Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Caucasian Babel

For weeks now, a French organization calling itself “Association Marcho Doryila” has been advertising a forthcoming “Caravane Babel Caucase” a mobile festival of artists, performers, jugglers, musicians and others that is scheduled to travel from Paris to the Chechen capital Grozny during the months of April and May. According to the organizers, the aim of the project is “to rediscover out history and our roots and our common myths. To know one another and to share in order to respect and enrich ourselves.” Performances are planned not only in Grozny, but also elsewhere in Chechnya, and in neighbouring Daghestan and Ingushetia, with an emphasis on visits to children’s groups and youth organizations.

The well-intentioned venture has sparked a fierce debate within Chechnya and within the Chechen diaspora in Europe, with some Chechens - mostly adherents to the radical agenda of the rebel government of Dokka Umarov - vehemently opposed to the whole scheme, on the grounds that it will merely give support to Ramzan Kadyrov’s presidential regime, which receives at least nominal backing from Moscow. At the Daymohk website, the French philosopher Andre Glucksmann has been strongly criticised for lending his name to the venture, and “open letters” are addressed to him, taking him to task. His reply - in which he reminded his critics that he has been a supporter of an independent Chechnya for many years - has not met with satisfaction.

The most recent attacks on the project concern its formulation - several signatories to an article published on the Kavkazinfo website, which caters to the Chechen refugee community in Poland, have pointed out that the very spelling of the project’s name is wrong. On the French website it appears as “Marcho Dorilya”, while the correct Chechen spelling is “Marsha Dog1yila”. “Marcho” in Chechen means a “shroud” - and so the title, which should have the meaning of “Welcome, Guests” (literally "Come in Freedom") actually reads “Welcome, Shroud”. It’s also inappropriate for the greeting to be uttered by the guests - the hosts are supposed to say it. Whatever one’s views on the main issue, it does seem a pity that the designers of the French site apparently can’t at least see their way to correcting the mistake, which is now replicated in the recently-added Russian-language section.

This is an ongoing debate, and one which promises to play a part in defining Chechnya’s attitude towards the outside world
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