29-30 March 2005
Rehabilitation of Militants and Parliamentary Government will save Chechnya
A Round Table - But Not All Parties Were Round It. Last week the latest unsuccessful "first step" in resolving the conflict in the Chechen Republic through non-military means took place. Representatives of the separatists and several Chechen public institutions did not take part in the Round Table on the problems in Chechnya, which was held under the aegis of PACE in Strasbourg. You cannot say that there was no movement at all, however. A step was taken, although not forward, but to one side.
By Timur Aliev
On 21st March in the building of the Council of Europe around 40 Chechen and non-Chechen
experts on the Chechen issue met. You could divide the participants into several groups:
representatives of the official authorities (those from the current leadership of Chechnya,
deputies from the State Duma and the Federation Council from Chechnya), PACE deputies, as well as European, Russian and Chechen representatives of public institutions. Out of those who were invited, representatives of the separatists and several public institutions did not attend. This meant that you could not really call the Round Table "round", because of the absence of people for or sympathising with the idea of an independent Chechnya. Consequently there was practically no dialogue between the separatists and the pro-Kremlin leadership of Chechnya, which the organisers from PACE had hoped would lead to the future solution of the conflict there.
In their absence reports and presentations were heard on the situation in Chechnya, by those
experts who participated.
Even then there was a clear divide between President Alkhanov of Chechnya's people and all the others. The former spoke about the socio-economic achievements in the Chechen Republic and asked the Europeans for assistance in solving the problems still existing in this sphere.
It was clear that they were assiduously carrying out a directive, voiced earlier by Alu
Akhanov: that the official Chechen delegation was only going to the Round Table to "solve economic and humanitarian issues in the republic". He had announced this in an interview with journalists before flying to Strasbourg to the PACE session.
According to him, the delegation of the Chechen Republic was intent on making clear to the
European parliamentarians, that help in solving the economic and humanitarian problems was most important of all for the republic at present, as the political course had already been
determined and its leadership was doing everything for its future development.
All the others spoke about violations of rights and suggested some political ways of solving
the issue (see the article "Chechnya on the Table").
In conclusion suggestions made by the participants became the result of the Round Table.
According to the concluding remarks of the organiser of the meeting and the PACE rapporteur on Chechnya, Andreas Gross, these ideas will be examined, discussed and as a result of this there will probably be another Round Table, possibly attended by representatives of the separatists. The date of this meeting will be decided at the April Session of PACE.
The idea of a truly multilateral Round Table was hindered, most of all, by a mutual fear of
appearing to have lost the propaganda war. Each side of the conflict (the Ichkeria and the
pro-Moscow) understood that their participation could be used against them by the other side.
The Russian side, for example, was worried that such a meeting could be construed as an attempt at negotiations. For that reason they categorically insisted on the exclusively non-political nature of the Round Table. As extra insurance there was a point added to the programme stating that only those who accepted the "territorial integrity of Russia" could take part.
Andreas Gross, as the organiser, accepted this compromise for the sake of saving the idea of
the meeting itself. But this was his mistake: this new format denied the possibility of the
separatists attending, as it was understood, that their participation in any way, other than as negotiators, would be presented by the press as a rejection of the fight for sovereignty of Chechnya.
In fact, the Round Table was never meant to be an instrument for a political solution.
According to the organiser's plan the Round Table was supposed to become a space for an exchange of ideas, but a multilateral exchange nonetheless. The Round Table should have been a place where representatives of several sides of the conflict in Chechnya, both representatives of the pro-Moscow leadership of Chechnya and representatives of Ichkeria, could meet unofficially and talk.
The Round Table could only take on any political slant on the condition that the
representatives of the separatists participated. This meant that the Ichkerians could only
attend the Round Table as private individuals or as having agreed to the demands of the format. A visit to London by Andreas Gross with the aim of persuading Akhmed Zakayev to attend, however, led to nothing.
At the end of the Round Table, the Deputy Head of the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Ichkeria, Ousman Fersauli, informed the Russian website "Gazeta.ru", that his own personal refusal to take part was linked to the absence of Saidulaeva, who according to instructions is carrying out the duties of the President of Ichkeria after the death of Aslan Maskhadov and Akhmed Zakayev told the newspaper "Kommersant" that after the death of Maskhadov, Ichkeria was not willing to promote peaceful initiatives.
At the same time the separatists did not decide on a clear counteraction, such as arriving at the Round Table only to leave the hall in protest for effect.
In the absence of the separatists their position could have been represented by some of the
human rights defenders from Chechnya. However, they did not come to the meeting either. In an open letter sent to the General Secretary of PACE, Bruno Haller, Ruslan Badalov, Libkan Bazaeva and Doku Itslaev explained their refusal to participate as being due to the absence of "delegated representatives of the forces of Opposition". "Dialogue is necessary between the warring sides, between the Russian authorities and the authorities of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria", they wrote in their letter.
The human rights defenders said that they had already taken part in similar hearings two years ago as part of the framework of the Duma-PACE Commission, which did not lead to any results. «Discussion can only be fruitful if politicians from opposing positions take part and if the whole spectrum of socio-political forces from the Chechen Republic are involved», they stressed.
The demonstrational character of their protest irritated Andreas Gross, the organiser of the
Round Table, who remarked caustically that perhaps «they have not yet grasped new methods of communication», meaning that the human rights defenders had preferred to protest in the form of an open letter instead of answering Gross by email.
Moscow also decided against any sensational moves. From the beginning the press said that there could be several representatives of the Ichkeria leadership at the meeting, who accept the integrity of Russia, i.e. who would not talk about the fight for independence. An example list of the type of people this could include was drawn up by the late President of Ichkeria, Aslan Maskhadov, killed on 9th March, in the last interview published before this death on the separatist website "Daimohkh". «Those who will take part in this Round Table are those who have been prepared by the Feds [Federal Forces], betrayers and traitors ... Apart from them, there will be a few cowardly deputies from our parliament. Vakha Arsanov has recently been taken by the Federal Special Forces and is being held by them. He is being prepared for participation in this Round Table. He will probably lead the dialogue there».
In the end there was no scandal. Several reserved chairs around the table remained empty.
Meanwhile, it is difficult to say now whether or not Moscow was planning for Ichkerian deputies and Vakha Arsanov to participate or whether this idea was abandoned after the death of Maskhadov.
Nevertheless, the absence of the separatists did become a reason for the press to come to some conclusions.
Some of the press repeated the commentary from the Kremlin, which having no opposition,
announced that by all appearances, the separatists seemed to have nothing to say, and that the view of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe about the Chechen problem had
significantly changed for the better.
Other journalists held the human rights defenders up to shame, saying that by taking part they legitimised the meeting. Both groups agreed that Moscow had gained a victory over Ichkeria at the Round Table.
In fact the journalists themselves had been taken in by the propaganda, missing the idea of the Round Table itself behind all the informational noise - one of meeting and exchanging ideas. To speak of any kind of victory or defeat as a result of this meeting is senseless. By definition, a round table is a form of discussion of an issue with the aim of collecting the ideas and opinions of those taking part in the discussion.
A small step was taken at this Round Table. Only time will tell how successful and necessary it was.
Translated by Claire C. Rimmer
Korrekturen: Fredi Krebs