Commentary André Glucksmann

Aslan Maskhadov – Chechnya's de Gaulle

Only recently Chechnya's ex-president, moderate rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, was offering to negotiate with the Kremlin. He was killed in early March. French philosopher André Glucksmann examines Putin's role and the responsibility of the west.

Photo: dpa
Aslan Maskhadov, rebel leader and former president of Chechnya, was a harbinger of hope for peace. He was killed by the Russian army

​​Aslan Maskhadov liked me. When I traveled Chechnya in June, 2000, we were unable to talk at length; on three occasions our meetings were interrupted by bombs.

I conveyed my questions to him, and he sent me a long answer on a cassette condemning Islamic fundamentalism. At the end he declared: "In a free Chechnya, Chechen women would never be forced to wear the veil."

Will there ever be a free Chechnya? Maskhadov, the president Chechnya elected under international supervision, is dead. He was murdered.

The Russian government's plan has succeeded. Now it is dealing only with Shamil Basayev, the extremist leader it nurtured itself, sparing him over and over again and again from Budyonovsk to Dagestan.

He fought Russians and Islamic fundamentalists

Vladimir Putin, the KGB man who spends his vacations with Schröder and Berlusconi, now faces one of his own kind, a terrorist who is his equal in cruelty, if not yet in relentlessness. The bloodbath can go on, the acts of terror can be resumed.

Maskhadov had declared a unilateral ceasefire and announced that he stood for western values, not Islamic fundamentalism. The ceasefire was observed by all the boyeviki. Maskhadov had demonstrated his power, and that was the moment for his assassination. To prevent the spirit of "permanent revolutionen", so feared by our friend, the Tsar, from spreading throughout the Northern Caucausus.

No western leader dared to pressure the Kremlin into negotiating with the only legitimate leader of a persecuted, heroic people. One need only recall the commander Massud. He fought both the Russians and the Islamic fundamentalists, was left in the lurch by the western democracies and finally murdered, benefiting Bin Laden.

Chechnya will sink still further into the nightmare

Neither did our representatives contradict Vladimir Putin when he equated the armed resistance of the Chechnyan independence movement with international terrorism. On the contrary: due to the Kremlin chief's sympathies for Saddam Hussein, Chirac and Schröder declared him a veritable angel of peace.

Along with a lack of morality, our political leaders have also demonstrated a remarkable degree of political foolishness. Who now can placate the suffering thousands who dream only of revenge?

Who will be capable of negotiating with the Russians one day when they realize that they are held captive by a murderous delusion? How can a person of Maskhadov's stature and above al his moderation be found in a young generation that knows only war and oppression? Chechnya will sink still deeper into this nightmare. And not Chechnya alone.

Abandoned by the world

France and other European countries paid their respects to Yassir Arafat after his death. The death of the Chechen president, who never called for the murder of civilians, was as lonely as his struggle.

Abandoned by the world, isolated in his hideout somewhere in the mountains, watching his people slaughtered as the world watched indifferently, Maskhadov still categorically condemned the hostage-taking in the Moscow theater and the terrible events in Beslan.

He even offered to go to Beslan and prohibit the murder of innocents – just as categorically as he once condemned the attacks of September 11, 2001.

No notice is taken of the peace plan

The hero of the battle for independence presented a peace plan that was aimed against terrorism and postponed the issue of independence.

The United Nations, the European Union, the OSCE, NATO and all the other institutions that are supposed to promote peace and national self-determination did not even venture to discuss the plan, which is now more than three years old and has been presented over and over again.

Despite internment camps, ethnic cleansings, rape and looting, despite the death of more than a quarter of the population (imagine if ten to fifteen million people had died in Italy or France) and with an equal number of terrorized civilians put to flight, Chechnya continues to offer resistance – against the barbaric actions of the Russians as well as the siren call of religious fanaticism.

Tsarist imperialism

Why this stubborn brutality toward a population of (once) only a million? Why so little sympathy? Neither strategic motives nor mere energy interests suffice to explain Moscow's obstinacy. The main reason for three centuries of colonial oppression and Russian atrocities in the Caucasus is of a pedagogical nature, as the great Russian poets realized long ago.

The point is to make an example and demonstrate to the Russians themselves what the price is for refusing to follow the ukases from Moscow. In the year 1818 General Ermolov explained to Tsar Nicolas I what is really at stake in this battle: "By example, the Chechen people wake a spirit of rebellion and the love of freedom which threatens to seize even your Majesty's most devoted subjects."

Putin has translated the lessons of tsarist imperialism into a language he knows, that of Soviet NCOs: it's necessary to "beat the shit out of" these eternal rebels.

Maskhadov was a president and a patriot

It is true that Aslan Maskhadov had blood on his hands, like all resistance fighters in France and elsewhere. But he was fighting against an armed enemy who did not even shy away from genocide. Nowadays it is not a good thing to be a true resistance fighter.

Maskhadov's death is also related to our dubious use of language. We refer to the Salafists and Saddamists who murder election assistants and ordinary voters in Iraq as "resistance fighters". But we do not use the same word for the freedom fighters who refuse to accept the destruction of their people.

Thus, the western leaders who refused to call Maskhadov what he actually was, namely a president and a patriot, condoned his murder in advance.

At the end of his last novel, "Hadji Murat", Leo Tolstoi describes a hallucinated scene which could stand as his literary and political testament: the head of a noble Chechen leader is presented to an effete tsar on a platter. Aslan Maskhadov died in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt.

Chechnya has lost its de Gaulle. And we, once more, have lost our honor.

André Glucksmann

The French philosopher André Glucksmann, born in 1937, has been committed to the cause of Chechen independence for many years.

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2005

Translation from German: Isabel Cole

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