and refuses to come down
from his branch and be a person.

How well one understands the boy! If Pia Tafdrup’s poetry is at last dominated by openness and not by a stance of aversion, it is thanks to the secret union between poetic creation and the inexorable labour of time, which turns everything into its opposite. From emptiness and torpor, a reborn I finally rises, “thousandborn”, as for the romantics of an earlier age, when the Word made the world’s condition change from dead to living. “Between always and never,” the final poem in The Innermost Zone, is about the incomprehensible moment of change.

Between always and never
things happen
for a breathless second
when one least expects it
the world changes

sunk upon itself
at a depth of seven hearts
is the thing one suddenly imagines
a time when the stone
begins to bleed

People who are in alliance with change are always interested in reality.

Horace Engdahl is the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.


See also: Speaking at Delphi
Speaking at Delphi - II
Speaking at Delphi - III

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Speaking at Delphi - III

(Horace Engdahl [my tr.] on Pia Tafdrup, continued)

The unreality of reality is the fundamental problem of modern literature, and Pia Tafdrup’s writing is not, of course, free of it. In the very first poem of her first collection, a poem called “One Day” – one of the most moving in her œuvre – the poet is sitting on a bench in a park, but its planks disappear and she goes plummeting down into a childhood longing for real life where everything is in earnest. The objects in the game are dummies, which one day will be replaced by the real thing. As children we have probably all thought: one day we’ll bake real bread, sail real boats, and so on. Caress and be caressed by real bodies. When we grow up. But the poet still lacks that real bench, that real time. Life never became quite as real as we planned it to be in the days when we pretended chestnut leaves were boats.

From this point of departure, Pia Tafdrup’s poems always strive essentially for the moment when there will be a real bench underneath her and everything will be here and now. The tangible sends her into euphoria. She is a poet of the joy of touch, perhaps because the tangibility of things is seldom a real obstacle. As in Peter Pan, in an unguarded moment one can always go soaring up in the air and see everything from far above.

“I speak/ and so I soar.” The enjoyment of the sense of power in writing poems can sometimes make one think of Edith Södergran, and sometimes the poet is close to “Triumph of Being” – I am thinking, for example, of the introductory poem of Spring Tide, “Raised to Birth”, where she calls on us to live even though the signs of the times point to destruction.

It has been said that the wounded body is the centre of Tafdrup’s poetry, but I see in this view a reflection of a fashion in literary criticism which is most at home with loss, absence, cutting and silence. The wound is certainly there, but it is not a simple story of suffering. When in one of her most frequently quoted poems an angel breaks her silence, the angel being the author herself in the innocence of childhood, this destruction is the beginning of something new. It signifies the possibility of writing. When in a later poem love gives the former angel wings of stone, it is not, as I see it, in order to capture her but in order to invite her to remain on the earth, where all that she seeks exists.

As a beginner she probably saw out of the corner of her eye how busy the traffic on the Via Negativa was and was not unhappy to reject that route. Her rains are the kind that are followed by rainbows, not by Noah’s Floods or stars that come loose from their moorings. Even if one shrinks from generalizing about Danish and Swedish character, it’s hard not to reflect on how much less angst-ridden Oehlenschläger is than Stagnelius, how much lighter Sophus Claussen is than Fröding.

In Pia Tafdrup’s world, man is not free to invent himself, he has a gender (and not only a genus), he has a body and a history which calls through him. Affirmation requires a capacity for being passive, not only active, or perhaps an ability to linger in a state where active and passive cannot be distinguished between. One of those states is love, and another is religious feeling, which expresses itself in one’s relation to words: “I am a body/which language touches” (‘White Fever’). Some will perhaps be shocked when she praises the chasm of delight she experiences when the lover can do what he likes with her (“I lie down/I expose myself/I become your creature/for a moment”). But she is the girl who has learned trust in the unknown, swimming on her father’s back over the forests of seaweed in order to let go at the right moment, and soar.

Her favourite pet creatures, the whales, are a metaphor for the greatest forces in life, love, art and death. Their games in the ocean bear witness to a sovereign power on which the poet can call whenever life seems too cramped. It seems to me that it’s a breakout of this kind she describes in her recently published novel Surrender. The book is a daydream about losing control – the sort of daydream only intellectuals can have. Pascha, the main character, climbs over a fence and enters a strange house which belongs to a man she doesn’t know. “I just have to feel that I exist,” she thinks. The banality of the way events subsequently turn out is certainly a bitter lesson for this young woman, but at the same time it does not cancel the liberating giddiness caused by climbing the fence.

In Pia Tafdrup’s poems this violent encroachment does not prompt a fear of being invaded; instead, it brings fascination, delight, new eyes. This is also true of her relation to poetic antecedents, which seems unusually free of anxiety. In her texts she makes Emily Dickinson a queen without a throne. She unhesitatingly uses erotic signal words from the Södergran repertoire. When she makes the journey into her Jewish heritage in the collection Territorial Song she takes possession of The Song of Songs and the Psalms.

(to be continued)

See also: Speaking at Delphi
Speaking at Delphi - II

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mikael Storsjö - Finland Exerts Pressure

Mikael Storsjö, the Finland-Swedish IT entrepreneur who hosted the Kavkaz Center servers which were seized by Swedish police on May 6, and who was subsequently targeted by disinformation posted to a Russian-language site posing as one of KC’s own, has now commented on recent events which I highlighted in two posts to this blog – here and here.

One or two points to note: Mikael writes that Visami Tutuyev is no longer working for KC. Tutuyev's son, Zaur, is now in Finland with his family, after Mikael arranged for them to travel there. Zaur as applied for asylum, but Mikael says that “apparently I myself will end up in court because I 'falsified documentation’, i.e. my invitation, as in it I only mentioned a visit to Finland, not that Zaur was coming to seek asylum! I know it sounds crazy, but apparently our authorities want to prevent people entering the country on visitor’s visas from applying for asylum – is it better then that they come here with forged papers and by paying human smugglers? It will be interesting to see what happens.” (my tr. from Swedish)

In fact, however, Mikael notes, “Zaur can be 100% sure about getting refugee status, as the son of his father. Zaur was also 1½ years ago quite badly injured by some mob in Baku, you don't have to be paranoid to understand why and by whom he was attacked.” (verbatim, English)

More background: “Zaur lived in Ukraine, where he got an allowance to stay for 3 months each time. We tried first to get visa from Kiev, I spoke with the Embassy personnel, and everything was OK. But suddenly it wasn't, he got refusal. I called to the Embassy, and asked why. I got the very strong impression it was due to his ethnical background - they didn't want to grant visa for a Chechen family from Grozny. In the year 2005 373.483 visas were applied for by citizens of Russian federation. There were only 5.198 refusals, i.e.98,61 % of applicants got their visa. I can't understand what is the justification that makes those close to 370.000 Russians more welcome to my country than my friends are. (verbatim)

“We made a new request through our Moscow embassy. I got some politicians involved, contacted Ambassador himself, I wrote maybe 5 letters and made some 20 calls there. Zaur then got a 7 day visa for himself, his wife and 5 year old son, and now they are here.” (verbatim)

The outcome of Mikael’s case will depend, he thinks, on the resolution of a court case currently underway in Finland. It concerns a Serbian family who sought asylum in Finland, but who are now, together with their lawyer, accused of having misled the authorities. The case has been reported in Finland's Swedish-language daily newspaper, Hufvudstadsbladet.

In a future post I'll look at some of the – often complicated - issues that relate to Kavkaz Center and the operation of its websites.

See also: Mikael Storsjö Radio Interview

Speaking at Delphi - II

(Horace Engdahl [my tr.] on Pia Tafdrup, continued)
Pia Tafdrup made no secret of the fact that what she did was Art with a capital letter, and that the literary canon was her bread and butter. In 1991, on top of everything else, she published a poetics. Its title was Walking Over The Water. She placed herself in the ranks of authoritative figures all the way from Aristotle to her direct antecedent Paul la Cour, discussing the nature of poetry, the ways in which it is written, and how it is to be understood. It’s a triumphant hubris of the kind that’s witnessed when Swedish golfer Annika Sörenstam insists on playing with the men.

There is only one thing one with which one can successfully compare Pia Tafdrup’s writing, and that is the experience of falling in love. In her poems it’s as though that experience can only really be compared with one thing – writing. What writing and falling in love have in common is that, as phenomena, they are all-consuming. They lay claim to everything and relate everything to themselves. They are rapid, cumulative events, descending like an assault. Improbably enough, they are both triggered by words.

In Pia Tafdrup’s poems, words stimulate the blood. In what is one of the most realistic love poems I have read, she has the ‘I’ of the poem conquer the beloved by saying his name as they both wander aimlessly across a rainy urban landscape, in a way he has never heard it said before, as though he had been given a completely new name, the one he really wants to be called, a word that unclothes him. The poet whispers him naked in his own name, naming him so that he falls completely under her power.

According to the psychologists, falling in love is a controlled psychosis. Readers who give themselves to Pia Tafdrup’s texts are invited to a folie à deux for the duration of the poem. No irony that might create uncertainty about whom the poem is meant for obtrudes between the poet and her addressee. Everyone is equally worthy. There is an unfashionable generosity in this way of writing, one that seems to have conquered the public’s natural mistrust of poetry and made Pia Tafdrup a poet who is widely read.

Sometimes her poems turn inward on themselves and become metaphoric fakir acts, climbing ropes of their own creation, or drinking themselves as Indian conjurers do. But seen against the background of an intellectual era which has been obsessed with the idea of language’s self-reference and materiality, these games are infrequent and are not intended to sow doubt in the reality of things or in poetry’s ability to talk about the world. The female body and the elements are as present in her language as the grammar. The sky menstruates in the rain, the star shines like the first white spot of the baby’s head as it emerges at the moment of childbirth. The ploughed field – Pia Tafdrup is a farmer’s daughter – is like the open page in a holy book, as in the poetry of Yesenin. In the water of intercourse the sperms are fish. When love is lost they are frozen into the ice.

She makes Uranus and Gaia rise again in the dream poem “Sleep Hieroglyph” in The Whales, and yet the body remains concrete and does not enter the realm of the mythical and allegorical. I am not even sure that the relation between nature and subject can be called metaphorical. It’s an inflow and outflow between two basins, the ebb and flow of language, exultantly affirmed in the book of fortune, Spring Tide, which is written in the spirit of the full moon and the sacred number 7. In Pia Tafdrup’s most magnificent collection of poems, Queen’s Gate, this theme swells into a mighty hymn to the sea, nine pages of inspiration in the style of Walt Whitman. But that is the kind of thing that can only be done once!
(to be continued)

See also: Speaking at Delphi

Monday, May 22, 2006

Surviving in Chechnya

Jeremy Putley translates the announcement of a new French language publication on the conflict in Chechnya:

Sultan Yachurkayev's
"Surviving in Chechnya" ("Survivre en Tchétchénie")

Published by Gallimard, Euros 26.00

Translated from the Russian by Marianne Gourg, 400 pages, Collection Témoins, Gallimard

ISBN 2070735370

Publication date 18 May 2006

On 4 January 1995, a few days after the deployment of hundreds of Russian tanks in the small break-away republic of Chechnya, bombers commenced their pounding of the capital, Grozny. Alone in his house in Grozny's suburbs, under the bombardment, Sultan Yachurkayev began to write his journal.

Between visits to his animals from his icy, half-destroyed building, alternating between the tragic and the comic, from a simple detailing of the destruction to indignation, he describes the looting and murders, records the conversations with the two neighbours who remained, details the shortages, the nights without sleep, occasional visits into the city. He supplements the narrative with history, anecdotes, memories, and the daily details of his existence. Without books, without anything, he survives. This is a story of an intellectual, a fine poet, a man of wide learning, who has the opportunity to reflect.

Beneath the bombing, he thinks about Chechnya and Russia, about Europe and these far-flung fragments of Europe, the countries of the Caucasus. The reader learns of the sequence of events that led up to war - and understands better the spirit of resistance of a people that has been persecuted for centuries.
(via chechnya-sl)

Speaking at Delphi

Last month the Swedish Academy awarded its Nordic Prize to the contemporary Danish poet Pia Tafdrup. Regular readers of A Step At A Time will be familiar with Pia's work, some of which I've translated. At the award ceremony in Stockholm, the Swedish literary scholar Horace Engdahl gave a Laudatio speech which I think characterizes Pia's writing very clearly and succinctly. At the invitation of Gyldendal, Pia's publishers, I translated the address. I want to post it here in several sections, the first of which begins now.

The Poet of the Joy of Touch

by Horace Engdahl

In her early collections of verse, and for a long time subsequently, Pia Tafdrup had a predilection for writing a poetry of short lines. A mounting, impatient rhythm, to which the language accommodates itself without resistance. Each time a new line of verse begins, the poet blows the breath back into her universe, reconnects with her invisible “you”, waits a split second for its silent “yes!”, and continues.

The first time I heard Pia Tafdrup in real life, she sounded different. She had then just taken a step into poetry of long lines, speaking as if she were in a trance, turned inwards towards her visions, rocked on the waves of a pantheistic rhythm: a Delphic priestess, a Pythia. It was at the Nässjö Poetry Festival of 1994, and the poems of her collection Territorial Song were new. It was irresistible: I had never heard anything like it. The effect has been described many times by literary commentators with apprehensive delight. The Tafdrup style of poetry reading is an emblem of contemporary Danish poetry.

If one spends much time with her books in quiet, alone, one discovers that this elevated, hymn-like tone is only one of the many pitch-ranges of her voice, and not the primary one. But the characteristic authority is there right from the start, in that outwardly unassuming pamphlet with the fascinating title When An Angel Breaks Her Silence, published 25 years ago. Nor did it take her long to convince colleagues and critics of her stature as a lyrical poet. Only eight years after her literary debut she was elected a member of the Danish Academy.

This has given rise to an anomaly. Rule No. 1 for a modern poet is to stand outside. “To be understood is to prostitute oneself,” writes Fernando Pessoa in Book of Disquiet, and the statement is to some extent a representative one. A certain brokenness is part of what is expected from a first rank talent. It was with amazement that one saw in Pia Tafdrup a young poet who seemed to be doing well, who radiated social confidence and was not ashamed to take her place on her country’s Parnassus while being fully alive – a poet who confessed that even as she began her first book she thought of it as the first building block in a life’s work.

She belongs to Denmark’s poetry miracle, that grouping of young poets who blazed a path for themselves during the 1980s. But she soon turned from being a generational phenomenon into a universal one, more reminiscent of Rilke than of Bob Dylan. Perhaps the role of outsider is less imaginable for a talented writer in Denmark, simply because of the smallness of the country. Where is one to go? Sweden is big enough for almost all its writers to be able to stay outside.

(to be continued)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Parallel Blog

As part of an experiment, this blog can also be read - starting today - here.

All the older posts are on this blog, however, and this blog will continue to be regularly updated.


In Russia the Eurasian movement continues its reorganization and realignment. The movement's youth wing, ESM (Eurasian Union of Youth), is picking up members from other nationalist organizations, especially the National Bolsheviks. On the ESM website it's possible to read about youth camps and rallies where Eurasianist ideology is preached - it's intensely anti-American, anti-NATO and "anti-Orange".

The Eurasian movement has members at the highest level of the Russian Federal Government, and its "Higher Council" is led by figures such as the vice speaker of the Russian Duma, A.P.Troshev – vice speaker of Russian Senate, A.A.-M. Aslakhanov, adviser to President Putin, M.V. Margelov, president of the Duma Committee for International Affairs, and V.I. Kalyuzhny, vice-minister of Foreign Affairs.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Translating Brodsky

Natasha Rulyova recently asked me some questions about my experience of translating Joseph Brodsky, for a book she is writing. I ventured the following replies:

- Your translation of Strophes first appeared in Strand (21:1, 1979/80)

It appeared in Stand, not Strand.

and Vogue (May 1980). Subsequently, Joseph Brodsky (JB) revised it after publication.

That’s correct.

- Did Joseph Brodsky (JB) ask you to translate Strophes or was it your initiative?

One afternoon when I visited him at 44 Morton Street he asked me to translate the poem. He told me he had been keeping it for me.

- Do you know whether any other translators were approached to do the job?

No, but it’s possible to suppose that they weren’t.

- Have you ever seen any other versions of the poem?

No, apart from the revised versions of ‘our’ translation which Joseph published during his lifetime.

- Did JB try to translate it himself independently?

Yes, I believe so.

- JB had already started translating some of his own poems from the Russian when you translated Strophes. His auto-translation of December in Florence appeared roughly at the same time, in 1980. Why do you think did JB want you to translate Strophes rather than do it himself, taking into account that his control over his English translations was about to start growing?

As far as I could tell, Joseph regarded Strophes as something apart from the rest of his production at that time. For him it seemed to represent a statement that was acutely personal, and one he wasn’t sure very many people would understand. He wanted the translation to be a process of understanding.

- To what extent did JB interfere with your translation and at what stages?

He didn’t interfere much with the actual writing of the ‘final’ translation, but we had at least two long sessions where he went through various drafts of the individual stanzas with me and made suggestions. It was a sort of extended discussion, and it took quite some time.

- Did he try to russify your translation?


- Did he attempt to make it less ‘smooth’?


- If not, how would you describe the changes he suggested? Did you agree with all his suggestions?

As far as I know, I accepted nearly all his changes, which seemed to stem from his own conviction and certainty about what he was saying. There are a few problems with the translation which haven’t been resolved – as in the lines

Like our thirty-third letter
I jib all my life ahead.

where the second line is still only a very approximate rendering of the Russian, but which represents Joseph’s preferred choice.

I think it needs to be remembered that for Joseph the process of translating his own poems was in many ways not ‘translation’ in the usual sense at all. He used to talk of ‘throwing away the original, as it’s not important now’. The idea was to create a new poem in English – and that was going to involve reliving some of the same existential tensions that had led to the writing of the Russian version. I always felt that the conventional kind of ‘translation’ had negative meanings for Joseph – he tended to regard it rather as Mandelstam did. The important thing was to create something new and alive that worked in the host language. Innokenty Annensky, of whom I’d made a special study and whom Joseph greatly admired, also took this approach.

- Did you consult anybody while you were translating Strophes?

No, only Joseph.

- How did JB make his suggestions/corrections: on your manuscript in your presence, after publication without consulting you, or any other?

Essentially we made the translation together, as part of an ongoing conversation – I made changes to my own drafts on pieces of paper, and submitted them for his approval. And he made his. Each stanza of the poem was treated almost like an individual poem in itself – a kind of rhyming haiku. We also translated some poems of Tsvetaeva at about the same time by a similar process, though it was almost exclusively oral, and didn’t involve much writing down. I only saw the results when Joseph had two of the translations published in the New Yorker, under the pseudonym "F.F. Morton". The idea was that 44 Morton Street had done the translating.

- In the Beinecke library JB archive, I saw a reference to your translation of the poem ‘On the Death of a Friend’ which, according to the reference, has not been published. Did JB ask you to translate the poem?

I think it was in a group of about four poems he gave me to translate, but also gave to Alan Myers, Daniel Weissbort, George Kline, and someone else.

- Do you still have this translation?


- Why was not it published?

I don’t know.

- Whose decision was it not to have it published?

Again, I don’t know.

- Did JB make any changes in it?

Once again, I don’t know.

- Have you translated any other JB’s poems which were not published?

I translated part of The Thames at Chelsea, but Joseph preferred Alan Myers’ version of the complete poem.

- What were the reason for not having them published?

I think I’ve explained the situation above.

- In From Russian with Love, Daniel Weissbort notes that he felt more ‘proprietorial’ about his translations of JB’s poems than Alan Myers who saw his translations as ‘versions’, or ‘drafts’. How would you describe your relationship with your translations?

I always saw them as open-ended drafts, which were under Joseph’s control – they were his poems, and I tried to help to find an English idiom in which to phrase the English versions of the few that I got involved with. It may seem strange, but the translation of Strophes was really an extension of the conversations we were having at the time, both about the poem itself and about other matters, rather than a literary text as such. I felt that this improvisatory process was one of the ways in which Joseph gauged the personal characteristics of his translators and of other non-Russians who surrounded him. The translations were a kind of test – not so much of linguistic or literary skill, though that mattered, of course - as of existential authenticity. I was never sure whether I passed or failed this test, though in our work together Joseph always insisted that I had passed it. I rarely had contact with his other translators.

- Did JB ever ask you to edit his English poems or to comment on his English texts?

He sometimes asked me to edit his prose texts – the short essay on Dostoevsky is an example, though it needed hardly any changes. I also read and commented, at his request, on some other texts he had written, but I don’t remember what they were now.

My translation of Strophes is here.

IHF: Joint NGO Statement

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Vienna, Austria

As Russia Takes Over the Chair of the Council of Europe It Must Show Respect for Human Rights

Joint call by Amnesty International, Center ‘Demos’, Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Civic Assistance Committee, Human Rights Center ‘Memorial’, Human Rights Watch, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Moscow Helsinki Group, Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia

19 May 2006.

Today for the first time the Russian Federation will assume the chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, shortly after the 10th anniversary of its joining the Council of Europe. We, Russian and international human rights organizations, strongly believe that this occasion carries special responsibilities and heralds opportunities. The country occupying the chair of this inter-governmental organization that promotes respect for and monitors compliance with human rights, rule of law and democracy in its member states should exhibit exemplary cooperation with the bodies of the Council of Europe and respect for its aims.

Russia has made considerable progress in fulfilling a number of key promises and commitments it made when joining the Council of Europe. Among them it has signed and ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and several other Council of Europe conventions; transferred the supervision of the prison system to the Ministry of Justice; introduced new criminal, civil and procedure codes; and imposed a moratorium on the death penalty.

However, we are concerned that Russia has failed to follow up on a number of the commitments it made when becoming a member of the Council of Europe and to consistently cooperate with bodies of the Council of Europe. We are also concerned that the government’s adherence to respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms, particularly in the area of political freedoms, has seriously declined in Russia in recent years.

We are hopeful that during its Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, Russia will take significant steps to enhance the respect and protection of human rights at home, and to encourage such enhancement across the Council of Europe region. We believe that by taking the measures as outlined below Russia will demonstrate its real commitment to the Council of Europe’s aims of promoting and respecting human rights, the rule of law and democracy.

· End Arbitrary Detentions, Torture, Ill-treatment, Enforced “Disappearances”, and Extra-judicial Executions in the North Caucasus.

The Russian army, federal security forces and official as well as un-official units of the government of Chechnya have to strictly obey Russian law as well as international human rights and humanitarian law. All groups on the side of the Chechen armed opposition must refrain from all activities, which endanger the civilian population.

We urge the Russian authorities to put an end to torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detentions, enforced “disappearances”, and extra-judicial executions.

· Take Meaningful Steps to End Impunity in Chechnya

Upon becoming a member of the Council of Europe, Russia committed itself to ensuring that “those found responsible for human rights violations will be brought to justice - notably in relation to events in Chechnya.” In cooperation with the Council of Europe the Russian authorities have taken some steps towards identifying exhumed bodies and investigation of human rights abuses. However, an overwhelming climate of impunity continues to reign in the region.

We urge the Russian authorities to make real measurable progress over the next six months in the investigation and prosecution of a number of key cases of human rights violation. i)

· End Violent Abuses in the Russian Armed Forces

Upon accession to the Council of Europe, Russia also undertook “to reduce, if not eliminate, incidents of ill-treatment and deaths in the armed forces outside military conflicts”. Yet hazing and violent initiation practices in the armed forces still result in the deaths of dozens of young soldiers every year, and serious damage to the physical and mental health of thousands of others.

We call on the Russian government to present and implement a clear and comprehensive plan of action to end violent initiation practices in the armed forces.

· Amendments to the Law on Non-governmental Organizations

In April 2006, a new law governing the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came into force, which includes provisions that dramatically increase government control over the work of NGOs, and that may lead to even more sustained political interference in the activities of NGOs.

We call on the Russian government to amend the law and introduce safeguards to protect NGOs from arbitrary restrictions of their lawful activities.

· Reform of the Procurator’s Office

Russia has made a commitment when it joined to reform the Procurator's office in line with Council of Europe standards. However, this reform has yet to happen. A large body of research by the undersigned human rights groups illustrates that the procurator’s office routinely fails to promptly, thoroughly, impartially and effectively investigate allegations of human rights abuses.

We believe that the Russian government should swiftly undertake a comprehensive process leading to a thorough overhaul of the office of the procuracy, in line with European standards and thereby allowing for access to effective redress and accountability for human rights violations.

· Cooperation with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture

In 1998, Russia ratified the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In doing so, it committed itself to cooperating with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). While Russia has generally permitted the CPT to visit places where people are deprived of their liberty, we are concerned that during its most recent visit in May this year the CPT was initially denied access to the village of Tsenteroi in the Chechen Republic. ii)

Russia is the only Council of Europe country not to authorize the publication of all reports of the CPT’s visits. To date 12 out of a total of 13 reports of the CPT’s visits remain confidential. While not required to do so, authorization of publication of the reports has become an established practice of all other parties of the Convention.

We believe that Russia should ensure full cooperation with the CPT by among other things, ensuring the Committee access to all places where people are deprived of their liberty; making public plans for real and transparent efforts to implement the CPTs recommendations, and authorising, without further delay, publication of all reports of CPT visits to Russia.

· Ratification of Protocol 6 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR)

In 1996, Russia undertook to “sign within one year and ratify within three years” Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR, which provides for the abolition of the death penalty in time of peace. Although no death sentences have been passed or executions carried out for years, Russia has yet to ratify the protocol.

We urge the Russian parliament to ratify Protocol 6 without further delay.

· Ratification of the European Social Charter

On accession as a Member State of the Council of Europe, Russia undertook to “study, with a view to ratification, the European Social Charter”. Russia signed the charter on 14 September 2000.

We believe Russia should finalize the ratification process during its Chairmanship.

i) Such as the systematic ill-treatment and enforced “disappearance” at the Oktiabrskii District Temporary Police Precinct in Grozny in the spring of 2000 or the “disappearances” of Said-Khusein and Said-Magomed Imakaev . The later is an applicant to the European Court of Human Rights in relation to his son’s “disappearance”;
ii) On 1 May 2006, the CPT interrupted its visit to the North Caucasus after it had been denied access to the village of Tsenteroi. However, the CPT resumed the visit after receiving assurances from the President of Chechnya that it would be able to work without further interference.

The Hole

Jens-Olaf at Estland has a post about "Overcoming the Past", in connection with Drew Wilson's recently published book The Hole, a study which re-examines the sinking of the Estonia, and proceeds from the supposition that the ship had a hole - from a collision or an explosion. The Estland post focuses on aspects of Estonian social and political life in the early 1990s, which are highlighted in Wilson's book, and wonders about the real nature of Estonian-Russian tensions at that time.

I plan to discuss Wilson's book in a future post to this blog.


This week, Ingushetia's interior minister, Dzhabrail Kostoev, was assassinated by a roadside bomb on the outskirts of the republic's capital Nazran. The bomb also killed two bodyguards and four civilians.

In the same week, Nurpashi Kulayev - supposedly the only surviving attacker in the Beslan school seizure - was found guilty of terrorism, hostage taking, murder and other charges by the North Ossetia Supreme Court.

Chechnya Weekly has an analysis of a possible connection between these two events, and points to the possibility that other Beslan attackers are still at large - contrary to official Russian state propaganda.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Mikael Storsjö Radio Interview

Kavkaz Center has published a transcript in English of a Swedish-language radio interview given to Sveriges Radio by Finland-Swedish businessman Mikael Storsjö. As Norbert Strade points out at chechnya-sl, the translation is fairly accurate, though it contains some odd mistakes and alterations - such as the substitution of "Islamic" for "Islamist", and "so-called separatists" for "separatists". However, as a background to the recent seizure of the KC servers by Swedish police, the English-language interview is worth reading - and comparing, if one understands Swedish, with the original. There are also short interviews with Swedish police officials.

Update May 23: Mikael Storsjö has now made clear that the translation is his own. The errors were his, and were not deliberate.

An Unlikely Defender

Today, Russia takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe (CE). Writing in the Independent, Anne Penketh observes that
a confident, even swaggering, Russia takes the helm of Europe's foremost human rights body today, ready to deflect accusations that it has failed to live up to the standards set by the institution it will lead for the next six months.

Russia's chairmanship of the Council of Europe, whose three pillars are human rights, the rule of law and open democracy, comes just two months before President Vladimir Putin hosts the G8 summit in St Petersburg and will place the Kremlin's commitment to the core values of the West under fresh scrutiny.

In recent months, concerns have been raised about Russia's moves to shut down non-governmental organisations, its curbing of the media and its imprisonment of Russia's richest man just when he was becoming a political rival of Mr Putin. The President has, meanwhile, developed strong links with the hardline authoritarian leaders of Belarus and Uzbekistan.

In Chechnya, according to Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat who visited the restive Russian republic three weeks ago, the pro-Moscow leader Ramzan Kadyrov has taken torture to a new level as he seeks to crush resistance.

But the West's dependency on Russian energy has radically changed the balance of power, leaving European governments with less political leverage at a time when Russia has already used its gas-powered influence over the West-leaning former Soviet states of Ukraine and Georgia.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Iran Interfering in Iraq

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has reiterated that he believes Iran is contributing to the instability in Iraq, telling U.S. senators that a hasty withdrawal from Iraq would merely serve Iran's interests.

Rumsfeld told members of the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 17 that U.S. forces continue to find Iranian-manufactured weapons in Iraq, though he conceded that there is no conclusive proof of Iranian involvement.

War in Chechnya Continues

Writing in EDM, commentator Andrei Smirnov notes that the new wave of attacks by guerrillas in Chechnya is forcing the Kremlin to lift its information blockade on events in the region:
Yesterday, May 17, Russia's official news agency, Interfax, reported that a convoy of Russian troops had been ambushed near the Chechen village of Nikikhat. Official casualty figures listed five dead and six wounded. The news resembled reports that regularly came from Chechnya during the first several years of the second military campaign in the republic, but such reports have been noticeably absent in recent years.

One major difference between the first (1994-96) and the second (1999-) Chechen wars was the coverage by the Russian and international media. During the First Chechen War, journalists had free access to the region, and the media published reports from both the Russian military command and the Chechen rebels. The Russian generals often would insist that the war was over, but each time independent media sources, including Russian ones, disproved such claims.

The Second Chechen War is characterized by the information blockade set up around the separatist republic. No free press was allowed into Chechnya, and the centrally controlled press department of the security services became almost the sole source of information concerning hostilities in the region. As time went by, official military reports became shorter and shorter; eventually they were replaced by optimistic statements from pro-Russian Chechen leaders asserting that the situation in Chechnya had normalized.

Nevertheless, the guerilla war in Chechnya continued, hidden from the outside world. For example, on February 8, 2006, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, the leader of the Chechen separatists, issued a decree that was posted on the Kavkaz Center website (Kavkaz Center, February 12). In the decree he ordered the rebel field commanders "to recruit volunteers and equip them with weapons and ammunition as required by the approved plan for the spring and summer military campaign." Following the decree, insurgent envoys surfaced in Chechen settlements to recruit new fighters. This process became so overt that Chechnya's pro-Russian leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, went on local television with a vow to kill rebel envoys who tried to compel young Chechens to join the guerillas (Vainakh TV, February 23). But rather than discouraging the rebels, attacks increased following Kadyrov's threat.

Chechen insurgents have staged attacks with increasing frequency since early March. First, insurgents clashed with Russian special forces in mountain districts such as Vedeno or Itum-Kale, then Grozny, the Chechen capital, was mentioned with increasing frequency in rebel reports, usually regarding night-time surgical strikes against checkpoints and army patrols in the city.

Throughout March Russian authorities remained silent regarding these attacks. But as the frequency of rebel attacks increased in April, they could no longer be ignored. The authorities found themselves in a difficult position; on the one hand, they had to continue their policy of trying to prove that the war in Chechnya is over, but, on the other hand, they realized that they should react somehow to the Russian army's rising casualties from rebel activities. Security officials had typically tried to explain their heavy casualties away by citing bad luck or traffic accidents.

When rebel websites reported ambushes and bombings of the Russian columns in the mountains, officials responded with other versions of events. On April 24, RIA-Novosti reported that in Itum-Kale district the driver of an APC had lost control of the vehicle and had fallen into a gorge, killing two officers died and injuring two others. Six days later, on April 30, Interfax reported that a truck had fallen into the Argun River in the mountainous Shatoy district. On May 3, the Russian military command reported another accident in the Vedeno district, saying that an infantry combat vehicle had exploded due to faulty engine wiring (Ekho Moskvy, May 3). On May 10, Interfax reported an APC had fallen into a gorge in Nozhai-Urt district near the village of Ersenoy.

There are no mountains or gorges in Grozny, so the authorities had to find other reasons why federal forces continue to die in the city. On May 1, Interfax reported that a stray bullet from a wedding celebration had injured a bystander, while another report the next day said that a Russian policeman had been wounded in Grozny by a "random bullet." On May 8, Interfax noted that an officer had been injured when an unidentified explosive device detonated during a sweep around the city's police headquarters.

According to the rebel sources, insurgent attacks reached a new peak during the first week of May, with 98 Russian servicemen killed or wounded during that time throughout Chechen territory (Daymokh, May 10). The attacks became bolder and more lethal and more raids occurred during daylight. Ultimately, the authorities realized that they could not hide such information from the public any longer. On May 12, RIA-Novosti reported that two soldiers had been killed and three injured when a military jeep was ambushed in Grozny, and the next day Radio Liberty reported another ambush in the Chechen capital, this time leaving one soldier dead and four wounded.

After such reports the generals in Chechnya openly voiced their concerns. "An analysis of the situation has shown that the bandit formations are preparing acts of sabotage this spring and summer," General Grigory Fomenko, the military commandant of the republic, said on May 13. He had to admit, "Bandit activity increased during the last week" (RIA-Novosti, May 13).

Despite immense efforts on the part of the Russian authorities to hide the war in Chechnya, the rebels are undaunted and are starting their spring and summer offensive. The increasing guerilla operations in the region are tearing down information barriers, even without the presence of independent media in the region.

"Europe Is Afraid Of Russia"

Hufvudstadsbladet, Helsinki

“Europe afraid of Russia”

Published: 17/05/06 21:19

[my tr. from Swedish]

“The Europeans don’t dare to say anything, even though Russia is violating human rights,” claims Robert Amsterdam, lawyer of the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He hopes that Finland, as the next EU chair country, has left Finlandization behind.

Robert Amsterdam engages in lobbying, and does not allow Western politicians to forget that Russian President Putin’s ex-rival Mikahil Khodorkovsky is serving what many political observers see as a political sentence in a Siberian prison camp. But he admits that the chances of obtaining a new trial are slim.

“Our only chance is to appeal to the outside world. If the decision-makers claim to support human rights they must force Russia to respect international agreements,” Amsterdam told Hbl.

“But Russia is twisting the EU round its little finger.”

As an example, Amsterdam mentions Rosneft boss Sergei Bogdanchikov’s speech at a recent economic seminar in London attended by dozens of European politicians and investors. Rosneft is the formerly state-owned oil company which hijacked the greater part of Khodorkovsky’s company Yukos in a forced auction – according to Western analysts, acquiring it for a ridiculously low price.

“No one asked a single question, even though Rosneft increased its own market value six times in the course of a year and bought assets worth 9 billion dollars which the company is now selling for 45 billion,” Amsterdam says.

“The problem is that Europe treats Russia like the Soviet Union, even though the size of the country’s economy is in the same class as Holland’s. Russia needs European currency far more than Europe needs Russian energy.”

Khodorkovsky was convicted of tax fraud and the Russian state split up his company, but Amsterdam points out that other businessmen who have become rich in the same way in connection with Russian privatisation walk free. He takes this as proof that Khodorkovsky’s trial was politically motivated.

“Everyone was doing the same, but Khodorkovsky was convicted. For example, Sibneft was also suspected of tax fraud, but in the end the Russian state bought back the company.”

Billionaire Roman Abramovich sold his share in Sibneft to state-owned Gazprom, and got a hundred times more for it than he originally paid. But he has good contacts in the Kremlin and, unlike Khodorkovsky, hasn’t let it be known that he is challenging Putin for political power.

According to human rights organizations, Russia is violating human rights, restricting press freedom and persecuting dissidents. Several Western politicians have warned Russia against winding up its democracy and market economy.

“This is not just about Khodorkovsky but about dozens of new political prisoners,” says Amsterdam.

He mentions cases which have attracted attention, such as that of Svetlana Bakhmina, the young Yukos lawyer who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to seven years’ hard labour. Ex-FSB agent Mikhail Trepashkin was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment after the police found illegal weapons in his car – he had uncovered the trace of the security services as he was investigating the bomb attack in Moscow which led to the second Chechen war.

Amsterdam is visiting Finland in order to meet parliamentarians and to prepare himself for Finland’s EU chairmanship. He plans to lobby intensively during the next six months.

“Finland must leave its own Finlandization behind. I hope that the Finnish decision-makers’ knowledge of Russia will mean that Finland’s chairmanship will lead to better results than those that have been achieved by recent chair countries.”

Marcus Lindqvist

09-1253 228

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Migrating to Reality

At México desde fuera, some interesting discussion of Emigration and Economy in Mexico, against the background of the forthcoming presidential elections. The blog considers that the militarization of the U.S.- Mexico border could have some positive aspects, as it may force an appraisal of economic realities which are at present hidden: a significant tightening of controls on illegal migration could prove to be a test of how far the United States can manage without cheap manual labour. It might also have a pacifying effect on Mexico's northern border, which might cease to be the favourite transit-point of the Colombian and Mexican Mafias for the trafficking of drugs:
I suppose that a similar honour will now be transferred to the border with Canada, which causes me an immense joy. Perhaps Tijuana and Mexicali, the same as Nuevo Laredo and Juárez, will be able to recover something of the tranquillity they once had.
Concerning the elections, the blog takes the unorthodox view that a victory for López would not be the disaster predicted by many commentators, as it would enable the formation of a PRI-PRD majority in the Mexican parliament which might render the country governable once again, instead of "six more years of divided government which are not going to take us anywhere."

The Istanbul Commitments

In EDM, Vladimir Socor discusses the Russian government's maneuverings in connection with a secret conference which, with the connivance of "Old" Europe, among other things threatens the security of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Certainly an issue to watch over the coming months. Socor writes:
Amid a deep secrecy that belies its democratic professions, the OSCE is preparing to hold a Conference to Review the Operation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) in Vienna at the end of this month. Some West European chancelleries are seeking ways to give in to Moscow's main goal at this conference: ratification of the 1999 treaty at the expense of a few small countries in Europe's East. Thus far, Moscow has only managed to persuade Belarus, Ukraine (during Leonid Kuchma's presidency), and Kazakhstan to ratify that treaty.

Originally signed in 1990, the CFE Treaty underwent adaptation at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit, in one package with the Final Act that includes what came to be known as Russia's "Istanbul Commitments"; namely, to withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova. While the original 1990 treaty remains in force, the 1999-adapted treaty never entered into force because Russia has not fulfilled those commitments. Moreover, Armenian forces deploy Russian-supplied heavy weaponry exceeding CFE treaty limits in areas seized from Azerbaijan, out of bounds to international inspection.

Meanwhile, Russia seeks to extend the CFE Treaty's area of applicability so as to include the three Baltic states, which were not parties to the 1990 treaty (they were still occupied by Moscow at that time). Since the Baltic states joined NATO, Russia seeks to bring them under the purview of the 1999-adapted CFE treaty and start negotiations with them about limiting allied forces that might hypothetically be deployed to the Baltic states' territories, for example in crisis contingencies. Legally, however, the Baltic states cannot join an unratified treaty.

Thus, Russia is now pressing for the treaty's speedy ratification by all state-parties, so as to make possible the Baltic states' accession to the ratified treaty, while still keeping Russian troops on Georgia's and Moldova's territories in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria. Moscow calculates that Western consent to ratification of the 1999 treaty in such circumstances would legitimize, prolong, and even legalize the stationing of Russian troops in Georgia and Moldova as "peacekeepers."

To pave the way for such an outcome, Moscow has agreed with Georgia to close Russian bases and military installations situated deep inside the country by 2008 (nine years after its pledge to do so); but it insists on maintaining its "peacekeeping" forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia while heavily arming its proxy forces there. Russia had liquidated most of its treaty-limited weaponry in Transnistria already in 2001; but retains a part of it to this day, has transferred another part as well as personnel to Transnistria-flagged forces, and openly repudiates the obligation to withdraw Russia's own troops, styled as "peacekeepers."

The United States as well as NATO collectively take the position that ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty is inseparably linked to fulfillment of Russia's commitments to withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova; and that the Baltic states would accede to the treaty, once it enters into force.

Russia has drafted its version of a decision for the CFE Treaty Review conference and wants negotiations on its basis in the OSCE's Joint Consultative Group (JCG), the Vienna forum of the 30 state-parties to the treaty. Moscow's draft claims, "Most commitments and arrangements mentioned in the [1999] Final Act are either already fulfilled or are in the process of fulfillment, [while] the implementation of the remaining ones has no direct relevance to the CFE Treaty and depends on the progress of conflict settlement on the territories of some State Parties." It proposes that all state parties should deem the 1999 treaty as valid from October 2006, start the national ratification procedures, bring the treaty into force in 2007, and "discuss the possibility of accession of new participants."

The translation: Although Russia has far from completely honored its force-withdrawal commitments, the state-parties (mostly NATO and European Union member countries) should agree that it has. Thus, they should: proceed with the Moscow-desired ratification of the treaty; de-link ratification from the fulfillment of Russia's withdrawal commitments, using the conflicts for an excuse; lean on Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan to accept the situation and ratify the treaty; and start the procedure of the Baltic states' accession to the force-limiting treaty.

Some German, French, Belgian, and other diplomats are now exploring a solution that could allow Russia to claim that it has fulfilled its troop-withdrawal commitments. Such a solution would:

1) exempt Russia's "peacekeeping" troops from the obligation to withdraw, recognizing their hitherto unrecognized role as "peacekeepers" and allowing them to stay on;

2) silently tolerate the arsenals of CFE treaty-limited weaponry that Russia has transferred to proxy forces in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, as well as the deployments inside Azerbaijan; and

3) elicit consent from Tbilisi, Chisinau, and Baku with such a solution.

It would seem that the secrecy surrounding the JCG debates in Vienna and the ironing out of common positions at the EU in Brussels is a propitious atmosphere for a compromise with Moscow at the expense of small countries. Lack of transparency in Vienna also tends to facilitate undercutting or diluting the U.S. and collective NATO position on these issues through initiatives from a few important European capitals.

(JCG documents, May 2006)


From Anthony Barnett's AB Fable label, some new CDs. I've already listened to one of them, Summertime: Rex Stewart - Stuff Smith - the 1963 St. Onge LA Duets & Narration, a fascinating and previously unreleased private recording of the two musicians, trumpeter and violinist, talking about their early days in jazz and playing together unaccompanied by a band, in a completely informal setting.

Gayle Dixon has commented:
To hear two instruments with such distinct timbres blend this way is amazing in itself. Trumpet and violin trade melody and comping duties -- Stuff sets up the changes with short rhythmic statements in double stops, or comps pizzicato as Rex solos. As the violin plays the melody, someone casually hums along in unison. Classic musician humor, ending in gales of laughter, punctuates the session.

To Anthony -- Meticulously produced with artistry and love, you capture the essence of the moment as well as the music. Congratulations on another masterful restoration. This recording is a worthy addition to your Violin Improvisation Studies series, and a service to the music community.

Hear, hear.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cell Phone Network Problems in Chechnya

Further to Anne Nivat's article about life in Grozny, a Prague Watchdog report (my tr.):
May 16th 2006

Prices of Megafon SIM cards soar in Chechnya

By Umalt Chadayev

GROZNY, Chechnya – The May holidays were marked by a sharp increase in the price of SIM cards that connect to the mobile phone network in Chechnya. People who want to become subscribers of Megafon, the only mobile carrier operating in the republic, must now pay two or three times the normal price for a connection to the network.

For the past few days, Grozny’s numerous Megafon SIM card sales points have not been serving customers. Office workers speak of a lack of cards.

"There have been no SIM cards on sale in our city for more than a week now," says Kheda, an employee at one Megafon sales point." And no one knows when they’ll be available again. As far as I know, it’s possible to get SIMs at the exchange (an area in Grozny’s central market where private individuals deal in currency and second-hand mobile phones). They say the SIMs there cost about 800 rubles. There’s also a place quite close to us where they sell SIM cards, but their price varies between 1,000 and 1,200 rubles."

According to Kheda, the speculation in SIM cards in the republic began during the period of the May holidays. "At first SIM cards began to cost 500 rubles, then 600. Before May 9 the price went up to 800 rubles, and now it’s already over 1,000. Some buyers think we’re deliberately refusing to sell them SIMs in order to make the price go up, but we just don’t have any," she says.

Until recently a connection to the Megafon mobile phone network in Chechnya cost subscribers 400 rubles, but now new customers have to pay two or three times more. It is true that at the exchange it’s possible to find people who are selling their own SIM cards, and the price of such "used" cards is 500-600 rubles.

"Buying a SIM card second-hand rather than at a sales point presents the customer with a number of problems. First, the phone number will not be registered in their name, and second, it will constantly get calls from the former owner’s friends, and that also costs money," a young person employed as a mobile phone sales clerk in Grozny told PW’s correspondent. "As for the lack of cards in the places where they’re normally sold, I think that’s being done artificially, for one purpose only: to put the prices up.

“Subscribers to "Chechen" Megafon have repeatedly voiced serious complaints about the company’s work in the republic. People complain about the poor connection, and about credits that disappear from their accounts, sometimes involving very large sums. A few months ago the head of the republic’s [Moscow-backed] government, Ramzan Kadyrov, intervened in the dispute between residents and Megafon, promising to ban the company from operating on Chechen territory if it failed to lower the tariffs on the use of mobile connections for its customers and improve the quality of the connection.

“The tariffs for Chechen customers were in fact reduced a bit; however, the questions about connection quality and credits disappearing from customers’ accounts have remained practically unresolved. Now on top of all this there’s a sharp increase in the price of SIM cards. In the neighbouring North Caucasus republics SIM cards cost 100-150 rubles on average."
See also: Cell Phone Protest

"Like Stalin In Another Era"

Anne Nivat, the journalist and writer who has done more than almost any other Western correspondent to obtain and publish on-the-ground information about the conflict in Chechnya - often in the face of threats and violence from the Russian authorities - has written a two-part assessment in Le Monde Diplomatique, here and here, of the current state of the republic. Although she notes a superficial appearance of a return to normal, she also observes that this deceptive situation conceals a much more troubling reality. The Russians are counting on continued violence, and the resignation of the local people. From the article:
After crossing the Chechen border we took a minibus to Grozny. Snow was falling and the radio was playing Russian hits. It seemed that every car had its radio on at full volume, as though blasting people with sound would help them forget. Mobile phones arrived here about two years ago and now everybody has one, but people prefer to receive rather than make calls because of the cost. Chechnya is regarded as a jammed zone. Megafon, the only authorised phone operator in the Chechen Republic, is thought to have links with the secret services. Scores of disgruntled users sometimes protest in front of the firm’s Grozny headquarters and chant “Megafon steals!” Customers’ phone credits occasionally disappear overnight.

Brand-new Leader petrol pumps belonging to the Kadyrov family have sprung up along the main road. Spruce redbrick houses stand beside shot-up ones with battered corners and blasted roofs. Road signs and advertising hoardings have sprouted at major crossroads and next to pockmarked buildings. The name Grozny is written in huge, freshly painted letters at the entrance to the city. Inside the city, the traffic lights are working even though many drivers are afraid to stop.

Minutka Square is still the same pile of concrete debris. Nothing has been rebuilt. We emerged from the tunnel and drove down Victory Avenue, formerly Lenin Avenue. On the left, on a huge red marble pedestal is a life-size statue of Akhmad Kadyrov wearing a papakha, the traditional fur hat, and holding worry-beads. Two soldiers with Kalashnikovs stand guard over the statue 24 hours a day. We passed the pale blue Orthodox church on our right - one of the first religious edifices to have been rebuilt - and arrived in the centre of Grozny, where the bazaar was in full midday swing. It is still surrounded by dilapidated buildings, and the covered part has been partly rebuilt of plywood, but the traders continue to set up their stands. We had passed through 11 checkpoints since leaving Sleptsovsk, three times fewer than two years ago.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

It is rare now to hear the sounds of war in Grozny at night but between 2000 and 2004 they were a constant background noise. The columns of tanks, often several kilometres long, are fewer and there are not so many reports of the terrible clean-up operations, the zachistki. But the time has come to settle scores: Chechen pitted against Chechen, brilliantly masterminded by Moscow. The capital appears to be bustling with activity but it is all facade, like the reconstruction of Victory Avenue and the empty words of the newly elected politicians, obsessed by their allegiance to their pro-Russian boss - “Like Stalin in another era,” say the locals.
Nivat investigates the role of religion in the Chechen conflict:
There is a final question on a key point in Russian propaganda: the role of religion in the conflict. Most Chechens reply: “There is no role.” They continue to practice Islam “as before” with the great moderation beloved of the Sufi tradition.

“They blame Islam, the Islamists and the fundamentalists,” explained Lida Iusupova, “but why are only Muslims labelled extremists? Why don’t they call the skinheads marauding around Russian cities Orthodox fundamentalists?”

Melnikova said: “The religious factor is being manipulated. Since 1999 the Kremlin has accused the Wahhabis and the fundamentalists so as to cover up the real culprits they would have to fight and arrest. Meanwhile the situation is worsening each day. The assassination of Maskhadov has radicalised the conflict and it can only get worse. The army doesn’t seem to want the war to end; it’s as though it suits them. And Putin’s decision after the Beslan disaster to appoint regional governors - who were previously elected by universal suffrage - shows just how useless our government is.

What is the connection between the method for electing governors and the international war against terror?”
Read it all.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Secret Prisons in Chechnya

Secret Prisons in Chechnya Should Be of Concern to the Council of Europe

Vienna, 15 May 2006. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) has submitted its report "Unofficial Places of Detention in the Chechen Republic" to Council of Europe Legal Affairs Committee Rapporteur Dick Marty, who has a mandate to investigate "alleged secret detention centres in Council of Europe member states".

The 37-page report documents the existence of secret prisons in Chechnya operated by Chechen officials, in particular the so-called "Kadyrovtsy," and by Russian security forces. These facilities violate Russian law and Russia's obligations as a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as to the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR).

"Secret illegal prisons are used for detaining, torturing and even killing kidnapping victims in Chechnya," according to Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director. "We believe the investigation by Mr. Marty must focus on this issue as a challenge to the rule of law and human rights in a Council of Europe member state."

The report is posted on the IHF internet site at

For further information:
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, +43 -676-635 66 12
Joachim Frank, IHF Project Coordinator, +43-676-312 23 48
Henriette Schroeder, IHF Press Officer, +43-676-725 48 29


Executive Summary

At the beginning of the second Chechen war, numerous unofficial places of detention existed throughout Chechnya, many of them in the form of earth pits. The biggest such facility was located on the territory of the headquarters of the federal army in Khankala, close to Grozny. The existence of these unofficial places of detention was denied at the time. Later, in February 2001, a large mass grave was found close to Khankala, containing more than fifty dead bodies, many bearing signs of execution. Most of the bodies that were identified belonged to persons who were last seen in the custody of Russian troops or police.

Now, in the seventh year of the armed conflict, many illegal places of detention still exist in the Chechen Republic. Most of them are run by forces operating under Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov (so-called "Kadyrovtsy"). One reason for this parallel penitentiary system is to obtain "confessions" and "testimonies" through cruel beatings and torture, which subsequently can lead to the official detention and persecution of the respective persons. A high number of such criminal cases are fabricated.

In the village Tsentoroy (Khosi-Yurt), where the "Kadyrovtsy" headquarters is located, there are at least two illegal prisons functioning.

. One consists of concrete bunkers or boxes, and kidnapped relatives of armed Chechen fighters - parents, wives, brothers or even children - are held there as hostages.
. The second prison in Tsentoroy is evidently located in the yard - or in immediate vicinity - of the house of Ramzan Kadyrov.

Some of the other illegal prisons run by the "Kadyrovtsy" are:

. the premises of the "anti-terrorist centre" (ATC) in Gudermes
. the premises of the "anti-terrorist centre" (ATC) in Geldagan (Kurchaloevsky district)
. the premises of the "anti-terrorist center" (ATC) in Urus-Martan: in the buildings of the former RAIPO in the city center and in the building that used to belong to the regional Selkhoztechnika association opposite school nr 7
. the "anti-terrorist centre" in the western suburb of Avtury (Shalinsky district)
. the buildings occupied by the so-called "oil regiment" in Grozny's Yuzhnaya street
. the base of a subdivision of the "oil regiment" in the Dzhalka village in the Gudermes region
. another "oil regiment" house, being opposite the house of their commander Adam Delimkhanov
. the base of PPSM-2 in Grozny next to the building of the 'RTS Microrayon'
. the buildings of a technical college in the 12th district of the Oktyabrski region of Grozny in Achkhoy-Martan. The battalions "Vostok" ("East") and "Zapad" ("West"), being part of the 42nd Mechanized Infantry Division of the Russian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), also use their premises as illegal prisons.
. premises of the battalion "Vostok" in Gudermes, on the territory of the former company PMK-6 (till spring 2006, "Vostok" had an additional premise in a food factory)
. premises of the battalion "Zapad" in the Staropromyslovski district of Grozny (till spring 2006 "Zapad" was based in the Transmash Factory);
plus the territory of a subunit of them in the south-eastern part of Urus-Martan

The summary special groups (SSG) of the FSB of the Russian Federation, located in different districts of the republic, also run unlawful places of detention, inter alia in the following places:

. the premises of a former private enterprise in the outskirts of Katyr-Yurt village (Achkhoy-Martan district)
. a mill near the village Starye Atagi (Groznensky rural district)
The premises of a former food factory between the villages of Avtury and Geldagan also serve as a secret prison, run by a federal structure, but it is not clear which structure.

The main military base of the Russian army in Chechnya, Khankala, seems not any longer to be the major place, where illegally persons are kept.

Even official places for detention, like the temporary detention facility (IVS) at the republican and district level, are used as illegal places of detention, where the presence of several of its detainees are not properly registered. Kidnapped people are kept there, and beatings, torture and extrajudicial executions are perpetrated there as well. The legalization of ORB-2 - the Operational-Search Bureau of the North Caucasus Operative Department of the Chief Department of the Russian Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Southern Federal District, and opening of several ORB-2 sub-offices is disputed, as it opposes Russian federal law. There are confirmed reports that kidnapped persons are still being brought there and that it is still a place where torture is used systematically.

The "Kadyrovtsy"

"Kadyrovtsy" is a term used by the population of Chechnya - as well as members of the groups themselves - for members of the former so-called Security Service of the President of the Chechen Republic headed by Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the late President Akhmad Kadyrov, and now Chechen Prime Minister. This is the group now most feared by Chechnya's civilian population, more than federal servicemen. This Security Service was initially created as a personal security guard of the Moscow-appointed head of the Chechen administration, Akhmat Kadyrov, without any legal status, and gradually grew into a powerful military formation. It was commanded from the beginning by Ramzan Kadyrov. Some of its sub-units were legalized in 2004 and 2005 to become parts of different structures of the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs. After Akhmat Kadyrov was killed in a bomb blast in May 2004, the Security Service was formally liquidated and most of the rest of its units integrated into the system of Russian law enforcement agencies and security authorities. Gradually, all structures of the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs are falling under control of "Kadyrovtsy".

The total strength of the "Kadyrovtsy", which now include the "Second Road Patrol Regiment of the Police (PPSM-2)", the "oil regiment" and the "anti-terrorist centers" (ATC), is not disclosed. The estimations vary from 4 to 12 thousand people, although the last figure is probably an overestimation. Some are completely legalized into special structures of the Interior Ministry of Chechnya while others continue to exist in the form of paramilitary formations. By spring 2006, another reorganization of the "Kadyrovtsy"-structures started. Allegedly, the "anti-terrorist centers" (ATCs) are going to be closed down, and two new battalions will be formed: the battalions "Yug" ("South") and "Sever" ("North"). The announcement is that these two new battalions will be directly subordinated to the federal Ministry of Interior.

Joachim Frank, Project Coordinator
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Wickenburggasse 14/7
A-1080 Vienna
Tel. +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 22
Fax: +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 50

Update: At RFE/RL, a Secret Prison Victim Recalls His Ordeal.