The War in Chechnya has become a complex challenge to the international community, which argues either that it is "an internal matter" of the Russian Federation, or that it represents a danger of totalitarism and human rights violations. Very little attention has been paid to gender aspect of the war and the role of women who have become prominent peace-makers in this country. This paper analyzes the gender dimension of the war and the drastic decline of the status of women in Chechnya. This paper presents the efforts of women, who value life more than statehood or national self-determination, to stop the war in Chechnya. The paper highlights the background of and national debates on this conflict. I believe that citizens should learn from each other about conflicts in their countries in order to avoid prejudices, based on myths of "geopolitical interests" and "national security".
The Northern Caucasus is a complex ethnocultural region, where several dozen ethic groups live together, differing in language, religion and traditions. Until the 1920s, they had no strict administrative borders, political systems or statehood.
The colonization of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire in the 19th century did not establish internal administrative borders, but was accompanied by constant armed conflicts between Cossacks (kazachestvo, ethnic Russians), the owners of the best lands on the plains, and ethnic Caucasians, the owners of highlands, and also among different groups of Caucasians.
The lack of fertile soil and other resources underlay conflicts which were reinforced by the Soviets' arbitrary administrative division of the Caucasus. The borders of theso called "national autonomous republics" divided homogeneous ethnic settlements, while uniting other ethnic groups that had long standing conflicts. For example, the Adygi were divided into three "national autonomies" , the Chechen- Ingush Autonomous Republic included lands owned by Chechens, Ingush and Cossacks. Those "autonomies" created the problem of "disputable territories" and reinforced the conflicts about resources.
The resistance against Soviet power grew under collectivization in the 1930s. In 1943-44 the entire nations of Chechens, Ingush, Karachaevtsy and Balkartsy were deported to Kazakhstan at Stalin's order. The Cossacks, who supported "the whites" during the Civil War, were destroyed in the 1920s. The deported people lived in Kazakhstan until 1957, when the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic was re-established, including more areas. That again provoked conflicts. Each ethnic group believed that its "evil neighbors", thirsty for land, informed against them, and that their neighbors had conspired with Moscow in the deportations.
In the 1970s-1980s new socio-economic problems appeared on the wave of industrialial development and urbanization. They facilitated the tension between the urban and rural populations, which had different living standards, unemployment and an increase in crime. The directors of growing industrial enterprises invited specialists from Ukraine, Central Russia and Siberia to the Caucasus, while local Caucasians worked in agriculture, still limited by the lack of fertile soil. The policy of the Soviet rulers created "overpopulation" in villages (in 1991 "overpopulation" reached 100 000 people, which was about 20% of the labour resources in Chechnya), initiated mass unemployment among Chechens (which was never officially recognized) and seasonal occupation, or otkhodnichestvo, in Russian cities as well as criminal businesses. Seasonal occupation and criminal businesses were male enterprises.
Ethnic tension was not converted into ethnic hate, ethnic cleansing or open confrontation between Chechens and Russians. Mixed marriages are still the norm. General Dudaev himself was married to a Russian woman; they had children. Dudaev did not get divorced with the beginning of the military intervention in Chechnya. The mixed marriage of a national war leader would be unbelievable in a country with ethnic conflicts.
Under perestroika political clubs on a multiethnic basis and democratic national clubs, including the Chechen "Bart" Committee, were formed. Radical nationalists appeared in 1991. The power grabs covered up by nationalist or democratic rhetoric are the hidden motives of conflicts in Chechnya.
The other motive is access to the distribution of state funds and incomes from the arms and oil trade. Since 1991 social insurance, health care services and public education have been destroyed in Chechnya. The aged population does not receive their pensions because social funds provided by the federal government for Chechnya have been stolen or spent on terrorism and the military. The federal government, maintaining the militarization of Chechnya for years, actually nurtured the regime of General Dudaev. All conflicts, in particular in the distribution of funds, were solved by the removal of his opponents. The borders were opened to drugs and arms from other countries. Chechnya turned into the favorite place for Russian and foreign criminals. Many people lived in poverty.
Those problems were real. By 1994 the federal government began to understand that the problems should be solved. Was a military intervention the only way to do it? Of course not. It was the worst solution; it raised the status of General Dudaev and practically killed the extant opposition in Chechnya. The reasons for the war in Chechnya have more to do with power grabs, incompetent policy and corruption, than they do with ethnic problems and the need "to obtain national self-determination" or "to protect democracy and constitutional order". Gennady Burbulis admitted during the Parliamentary Hearing on Chechnya in May, 1995, "The approach of Russia's leaders to the situation in Chechnya was impulsive rather than being a well-designed and careful job. The improvisations were based on gross misinformation". However, nobody's incompetence has been recognized, and nobody has applied for retirement or has been forced into it. (For detailed analyses and possible scenarios, please, see Alexander Iskanderyan. The Chechen Crisis: Fiasco of the Russia's Policy in the Caucasus. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Moscow, 1995).
Due to various political and cultural reasons, the Chechens have maintained archaic social and gender structures based on so called "teipes", or clans. The status of Chechen women as members of an archaic society was lower than the status of women was in the Soviet society in general. The Soviet norms of equal education for girls and boys, and equal access to health care and social security had made a positive impact on their lives. However, a set of cultural prejudices against women's public roles maintained and was reinforced by the recent militarization of society. For example, there is only one woman among the heads of local authorities in Chechen towns and villages. The drastic decline of the status of women in Chechnya started with the militarization of society and economy. The social infrastructure, health care and insurance systems were practically ruined by the Chechnya authorities under the connivance of the federal government, and resources were allocated to the armed groups. Women became primarily responsible for the survival of their families. Girls in Chechnya nearly lost the possibility of going to school. Since the beginning of military intervention, the decline of the status of women in Chechnya has been enforced tremendously. It is almost impossible to get information about rapes and violence against women in armed conflicts in Chechnya, because in accordance with some "traditions" a raped woman should commit suicide or be murdered by her relatives. The civilian population, especially women and children, became victims irrespective of nationality.
With perestroika, gender stereotyping became an overt, effective and flexible tool for constructing images of power. For example, female images as prostitutes were widely used to signify the moral bankruptcy of the Soviet regime. Since the beginning of the war in Chechnya, women, especially in the pro-nationalist Russian media, were turned into objects of defense. "We must stay for our wives and children, for our women and homes", a federal serviceman says in a TV show by Alexander Nevzorov. Terrorism develops female hostages which includes symbolic aspects. The terrorists in Budennovsk consciously chose pregnant women in the hospital as hostages to display their power over the "Russian enemies". As in the former Yugoslavia, the female body became a battlefield.
The war colors public discursive frameworks in a more patriarchal way, forming a perception of a war as an exclusively male affair. Mrs. Ekaterina Lakhova witnesses that "Women of Russia" were not allowed to go to Chechnya as members of a parliamentary peacemaking delegation, because "to include women in the delegation would be useless. Chechens never listen to women".
Women's single role as "mothers" has been legitimized to justify interfering in male business. Women's activism has become an integral part of the civic movement in Russia, but still the activities of the Soldiers' Mothers are culturally more acceptable than other women's initiatives against war. This discursive framework creates additional barriers for women's anti-war activism. Nothing has been said about Chechnya, women in Chechnya and refugees in official documents and debates on the status of women in the Russian Federation. It was not mentioned in the IVth Periodic Report on the implementation of CEDAW in Russia (1995), or in the report for the IV World Women's Conference in Beijing (1995), or in the National Platform of Action for the Advancement of Women (1995). In general, the official political discourse drops women as a category out of debates on Chechnya, and the official "women's discourse" drops Chechnya as a category out of debates on the status of women. Now civic activists and officials are using different language to describe the situation in Chechnya. The official statements talk about "the restoration of constitutional order", "the crisis in Chechnya" and "the situation in the South of our Federal State", human rights activists, pacifists and the independent media speak about "a war" and "a military intervention". The pro-nationalist media present stories about heroes, brave Russian soldiers and brotherhood. Nothing is said about the reasons and consequences of military actions. Instead of presenting the information, they put comments first and thus form the message.
Women in the Russian Federation are limited in influencing policy, especially in the field of national security. The main barriers are institutional and cultural: the low representation of women in politics, the absence of women in power institutions such as the Security Council and Presidential Committee on security, and the gendered power discourse. The State Duma (Russia's Parliament) could provide an open tribune for women politicians against the war in Chechnya. The separate women's party, or alliance, called "Women of Russia" had achieved a staggering and unexpected success in December, 1993. "Women of Russia" established their position as defenders of social protection and security during a year of hard work in the State Duma. Many people expected them to lead an anti-war coalition as "mothers" or at least to put social issues and a demand to provide for the security of the civilian population on the Chechnya agenda. That did not happen. "Women of Russia" followed the policy of President Eltsin and did not speak out against the war. Due to increasing civic indignation against the war, "Women of Russia" later shifted their position, but it was too late. The perception that "Women of Russia" "voted for Chechnya" had been formed before the elections in 1995. (Actually it was not true, in accordance with the Constitution the State Duma could not vote for military intervention at all). However, "Women of Russia" acquired the image of pro-Eltsin supporters ("state women") and lost the image of "mothers" and defenders of the poor and unprotected people together with their seats in the Duma. Other women politicians in the State Duma expressed their attitude toward the war in accordance with the general policy of their parties or alliances. Tatiana Yarygina and Galina Starovoitova, the democrats, voted on various issues against a militarist approach; Nina Krivelskaya, a member of Zhirinovsky's party, in favor of it. None of the women parliamentarians became a anti-war leader. On the contrary, in the civic anti-war movement women are leaders. The Soldiers' Mothers' movement has been the most prominent campaigner in anti-war activities in Russia. The movement includes the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers (the CSM), the Foundation "A Mother's Right" which provides legal services, and other public associations and groups. One of the Soldiers' Mothers' achievements is that fresh recruits are not being sent now to Chechnya. The CSM assemblies help soldiers who have deserted their units and assist women who go to the Caucasus, where the Chechens have agreed to pass captured or dead soldiers only to soldiers' mothers, not to military officials. Now the Soldiers' Mothers are working in coalition with human rights activists and other women's organizations. Women as members and volunteers of different charitable organizations have contributed a lot of energy to provide food, medicines and clothes to refugees who are mostly in Ingushetia, to provide humanitarian assistance for homeless and wounded people, and to assist in the rehabilitation of children from Budennovsk and other cities who suffered from terrorist attacks. The Russian Fund for Mercy and Health, the Order of Mercy and Social Protection and other organizations raised funds for the work of two mobile hospitals and other accessible health care services.
Feminist anti-war campaigning in Russia started with the beginning of the military intervention. It was based on some previous pacifist and non-violence initiatives, including "Women in Black" manifestations by Crisis Centers for Women in Moscow and Petersburg, the "Arts Against Violence" actions by the Feminist Orientation Center and the Information Center of the Independent Women's Forum, a call to ban the arms trade by the "Women and Military Conversion" Association and others. It so happened that one of the "Arts Against Violence" actions was scheduled for December, 11, 1994-the very day of the beginning of the military intervention in Chechnya. About thirty women wrote and signed an open letter to the President and Prime Minister, expressing their protest against the intervention, demanding to protect the human rights of civilians and emphasizing that "lying and violence can not serve as tools of maintaining statehood and national security." It was one of the first civic protests against the war.
Feminist activities against the war have included public campaigning and demonstrations ("Women in Black" and "White Scarf", media publications and dissemination of information through women's networks, reports at women's and other national conferences, consulting in the Crisis Centers, and other assistance to refugees, former soldiers and members of their families.
The social and moral consequences of the war are clearly seen by women working in human rights and charitable organizations, and public social services. More women and children are war victims than soldiers from both sides. Civilians were killed, were wounded, were forced to become refugees or had to survive under bombings in extreme poverty. The war has come to cities and villages all over Russia. We have so called "Chechen syndrome"-young boys with vacant eyes come home with psychological trauma, they go on repeating the same thing "I should kill them" and behave unbelievably cruelly in their own families. Several recruits preferred to commit suicide rather than go to Chechnya. The war budget is much more than the total Russian budget for culture, education and social services. But where is the money for refugees? Where is the money to provide the soldiers in Chechnya with hot meals and warm clothes? Where is the money for Crisis and Rehabilitation Centers? It is in the same pocket where the state funds for the restoration of war-torn Chechnya are. The war has stopped the investments in social programs and is creating more and more social problems. The war encourages embezzlers of public funds and stimulates corruption and mismanagement. A few people make money from blood, arms trade and disruption under the cover of the rhetoric of national self-determination or the protection of constitutional order.
The war morally corrupts the people, liberates the worst instincts, provokes the increase of violence and racism in society, thirst for revenge and fear of terrorism for years. The war encourages numerous human rights violations, including violence against women, rape in armed conflicts and violations of human rights in the military itself. The right to live in peace and dignity is more important than the values of "the unity of the state" or " national self-determination". There are no values in a war. This war is a war, neither "a restoration of constitutional order", nor "a crisis in the south of the Federation". As citizens, we are responsible for how we are governed. The main issue is not to elect "a good President", but to form a system of civic control over the powers that be and to broaden citizens' participation in decision-making, especially in decision-making on the crucial issues of security, peace and the military. Women's anti-war agenda in Russia is a civic and human rights agenda rather than a maternal one. In the context of war, the formation of civil society in Russia has become more intensive and visible with a remarkable increase in the status of women among civic groups.