segunda-feira, 6 de setembro de 2004

Chechnya: What drives the separatists to commit such terrible outrages?

"(...)The current conflict in Chechnya goes back to the fall of 1991, when the tiny republic in the Russian Caucasus declared independence. It wasn't a crazy thing to do. The Soviet Union, which once seemed indestructible, was falling apart (and collapsed completely by the end of the year). Russia itself had a convoluted structure, with 89 federation members, each belonging to one of five categories (region, autonomous region, ethnic republic, province, and two special-status cities) with different structures and rights within the federation. The Russian Constitution recognizes the right of federation members to secede—and Chechnya tried to claim this right.

The Chechens' desire was perfectly understandable. As an ethnic group, Chechens had been mistreated by the Soviet regime, and the Russian empire before it, perhaps worse than anyone else. In 1944, the Chechens, along with several other ethnic groups, were accused of having collaborated with the Nazis and deported to Siberia. Their collective guilt established by the order of Stalin, on Feb. 23, 1944, more than half a million Chechens were forcibly herded onto cattle cars and sent to Western Siberia. As many as half died en route, and uncounted others perished in the harsh Siberian winter; the exiles were literally dumped in the open snowy fields and left to fend for themselves.

The Chechens were not allowed to return home until 1976. So by the time of perestroika, virtually all Chechen adults were people born in Siberian exile. No wonder they didn't want to live side by side with the Russians, who had mangled their lives. The last straw came in August 1991, when, during the failed hard-line communist coup, rumors spread that another deportation was in the works. Chechens overthrew their local, Soviet-appointed leader, and elected a new president on a nationalist platform.

Russia had no intention of recognizing Chechen independence. The Kremlin's fears were understandable: With the Soviet Union crumbling, there was no reason the shaky Russian federation couldn't follow. Granting independence to one region could set off a chain reaction. What's more, an oil pipeline went through Chechnya, and a small amount of oil was produced in the republic itself, so losing Chechnya could have meant significant financial loss for Russia. President Boris Yeltsin declined even to negotiate with the Chechen separatists—a traditional Russian disdain for this Muslim people no doubt played a role in his decision—and simply let the problem fester for three years.(...)"

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