Abkhazia: President, Opposition Trade Accusations
By Liz Fuller
March 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Less than a week before the March 4 parliamentary elections in Georgia's unrecognized breakaway republic of Abkhazia, opposition candidates have accused President Sergei Bagapsh of interfering in the election process with the aim of ensuring the election of a parliament "loyal" to the present leadership.
Bagapsh has rejected that criticism, but continues to stress that the new legislature should include representatives of all "ethnic minorities."
The existing election law, which both opposition and authorities acknowledge needs amending or replacing, provides for the election of 35 parliament deputies, all in single-mandate constituencies.
Bagapsh told regnum.ru in a January 19 interview that the parliament should be made up not only by Abkhaz but include representatives of other ethnic groups, including Russians, Armenians, and Greeks. He therefore advocated a "gentlemen's agreement" under which representatives of different nationalities would not compete against each other in any given constituency.
A total of 130 candidates, including 26 deputies from the outgoing parliament, initially registered for the ballot, of whom 13 subsequently withdrew. The main ideological divide pits representatives of the three political forces that backed Bagapsh in the October 2004 and January 2005 presidential ballots -- United Abkhazia, Amtsakhara, and Aytayra -- against the opposition Forum of National Unity that took shape in early 2005 to support Bagapsh's election rival and now vice president, Raul Khadjimba.
Bagapsh has admitted that he asked one candidate to "take into account the importance" of Abkhazia's Russian community and not put forward his candidacy in a constituency where a Russian was already registered.
The pro-Bagapsh camp is fielding candidates in all 35 constituencies; to judge from their surnames, as listed in an appeal to the electorate posted on February 26 by the official website apsny.ru, they include three Slavs, two Armenians, and one Georgian.
On February 23, Bagapsh held a press conference (originally scheduled for February 12), carried live by state television, in which opposition deputies subsequently claimed he made derogatory comments about them that constitute direct interference in the election process and that triggered "a storm of indignation and concern" among the population at large. That allegation was made in a February 26 statement carried by the website kavkaz-uzel.ru and signed by 19 opposition candidates, against five of whom Bagapsh is said to have leveled unfounded criticism.
One of the five is Anri Djergenia, who from June 2001-November 2002 served as prime minister under Bagapsh's predecessor Vladislav Ardzinba. The statement further quotes Bagapsh as having told the electorate they have a choice between voting for "those who will bring peace and stability, or those who want to bring us to the verge of civil war."
Specifically, Bagapsh is said to have admitted that he has tried to persuade one of the 19 signatories, Lieutenant General Vladimir Arshba, a former first deputy defense minister and chief of General Staff, to withdraw his candidacy in a "Russian" constituency and register in a constituency where the rival candidates were Abkhaz.
Bagapsh has advised the electorate against classifying society as "us" and "them" (Itar-TASS)
Even more damaging, Bagapsh was said to have accused Arshba of trying to organize a coup d'etat, an accusation the 19 signatories reject as "absurd." Neither of Bagapsh's imputed accusations against Arshba figure in the verbatim extracts from the press conference carried by apsny.ru and posted on Bagapsh's website (http:www.abkhaziagov.org).
Eight of the 19 opposition deputies also signed a formal request to Abkhaz Prosecutor-General Safarbey Mikanba and State Security Service Chairman Yury Ashuba to convene a press conference and comment on Bagapsh's alleged accusations against Arshba, according to regnum.ru on February 26. Regnum.ru also quoted Arshba as accusing the republic's authorities on February 26 in a televised campaign address of slander, infringing on his constitutional rights, and trying to "get rid of an inconvenient candidate."
Bagapsh admitted in a February 27 statement that he asked Arshba to "take into account the importance" of Abkhazia's Russian community and not put forward his candidacy in a constituency where a Russian was already registered. At the same time, Bagapsh insisted that his sole consideration in making that request was to preclude interethnic tension. He further affirmed his conviction that he had "the moral right" to make such a request, and that it did not constitute a violation of the constitution.
But in a seeming departure from his earlier appeal to the electorate not to classify society in terms of "us and them," he went on to say that "it seems we are pursuing different goals. One is left with the impression that some opposition representatives are prepared to do a great deal, including using the rostrum of the election campaign, in order to slake their thirst to return to power and appease their pathological desire to gain control once again over public property," apsnypress reported.
Georgian media have seized on the indications of rising tensions between the Abkhaz authorities and opposition. Bagapsh's spokesman Kristian Bzhania rejected on February 27 as untrue Georgian media reports of exchanges of fire in Sukhum(i) between supporters of Bagapsh and Khadjimba.
Nonetheless, Abkhaz Interior Minister Otar Khetsia told Apsnypress on February 28 that additional police will deployed to Gali Raion on polling day to maintain calm. Bagapsh's representative in Gali, Ruslan Kishmaria, claimed that Georgian special services are threatening to burn down the homes of any villagers who cast their ballots in the March 4 poll.
Chechnya: 'If You're A Leader, People Should Fear You'
Acting President Kadyrov is making his mark in Moscow as well as Grozny
GUDERMES, Chechnya; February 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Ramzan Kadyrov is not just the most powerful authority in Chechnya. He is rapidly becoming one of the best-known officials in all of Russia as well. RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service spoke to Kadyrov in his hometown one week after he became acting president following the removal of his political rival Alu Alkhanov.
RFE/RL: How would you describe your relationship with Alu Alkhanov?
Ramzan Kadyrov: Alu was made minister, general, and president by people who are referred to as the Kadyrov team. It was thought that everything that discredited him discredited our people, so we protected him in every possible way. His immediate subordinates acted in a way that ran contrary to the Chechen mentality... Finally I said to him: "Your policy is wrong. You're not doing our people any good, you must change." But no matter what I said, he didn't grasp it.
It's true that it's not customary for Chechens to talk about themselves. But look at the work accomplished by those who call themselves "[the Kadyrov] team." They made it their main goal to save the people. And one can say that they have achieved that. Grozny is being rebuilt. Chechnya is being rebuilt too. And the person who is trying to pull it apart at this time is acting under somebody else's command. So, I think his departure is the right thing.
"[Chechens] are not bad people, they are not killers, they like this world too, they love life, they want to live in peace."
RFE/RL: What can you tell us about the debate with Moscow over oil drilling and exploration in Chechnya?
Kadyrov: Oil alone is not enough to boost our economy. We may run out of oil soon. People need jobs, people should be able to make a living. And as for the ongoing discussions about oil, we say, "Take this oil wherever you want, but send the money you make from it to our budget. But if you start processing oil in Chechnya, making gasoline, diesel fuel, machine oils, this will create new jobs and bring more taxes into our budget." This is what the debate is about.
Last year, there were 19 billion rubles allocated [to Chechnya] from the Russian budget. We had asked only for 6 billion. But we received 11.2 billion rubles, because, although they are taking the oil away from us, we got money for it last year.
A new Orthodox Church on Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov Avenue (formerly, Lenin Avenue) in Grozny (TASS file photo)
The reconstruction process had stalled, but it is picking up now. It will be even better this year. According to our program, Grozny should be completely restored in the next year. The cement factory should begin operations this year. There will be brick and reinforced concrete factories in Grozny. There will be new oil refineries using new technologies. It is becoming clear if that Chechens reach accord and, like others, become their own masters, then the federal center will work for our benefit.
RFE/RL: You are the object of a lot of praise and a lot of fear. Do you feel you're responsible for creating a personality cult?
Kadyrov: It's a beautiful girl who should be praised -- for her beauty and her figure. As for fear -- if you're a leader, people should fear you. Why? They should not fear being beaten, but they should fear letting down the people who have given them their trust. This is what one should fear. And as for the personality cult, I found out about it just recently. I paid attention to it only after our handsome General Alu [Alkhanov] started talking about it.
"Whatever I do is my duty. This talk [of a personality cult] is spread by those who can't do any good, either for themselves or for the country"
Chechnya, which has been destroyed over the last 15 years, now has 86 educational institutions, more than 100 hospitals, and many roads that have been restored. There is now a gas pipeline running to the Sharoy district, which never had gas before. There are 712 buildings in Grozny that have been repaired, which equals more than 24,000 apartments that will be ready by May 1. Thousands of sick people have been sent to hospitals. So, when people express their gratitude and thank me, and it's labeled as a cult of personality or something else, that distorts the gratitude of the Chechens for what I have done. Whatever I do is my duty. And this talk [of a personality cult] is spread by those who can't do any good, either for themselves or for the country.
RFE/RL: Where does the funding come from for these reconstruction projects in Chechnya?
Kadyrov: The reconstruction of the town of Argun cost over 1 billion rubles, of which we were able to provide 840 million ourselves. How did we find that money? We talked to those who had money and asked them to help restore Chechnya, which was destroyed and burned to the ground. We received responses from people with the Chechen mentality: the Dzhabrailov [brothers Hussein and Umar], [Ruslan] Baisarov, [brothers Mikheil and Khamzat] Gutseriyev and many others. We have also organized collective Chechen 'belkhis' [free labor days]. This is how Gudermes was rebuilt.
The federal center has not provided a single ruble for the reconstruction of Grozny either. And so we ask people with money: "Can you rebuild 50 houses?" "Can you rebuild 20 houses?" We will find funds at a later time, but now we need help. We have received bank loans, we ask friends for help. Until now, federal resources have not been reaching us. There used to be an organization called Direktsiya. There were people from [the state and federal construction companies] Gosstroi, Rosstroi. There was only a smell of money coming from them.
About 40 percent [of the money] remained in Moscow or in Mozdok. And local Chechens here signed any document put in front of them, for 5 percent, certifying that something had been rebuilt. And what did we do? We said, we are Chechens, have no right to take bribes from anybody. This is how we began. And now that we're looking at the intermediary results, we often feel surprised that we have been able to achieve that. Talking about our tasks for this year, we ask ourselves if we can we do it. But we began with faith in the Almighty. Grozny should be 60 percent restored by the end of this year. And in the next year it will be restored completely.
RFE/RL: You have made a number of dramatic PR gestures -- like inviting the American boxer Mike Tyson to Chechnya and personally guiding him around. What is your goal in organizing events like this?
"Even when I have the best room at a Moscow hotel, the best car, and exquisite food, I start missing home. And I know that all those who left their homeland... love their native land and want to come back."
Kadyrov: I have one thing to say: those who try to put on a false front will be punished by the Almighty. And the Almighty will also punish those who try to benefit by doing that. The world thinks of Chechens as separatists, bombers, terrorists. But we organized a tournament for Chechen and Japanese wrestlers. The Chechens won. Then we brought American wrestlers. The Chechens won again.
Kadyrov (right) with former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson in Gudermes in 2005 (TASS)
Why do we bring them to Chechnya? They travel around the world and we want them to tell objective stories about Chechens, that they are not bad people, that they are not killers, that they like this world too, they love life, they want to live in peace. This is why we do it -- and it is quite costly, by the way. All of this is done for our people. And if this is not true, and if I do it for my own publicity, may God punish me.
RFE/RL: Why do you think Chechens are depicted in such a negative, violent light by the mass media?
Kadyrov: I took up arms first and foremost because I'm a Chechen. The Wahhabist devils who came to us at the beginning said that we should be not Chechens, but Arabs, mujahedin, Afghans... Then the others came and tormented the Chechen people. We're the ones who wouldn't tolerate the torment of the Chechen people, and stood up against it. It's hard for a person with a Chechen heart to endure the negative portrayal of Chechens in the press. From our side, we write about this, we talk about it. We're working to ensure that we don't accept this negativity.
RFE/RL: Is there room within your circle for criticism?
Kadyrov: If your friends don't point out your mistakes, then others will talk about them scornfully, so friends should be the first to point to your mistakes and correct them. We have agreed among each other that those who see mistakes but remain silent are guilty before the Almighty and their friends. Yes, it is necessary to talk [about mistakes] and seek the truth. I don't want the pursuit started by me, my friends, my father [former Chechen Republic President Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who was assassinated in 2004] to fall apart through my own doing or because of my friends. It is not proper to talk about my father here, but I do not want his cause to be disgraced. I will not allow that to happen to myself or to anyone else.
RFE/RL: How do you feel about those people who have left Chechnya and gone elsewhere in the world?
Even when I have the best room at a Moscow hotel, the best car, and exquisite food, I start missing home. And I know that all those who left their homeland, including longtime refugees, love their native land and want to come back. They left their homeland because of people who came to be the leaders of the Chechen people. Some [of those who left Chechnya] were tempted by something; some left out of spite. But most of them -- more than 90 percent -- left out of despair.
We will work to give each and every one of them a calm and peaceful life. And we call on them not to listen to those who criticize the Kadyrov team -- the Kadyrovtsy -- who claim we kill, humiliate, or even eat people. They could elect their representatives in every country they stay in, collect money to buy them tickets -- we will pay them back when they come here -- and send their representatives here so they can see everything for themselves. And then I think they should find ways to return home.
A Chechen feels best on his native Chechen soil. Wherever you're coming from, your heart fills with grace as soon as you put your foot on Chechen soil. Chechens cannot find this grace anywhere else. Chechens should get ready to come back home. And we will work to make their lives better.