By Petr Janouch
Once again Chechnya made it to the front pages of Europe’s newspapers and on prime time of major broadcasts. Given the protracted conflict which is no longer sexy enough for Western journalists, this much coverage of Chechnya can only mean something extraordinary happened: Another Dubrovka, another Beslan, another presidential assassination? OK, make note of it, count the dead and move on. Wrong again! There is another topic that has become sexy enough to cover and the credit for this goes to the Kremlin’s media strategists. The new topic is called “voting”.
Following the “constitutional referendum” in March 2003, and after one federal (March 2004) and two local (October 2003, August 2004) presidential “elections” and a set of federal parliamentary elections (December 2003), Chechens were once again called to the ballot boxes to prove their voting skills.
The differences between Sunday’s vote and previous ones will be hard to find. Participation may have been somewhat higher this time, even if the official turnout will be far from actual. It has become the norm that on a day like this it’s better to stay home than risk showing up at the wrong time in the wrong place – the probability of terrorist attacks is relatively high and election results are known beforehand, so why bother?
As usual, federal soldiers and state employees had no choice but to vote; most others, however, stayed home. But what does all this matter? Why so much attention to an event with so little political or social importance? Does anyone know what the role of Chechnya’s parliament will be? If it will be the same as in neighboring Daghestan and Ingushetia, the answer is none.
Is it important to the Chechens which political party won? Do they know what political opinions the prevailing pro-Kremlin parties represent? Does any voter in Russia know this? Do these parties represent any political opinions at all?
Why, then, do we join the “as if” game and pretend to wonder whether the parliamentary “elections” in Chechnya were democratic, or whether they signify yet another step towards normalization in the republic? The answer is: Because we were told to. We were repeatedly told that Chechnya is the last region in the Russian federation not to have freely elected its parliament. As if an elected parliament would be the ultimate guarantee of security and prosperity in present day Russia!
Whatever the genuine results and actual turnout will be for life inside Chechnya, (we’ll never find out anyway) the latest vote means nothing at all. It won’t have any impact on the general situation or on the lives of over a million people who desperately long for a decent life. The biggest change the “elections” will bring is to family budgets of the 58 parliamentarians, all protégés of Ramzan Kadyrov, the “First Deputy Prime-Minister,” who will surely come regularly to collect his kick-back. Even this is actually habitual.
It is a matter of decency and dignity to stop taking part in similar quasi-political farces by caring about events whose only purpose is to make us pay attention to them. This past Sunday nothing extraordinary happened in Chechnya.
Petr Janouch is Prague Watchdog's irregular contributor.