Frontpage Magazine interviewed Yelena Maglevannaya, a journalist from Volgograd, who has asked for political asylum in Finland. She risks persecution in Russia because of her writing about tortures of Chechens in Russian prisons. She also campaigned in defense of political prisoners such as Mikhail Trepashkin, demanded repeal of July 2006 laws which enable the Kremlin to assassinate enemies of Russia, and ran a web-site dedicated to the memory of Alexander Litvinenko.
FP: Why is the Russian government oppressing the Chechens?
Maglevannaya: Although the Russian leaders have repeatedly claimed that the military action in Chechnya is over, the Chechens in Russia are still treated as enemies. When they are imprisoned, they are often guarded by people who have fought against them as Federal troops during the war, and now work in prison camp administration. Naturally, the former hangmen now victimize the defenseless Chechens.
FP: What threat do Chechens pose to Russia?
Maglevannaya: I do not believe that Chechens threaten Russia in any way. What kind of threat can they pose? They only want to be free, to live their own life independently from Russia. But the Russian society – of course, mostly under the influence of official propaganda – sees Chechens as enemies, as a threat. The authorities constantly use the media to impose the view of the entire Chechen nation as a nation of gangsters and terrorists. No wonder this view is now shared by the majority of Russian population.
FP: What threat does Chechen independence pose to Russia?
Maglevannaya: The Chechens are dangerous, first of all, because they aspire for freedom. They are a nation which can never be enslaved; and Putin’s regime prefers people with a slave mentality. Besides, independent Chechnya would be an example of genuine democracy, because the Chechens have no tradition of obedience to a dictator. From the Russian regime’s viewpoint, that would be a bad example for Russians: a free and prosperous republic next door to poor and traditionally oppressed Russia.
An independent Chechnya would become prosperous very soon. The Chechens are born builders, creators, willing and able to work hard to achieve a good and wealthy life. Chechnya was reduced to the ground many times, but as soon as there was a truce, Chechens would immediately start recovering, re-building their country. They would build big, solid houses of five or six floors – only to see them destroyed during the next aggression from Russia. That is despite the fact that Chechnya has never been really free, it has always been under the heel of its northern neighbor.
Finally, the Chechens have always been leaning to the West – which is deadly for the Russian regime. The West is wrong to pay so little attention to the Chechens. While Russia is trying to present them as reactionary fanatics, in reality they are a nation of perfectly European culture and long-standing democratic traditions, who want to live by Western standards. So, when many Western countries close their borders to refugees from Chechnya, they make a mistake. Chechens are natural allies of the West; and that is why the present Russian regime sees them as a threat.
FP: What can and should the West do vis-à-vis Putin?
Maglevannaya: First of all, stop flirting with them. Stop pretending that there is anything like democracy in Russia. Russia is still the same evil empire which it was in the past. The weakest spot of Russia’s present leaders are their purses. Many of them have bank accounts in the West. This is something they really fear to lose – unlike the abstract “image,” which worries them only insofar as losing it would damage their financial affairs. They see that, despite the vociferous statements from time to time, the West shows no real intention to reduce its cooperation with Russia.
So the Russian regime gets even more insolent: “Whatever we do, they’ll make some fuss and then calm down” is what they think about you. This has already gone as far as a radioactive terrorist attack in Central London (I mean the assassination of Litvinenko). And this will go even further unless the European and American leaders stop smiling at Putin and Medvedev. You need to be really tough, put real pressure, apply most serious sanctions for actions of this kind – not just talks and declarations.
Read the full interview: