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The Taliban dictatorship cost an awful lot not only to Afghans, but also cost us the New York Towers

Interview by Daniela Gortcheva and Marina Ivanova

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In two of his articles - one before one after, and with regard to, Chechen President Maskhadov’s killing, the French philosopher Andre Glucksmann compared the ordeal of President Maskhadov to that of Commander Ahmad Shah Masud in Afghanistan. Both were sound strategists who defeated the Soviet/Russian army, both fought on two fronts and made certain compromise with their own extremists for the sake of unity of resistance against the foreign aggressor, both - their nations’ heroes, both - natural allies of the West in protecting Afghanistan and Chechnya from chaos, both - betrayed by the West. In the said articles, Andre Glucksman also drew this parallel between Chechnya and Afghanistan: the terror of the Soviet army in Afghanistan and Russian army in Chechnya generates terrorism in response.


Andre Glucksman- Would you sketch a brief portrait of these remarkable men - Commander Masud and President Maskhadov?

I was shocked by the coincidences in their life stories. Both were fighters for independence. Commander Masud fought for good ten years against the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, then against the Taliban and the various extremist and integrist groups in the anti-Soviet camp. Maskhadov’s situation was identical: the chief of General Staff in the first war, when Yeltsin invaded Chechnya. Due to him, the Russian army suffered enormous losses as this nation of as little as one million forced Russia’s army to withdraw from the capital, Grozny (a city of 400 thousand), and sign a peace agreement. We can make such a parallel because in the aftermath Maskhadov too opposed the Islamists. He was elected President with 63 per cent of the vote in election controlled and watched by the OSCE, i.e. by the West, and he won this election over Basayev who later became an extremist leader with Islamist twist but then had won only 20-22 per cent. This fight on two fronts, against the Russian invader and the Islamist integrists is similar, as, unfortunately, is their betrayal and lack of help and reaction by the West. When Masud went to Paris, four months before his killing, that is four months before the attacks in New York, we, a handful of intellectuals met him, but he was not received neither by President Chirac, nor by the Socialist premier Jospin, nor even by the foreign minister - and this reserve, unfortunately, made both killings possible - of Commander Masud and President Maskhadov.

- The West intervened in Afghanistan against the Taliban regime after September 11 and against Saddam’s regime in Iraq, intervened against Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but Tibet and Chechnya were abandoned. How should we interpret this double standard, the reluctance to back Masud against the Taliban, the failure to acknowledge Maskhadov as President, freedom fighter for his people?

I am sensitive to something very typical in all the instances you are referring to, now that you say the West intervened in Serbia. Yes, indeed, but with a delay of ten years and after the deaths of 200 thousand and more than one million forced to flee from their homes - I mean the Kosovars. Ten years elapsed before the intervention against Milosevic. What I mean is not exactly the delay but rather the West’s refusal to intervene, a refusal that was generic and was the initial reaction of the West. This is surely valid for Afghanistan, where the Taliban were left to assume power, to torture and degrade women, to destroy art monuments, etc. It took the attacks in Manhattan in the end to prompt the intervention. Likewise with Saddam Hussein, more than ten years elapsed since the first Kuwait war in 1991 and the intervention in 2003. In all those cases the West was reluctant to intervene not only because any intervention was risky and takes lives but also because the West doesn’t care, it has the habit of thinking that it lives in security and what happens in Afghanistan or Chechnya are atavistic conflicts.

You know what Mitterrand the socialist when he was President of France: “After all, the Balkan nations love death.” We shouldn’t wonder. And when the Rwanda genocide happened, where France, unfortunately, played as an accomplice of the Hutus perpetrating the genocide, the same Mitterrand said, “These are normal things. Genocides are habitual for Africa.”

What is common is the total failure to intervene and even the failure to think of intervening and it is the gravest danger for the prosperous western democracies that wish to vegetate in peace. There is nothing new to it, it was described by the classics in ancient Greece. Simply, the arguments to justify the intervention in Afghanistan after the Manhattan attacks, it seems to me, should have been used in those different cases. Because, what Bush and those who backed the intervention in Afghanistan said in fact was that the security of the West is linked to democracy in the rest of the world and that the Taliban dictatorship costs an awful lot not only to Afghanistan but also to the New York towers. The idea that there is a connection between the well-being and security of the affluent societies and the existence of democracy, and the absence of despotism in the rest of the world, this is a new idea, it emerged with the New York attacks and I, surely, wanted it to be applied in the case of Chechnya.

- What is the nature of terrorism and is it unique?

Surely the terrorist has different uniforms and different faces but evokes one definition. In fact, there is a debate between two definitions, and that debate is very old. The first definition is the one of Napoleon, Hitler, and Putin - a terrorist is whoever takes arms against the regular army, i.e. the terrorist is the irregular, the illegal. The Spanish guérillero in the war against Napoleon or the Russian partisan in the time of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. The same goes to the peasants fighting the German occupation in both Russia and Yugoslavia. All these are terrorists according to this definition because are without uniforms and not recognized by a legal state. “A terrorist is whoever attacks me in an illegal way” is the despotic, autocratic definition of terrorism. The democratic definition, which makes sense, is completely different: “A terrorist is whoever deliberately uses armed force against civilians.” Two things are important in this definition: the word “deliberately”, as there are people using armed force against civilians everywhere and any police may use its arms wrongfully against civilians but this is called a gaffe. Also, any army, regardless of how just its cause is, may cause civilian casualties. The problem is if it is deliberate (hostage taking) or not, but if there are deliberate torture and/or killing of civilians we have an army that is terrorist. If it is uniformed, so much the better for it, but this doesn’t change anything: uniformed people who deliberately perpetrate terror using their arms against civilian women, children or unarmed adults, are terrorists and their official ideals don’t change anything. They can perpetrate terrorism in the name of their nationalism, patriotism, racism, or in the name of some class struggle, or in the name of some religion - this doesn’t change anything. The problem is in the way of action, in the very action. To terrorize deliberately and with arms unarmed people - this is my view the true definition of terrorism, which should be acknowledged by all democrats, an in this case we conclude that the Russian army in Chechnya, as well as Afghanistan, is a terrorist army.

This doesn’t mean that the people opposing it do not practice terrorism either. The hostage taking in Moscow and that of the kids in Beslan were terrorist hostage takings, which, surely, are a crime against humanity. There is nothing more contagious than terrorism.

- You have had your clashes with the Soviet empire. What is your view on the celebrations for the anniversary of the end of World War II in Moscow on May 9 this year, when the leaders of democratic countries applauded the participants in the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, in the Chechen wars, the red hammer-and-sickle banners with Lenin’s image, the man who created concentration camps long before Hitler?

My response is very simple. Ten years ago, in 1995, when Russia under Yeltsin waged its first war against Chechnya, the first one in the 90’s, a few intellectuals and I wrote a petition to Western leaders not to celebrate the victory over fascism drinking champagne with generals returning from Chechnya, from a war in which they behaved like fascists. It happened that the petition was published on the front page of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta in Moscow and later reprinted by the entire Moscow press, which at that time was much freer than it is now, and respectively was published by the Western press. Kohl and Clinton declared that they would not participate in the military parade, alluding exactly that these military perpetrated shameful outrages in Chechnya. Francois Mitterrand then too did not participate in the parade, he was still President but his successor was already elected and there was a month to the transfer of power and Chirac, his successor said for the newspapers that if he were President, he wouldn’t celebrate May 9 in Moscow. So you understand why I think the western consciousness has made a step backward, as everyone today went there with a light heart, with the exception of Mr. Blair, whose reserves should be noted - although he did not say the exact reason, yet that was no sign of sympathy to an army that exterminates Chechens. Very simply said, I think this army is wearing shame on its uniform and that, for the first time after Warsaw 1944, another European capital with several hundred thousand inhabitants (Grozny had 400,000) was razed. Warsaw was destroyed by Hitler as punishment for its uprising. Grozny was annihilated in two stages and in March 2000 the Chechen capital was flattened by the Russian army as punishment for its desire for independence. I find that there wais something in this similarity, which should have prevented the western politicians to toast their Russian counterparts, as there were drops of blood in their champagne.

- After the collapse of the ideologies of violence in the 20th century we are seeing the use of religion as ideology of hate. Is there a danger of a clash of religions, or of civilizations, based on them?

No. No, I don’t think so. I think that the first victims of the religious integrists - in this case, most often Muslims, Islamists - their first victims were the very Muslims. We witnessed this for ten years in Algeria and can observe it almost everywhere. I don’t agree that it is a matter of religious wars, nor of a clash of civilizations, I think that this is a nihilistic barbarianism that spreads over all of what you call civilization, what we can call world of culture, regardless of whether the Hindu world, the Russian world, or the Muslim world. There is one nihilistic temptation everywhere. I call nihilism the idea that everything is permitted and which leads to the destruction of citizens, but this idea is hardly new. You know Dostoevsky’s formula, which has always been quoted in a little shortened version,” If there is no God, anything is permitted,” but if you read exactly what Dostoevsky writes, you’ll see that the first groups, he call them nihilists, which other great Russian writers like Turgenev called nihilists, there was no “if God is dead” issue for them, as there were many religious folks in the nihilist group in Dostoevsky’s “The Devils”. The issue is, “if there is no distance between God and me”.

Either I think that God does not exist, i.e. if God is dead, everything is permitted. Or I think (and that’s what we see in the Islamists), that God has given me a mission that allows me to do everything: to kill infidels, to torture and declare infidel whoever disobeys me. That is, whether God does not exist, or God has nominated me for His executor, whether I am extremely pious or atheist does not matter - the distance between God and me is erased either in His or in my favor, and in this case you find the nihilistic hard core that indulges in any atrocities, this is the common core in the actions of the Nazi SS, the iron Stalinists, and the Muslim integrists, the living bombs. And is related to the barbarism of ultra nationalists everywhere in the world. You have this nihilistic core, that indulges in anything - either in God’s name, or because God does not exist, but the result is the same - this core allows itself to commit any atrocities against a certain part of the population. Against Jews, because they are Jews, against Tutsis, because they were born Tutsis, against Ukrainians, because they are kulaks, etc., etc. So what I call nihilists is the common core that is beyond all religious and geographic boundaries. That is the case of Dr. Khan, who supplied the Pakistanis with nuclear weapons; you will see that he is officially a believer in Islam and even a Sunni fanatic, but trades with the ultra-Marxist North Korea, traffics even to the fascist Brazilian and Argentinean generals. Nurtures relations with Iran, where the Shiites are predominant, and with Qaddafi, who has for a long time been voicing another extremism. That is, something is observed that goes beyond geographical regions, religions, and ideological boundaries, linked to the murder and the terrorist “anything is permitted”. So I call nihilists very precisely not these who say God does not exist but those who act as if Evil does not exist.

- What are the realities in Afghanistan and Chechnya today? How do you see the West’s responsibility towards them?

Afghanistan was left in ruins by the Soviet troops followed by the Taliban who finished the destruction, and currently among these ruins, in very, very difficult circumstances and with the restrictions of the tragic situation Afghanistan is going through, they venture to build something that we hope is democracy. As for Chechnya, it is in an absolutely catastrophic situation whereby it is not just the Russian troops perpetrate unbearable violence, which has not been sanctioned by any way and anyone, in any case not by the Russian court martial, since there is not a single case of a punitive verdict. With a single exception, a colonel who had killed a girl after raping her, but he actually has not yet been sentenced as his action is considered a psychiatric incident. No, the situation in Chechnya is terrifying, worse that the one I saw when I was there illegally in 2000, simply because the Russian policy is one of Chechenization, i.e. setting up a militia of cutthroats and gangsters lead by the young Kadyrov, who torture and take hostages in a manner so hellish that even a part of the Russian officials are horrified by these allies. The situation there is approaching to the extermination of the population. I compare this to the Thirty Years War that possibly cost the lives of 7 of every 10 Germans. Is not even a programmed genocide, because the Russian army is so fragmented and deorganized that it does not have a program, but the result is that when an army is out of reigns, left to itself and to arbitrary decisions, does what it pleases, anything goes, nothing is prohibited, and at the same time it is an army of beggars, because the soldiers are very poorly paid and badly treated by their commanders and naturally this army perpetrates all possible and impossible outrages, it turned into an army of nihilists, with no faith, no principles and ideals, that sells its weapons to the resistance, that trafficks people illegally, I myself was traficked although I was illegal. Nobody asked for my papers, not even the FSB colonels that transported me for dollars. So this army that does not believe in anything and allows itself anything, is a real wound, plague for the populace, that is losing its living powers more and more now that the entire West is quietly approving the Russian strategy, the entire West is an accomplice in this crime.

- Mr. Glucksman, your opinion journalism is emotional and appeals to the moral feeling. Do feelings and poetry have a role in time of war?

I would not generalize - there are different wars, not one war, there is different poetry, etc. I will say only that I have never seen such a brave, intelligent, valiant nation as the Chechens. They have been fighting for 300 years now their “big Russian brother”. Twice they were forced to the brink of extinction, losing 8-9 of every 10 of its sons. All Chechens were deported without exception in 1944 and today are facing a double challenge. On the one hand, to withstand and continue resisting, as there is no other way, because even they humble themselves and cover up, they will leave their citizens to the elements, brutalized by the Russian army. And the second challenge is not to lose its spirits to the extent to reduce itself to a handful of desperate terrorists, and this is the more serious challenge. We need to know that the one hundred thousand Chechens scattered inside Russia keep in touch with their kin in the burned and depopulated Chechen villages and they all are suffering, all are on the brink of despair, and all, in the nameless chaos called Russia, can turn into terrorists.

I think that the struggle that the Chechens fight against both the Russian and the Chechen terrorism is the most beautiful, most noble fight and it is decisive for humanity in the 21st century.



© Daniela Gortcheva, Marina Ivanova
© Valentin Hadjiyski, translated
© E-magazine LiterNet, 22.11.2008, № 11 (108)

The interview was given to Dialog magazine (2005), publisher and editor Daniela Gortcheva.