Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Aslan Maskhadov

A Chechen terrorist is killed by colonial-like services, or it's not that simple?

I heard the news of Aslan Maskhadov's death. Quick, what were my first associations/reactions? A crying woman journalist in Club Petrovitch restaurant in Moscow, describing an aerial bombardment; a TV interview I was asked to do, for rented satellite time, in the immediate vicinity of the Dubrovka theatre, five hours before the FSB/OMON cleaning operation; the same old mantras in meetings of EU diplo-colleagues in closed eavesdrop-free rooms; the déjá vu anguish in front of a TV screen with images from the Beslan school; the hard cold faces of spokesmen for the Kremlinically correct version of the events. Chechnya, chechnya, chechnya. Not even in the news that much. Who cares?

To begin to understand what "Maskhadov" means you can pile up information and then have a go at a draft explanation. I read books and newspapers about the small republic in the Caucasus during my three Winters in beautiful beloved Moscow. I talked to people, including press heroes that actually went "there". (I could have visited Grozny myself, while we were in charge of OSCE business, a Red Cross friend offered me a lift in one of their flights. God knows, as every professional would agree, that I was eager to write back to the Palace about realities experienced at first hand instead of relying on hear-say. But I felt that there was too much a risk of being taken as a "political tourist", and of being accused of indulging in a profile higher than the adequate to a non-Head of Mission diplomat, and in the end I never set foot in Chechnya.) . I did attend an unending number of meetings where the subject was raised (from tense post-terrorist attacks official reactions to outraged descriptions from Human Rights ONGs). What am I allowed to say? That one should not fail to read Pushkin's "A Prisoner in the Caucasus", written in 1820? That one should read Tolstoi's own visitations of the Caucasus, a generation later ("A Prisoner in the Caucasus" of 1872, "Hadji Murad" (1904)? That's the easy part. The difficult words to articulate are Terrorism and Colonialism. The closer you get to the heart of the Chechen issue, the more you risk being lost in the territory of highly politically-charged semantics.

Why "colonialism"? Because when you are born in a country that has an history of colonial expansion you recognize more easily those very same features in other countries. Of course, it's much more difficult to identify the specimen when the expansion proceeds by territorial contiguity when compared with the clear cut situation when there's a big ocean in between the Metropolitan capital and the new setllement areas. Realpolitik can overcome, overwhelm and bury centuries-old hopes of self-determination and independence. But it is all very sad, really.

Terrorism or terrorists. Not as easy as some might think. Political leaders we all accept are NOT Machiavellian. "No cause justify dirty means" is something we all endorse. But the world political History is choke full of neo-post-new-Machiavellian leaders. Who, which is even more morally difficult to digest, have actually achieved something, thanks to the methods they used. Some of them went for terror tactics in their prime time on the Power stage and never looked back or repent a little (like Stalin), some were recycled into "normal" politicians ( like Krutchev or Begin). So, where should one put Maskhadov Just refrain, please, from black and white judgments, it's never that simple.

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