Thursday, October 12, 2006

Putin Day

From Prague Watchdog (my tr.):

Grozny celebration in honour of Putin was “voluntary-compulsory”

By Umalt Chadayev

GROZNY, Chechnya – On October 7 a large rally took place in the centre of the Chechen capital involving the participation of thousands of people. The official authorities announced that those who took part were celebrating the Russian President’s birthday.

On Akhmat Kadyrov Prospect (formerly Victory Prospect) the rally participants, dressed in white, dark-blue and red T-shirts bearing an image of Putin’s face and the inscription “Happy Birthday”, performed the Russian national anthem. The words of the anthem were printed on the backs of the T-shirts.

The press service of the Moscow-backed Chechen government stated that the rally was arranged by the republic’s youth organizations. Representatives of the youth of neighbouring regions -– Daghestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Krasnodarsky Kray – were invited for the event.

In order to provide security for the young people taking part in the rally a large number of law-enforcement officers were mobilized. The central section of Grozny was cordoned off, and people had to pass through metal detectors in case anyone was carrying weapons or dangerous explosive objects. Here and there soldiers patrolled with dogs.

This event was given wide coverage in many media outlets. “On Saturday more than 60,000 people linked hands on Grozny’s Akhmat Kadyrov Square and sang the Russian national anthem,” the Internet publication Newsru.com reported. However, many of the rally participants say that their attendance at the event in honour of the Russian President was “voluntary but compulsory”.

“On Saturday I was in lectures at the university when they told us that the lectures were being postponed, and that we were not to go home. Then they made a list of our whole group and gave us all T-shirts with Putin’s face on them. Some students were given Russian flags. After that, we were taken in buses to Grozny, where this rally began. They warned us that if anyone left the rally they would be punished. Precisely how, no one explained,” says Zhabrail, a 20-year-old student at Chechen State University.

Other young people who took part in the rally say more or less the same thing. “We were taken to the rally straight from school. Also on specially chartered buses. We were given free T-shirts with Putin on them. Then we were formed up into a column and sent to Kadyrov Square. There we sang the national anthem, listened to some officials from the Committee on Youth Affairs and some other organizations, and then we went home. Many thought there would at least be a concert, but there was nothing. There was just a big public show, and that was it,” says Said, an 11th-grade student at one of the schools in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district.

“The leader kept shouting some kind of slogans, like ‘Putin is our President!’, then the microphone was turned our way for us to repeat these words, but there was no general response. Practically everyone preferred to keep silent. I personally can’t consider him my President, since my close family – my mother and two brothers – were killed by the war he unleashed here. And there are thousands like me here,” he said.

The young people also say that far fewer than the officially reported 60,000 or even 20,000 took part. “There were probably 5,000 or possibly 8-10,000, but no more. I mean, they were even bringing young folk to Grozny from the distant mountain villages. All this was put on in order to demonstrate the love of Chechen youth for the Russian President, but we know what Putin and his circle have done here,” Zhabrail considers.

“After the rally was over a lot of us just took off the Putin T-shirts and threw them away. It’s the officials who gather round the government feeding trough who love him and constantly demonstrate their devotion to him so they can keep their cosy armchairs. For the ordinary residents of Chechnya Putin is first and foremost the man who began the second bloody war here, who called for Chechens to be “wasted in the outhouse.” He is to blame for the fact that tens of thousands of our women, children and old people have perished. Putin is to blame for “Nord-Ost” and Beslan. We have nothing to thank him for. I regret that our local authorities have simply used us as extras in their show called “The Chechen People’s Love for Putin”, says the respondent.

Translated by David McDuff

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