Optimism rises from rat-infested rubble

CHECHNYA DAYS

Grozny - For a long time, I felt I knew the definition of optimism. It was, I thought, a man in Vorkuta, an unutterably bleak Russian coal- mining city north of the Arctic Circle which used to be a Stalinist labour camp.

Although it was early summer, temperatures were stuck below zero and there was as much chance of seeing a tourist as of spotting a cactus. This man made his living by persuading passers-by to pay him for the privilege of being photographed next to a moth-eaten, stuffed reindeer.

Now, several thousand miles to the south, he has a challenger. She is sitting before a pair of dark-blue curtains in a television studio that looks like one of those kiosks you go to to get a new set of passport photos. One almost expects her to giggle, so strange is her proposition. "Apartments for sale," she says, before reeling off a list of addresses with all the confidence and fluency of a Mayfair estate agent.

"There is water, electricity, and gas," she continues. No mention is made of the fact that the water supply is polluted by the city's damaged sewage system, or that the electricity supply regularly breaks down, or that the gas pipes are peppered with so many bullet holes that people set light to the leaks to stop them from exploding.

Nor does she have anything to say about the neighbourhood, which is likely to comprise an assortment of rat-infested piles of rubble, interrupted by tall, burnt-out, Communist-era apartment blocks. After 21 months of war, the residents of Grozny, capital city of Chechnya, can no longer see the chaos which surrounds them.

We are watching Marso television, one of several makeshift Chechen-run television channels which broadcast intermittently on the Caucasus republic's airwaves in the aftermath of its war with Moscow. Even the most patriotic Chechen would probably concede that this would not, under normal circumstances, be anyone's first choice of entertainment. But there's nothing much else to do once the sun has set over this ruined city.

Although Grozny now has dozens of new cafes, they close at night. There are no bars; alcohol has been banned by the Islamic republic's separatist- dominated government.

The city-centre is busy enough by day - teeming with new Japanese and American cars driven by former Chechen fighters (one bearing the sticker: Drive Carefully. Future President Inside). There are even traffic cops. We were fined $5, for an illegal left turn, regardless of the fact that 200 yards away we saw a car driving down the pavement. But the nights are eerily still.

So, television it is. After a while, the property commercials give way to a man in office clothes miming to a popular song as he wanders through some woodlands. Then there is a Hollywood "hot-rod" film starring Charlie Sheen, great fun for anyone prepared to endure a movie dubbed from English into German, translated into Russian, and broadcast on the blurry airwaves. The merest hint of sex is censored.

But the Chechens seem to approve. "We hate Russian television. We can't watch it in front of our families. It is too embarrassing," explained our host Hassan, proprietor of a rickety house in central Grozny which has become a watering hole for foreign correspondents over the past two years. He rails against the "pornographic advertisements" transmitted from Moscow", in which - horror - actors are seen kissing.

But the fledgling broadcasts are symptoms of an instinct to survive. Russian troops are still withdrawing from the republic after a war that has left tens of thousands dead. It is uncertain where the money will come to rebuild its shattered society. Yet, an entrepreneurial spirit is unfurling amid the mayhem.

Four months after the end of the war, you can buy every necessity in Grozny, from soap powder to soap operas. And if you have the guts, you can buy a house - even though this might qualify you for the title of the world's most optimistic person.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map