Letter: Western approaches to Chechnya's claims

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The Independent Online
From Mr Richard Clogg

Sir: To justify Russian colonial rule in Chechnya and to endorse without qualification Stalin's categorisation of the Chechens as a "traitor nation" is indeed to display the independence of thought on which your newspaper prides itself (leading article, 18 January).

You state that "law" is not on the side of the Chechens. But whenever have independence movements been on the right side of the law? The French not only colonised but unilaterally declared Algeria to be an integral part of France. Would you really have sought to argue that the Algerian independence movement lacked legitimacy because it contravened French and international law?

You say that no encouragement should be given to the break-up of federations. You may have a point in the case of voluntary (in their inception, at least) federations such as Yugoslavia. But the Chechens never willingly accepted incorporation into the Russian Federation, any more than they voluntarily accepted incorporation into the Soviet Union or, indeed, absorption into the Tsarist Empire.

It took the Russians many decades to subdue the Caucasus in the 18th and 19th centuries. If Russia persists in its current brutal and obdurate policies, then I fear we may be on the verge of another Great Caucasian War.

In the 1920s a Chechen imam, who was one of the leaders in the struggle against the imposition of Soviet power, famously declared that he was knitting a rope with which to hang engineers, students and all those who wrote from left to right. In the 1990s the West, in doing virtually nothing to restrain Yeltsin's genocidal war against Muslims in Chechnya, is stoking the very fires of the Islamic fundamentalists that it professes to be so concerned about.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Clogg

St Antony's College


18 January

The writer is sometime Professor of Modern Balkan History in the University of London.