Andre Glucksmann is one of those in Europe who enjoy so much gratitude, respect and appreciation of the majority of the Chechen people. When many seemingly accepted the so called «antiterrorist» label of Russia’s military operation in Chechnya, he told the whole world that this term was being used by the Russians to conceal yet another genocide of the Chechen people. He was over 60 years old, when he managed to get inside Chechnya, and saw first hand what was really going on. He returned to Europe to tell the whole world what he saw in Chechnya and to wage a campaign to stop the brutal war and genocide that the Russian army is still inflicting on the Chechen people.
Correspondent: Mr. Glucksmann, your trip to Chechnya has been widely talked about. We also remember an open letter of French intellectuals published in Le Monde in which they expressed disagreement with Russia’s policy towards Chechnya. Has that campaign developed any further? Has any reaction followed?
Andre Glucksmann: First, I think, it is necessary to distinguish between the two periods, the period before and after September 11. Of course, before the tragic events of 9/11 there was a mobilization not so much of politicians but of actors, artists, intellectuals and common citizens. People were frightened and anxious about actions of the Russian army in Chechnya. And they openly talked about it. But after September 11, [President] Putin managed to portray the Chechens to the world as terrorists «working» for Osama bin Laden. For more than five months the international media constantly reported that bin Laden’s closest entourage consisted of Arabs, Pakistanis and Chechens (which in fact, concerning the Chechens, was pure misinformation!). These three nationalities have always been mentioned at one and the same level when talking about terrorism. I did my best to find out whether there were any Chechens in Afghanistan. As a result of a long research all the journalists, employees of humanitarian organizations and human rights groups (including Russian human rights activists) working in Afghanistan told me the same thing: there were no Chechens in Afghanistan. There were no Chechens among the dead, the prisoners or the wounded. There was no information about Chechens in bin Laden’s entourage. Nonetheless, the anti-Chechen propaganda worked, and Chechens were murdered again. First they were killed physically, then morally «as accomplices» of the most gruesome terrorist act in the history of mankind.
Correspondent: Russia has been creating the image of «a Chechen-terrorist» for a long time. Right after the end of the first war the Chechen society split in two. Simply speaking, those who believed in the spiritual values of the West and those who no longer found any consolation in the illusions of Europe willing to support the Chechen independence cause. Thus, an ideology was quickly formed, which made it possible to call the latter side «militant Islamists," although religion was not the primary motive of this group but rather the total disagreement with Russia’s policy in Chechnya and a direct response to the timid position of the western countries regarding the genocide of the Chechen people. By the way, [Boris] Berezovsky contributed a great deal to the formation of this image by generously supporting such moods in the society. To my mind after 9/11 western politicians didn’t fully buy the notion of «Chechens-terrorists» but rather went along with that theory enabling them to avoid quarreling with the nuclear power. In this respect, I’d like to ask you: those who signed your first appeal, did they believe these stories about «Chechens in bin Laden’s ranks» and have they abandoned their initial position?
Andre Glucksmann: First, your explanation of the situation seems interesting to me. And partially it corresponds to what I saw in Chechnya with my own eyes. In fact, after the end of the first war there were forces in Chechnya determined to turn the Chechen society towards religious extremism. That was also Berezovsky’s policy, in order to lay the ground work for a second war. Financing this religious extremism was intended to force Chechen politicians to make a mistake. It was necessary to demonstrate to the West that all Chechens are terrorists and murderers. Unfortunately, sometimes horrible things happened in Chechnya. For example, the notorious murder of the Red Cross doctors. Nevertheless, many did not believe that the Chechens became bin Laden’s adherents. However, many democrats in Europe gave up on the Chechen cause and left the Chechens alone to face the Russian army’s atrocities. But still I want to add the following: we cannot say that all Europeans swallowed Putin’s arguments. There is an example of Afghanistan. Soviet troops waged a bloody war there and basically ruined the country. After the withdrawal of Soviet troops, banditism flourished in the ruins of the cities and villages, and then Taliban appeared. At that time the West also showed no interest in what was going on in Afghanistan. Later on, bin Laden’s phenomenon occurred, the ground for which was prepared by the Soviet troops, Pakistanis and Europe’s indifference. We must be realists and understand that Russia’s aggression, and extermination of the Chechen people can create conditions for appearance of terrorism. Today people realize that the WTC towers were not untouchable. In Russia there are many targets to which possible Chechen terrorism could have access.
Correspondent: I would like to provide some information in regards the murder of the Red Cross doctors. The matter of fact is that a year after the tragic event, the Chechen prosecutor’s office identified a number of persons involved in the murder. To complete the investigation the support of the Russian law enforcement bodies was necessary. In particular, Adam Deniyev, who lived in Moscow at that time, was one of the alleged organizers of the murders. The Chechen prosecutor’s office passed all necessary documents to their Russian counterparts asking them to detain Deniyev, but the Russians didn’t comply. Moreover, when the second war started Deniyev held a high position in the pro-Russian administration. Of course, I do not claim that everything was all right in Chechnya, but I have no doubts that the situation that existed at that time was a direct consequence of the policy you have mentioned, rather than by the virtue of Chechens’ «special mentality» widely publicized in the Russian mass media …. .
I would like to go back to the beginning of our conversation. A prompt answer from Russia followed the above mentioned letter by French intellectuals published in Le Monde. Prominent Russian culture and art figures (including well respected names) made a statement saying that President Putin knew what he was doing and that the whole nation supported the «antiterrorist» operation in Chechnya. It was suggested that there were forces in Europe, which were not interested in letting Russia to become a strong state. A certain plot against Russia was alleged. Hence, you as the one who initiated this campaign could be called the life and soul of that «plot».
Andre Glucksmann: Have they called me like that?
Correspondent: Of course not, but later you were denied a visa to enter Russia, and the Russian newspapers wrote insulting articles about you. One Russian newspaper wrote the following: «In the 60’s Mr. Glucksmann spoke against the war in Vietnam. Recently he has said that he reversed his previous position. We should just wait for several years, and he will change his opinion on Chechnya too." And in this respect I would like to know what happened to your position?
Andre Glucksmann: This is a very interesting question. When I was younger I criticized America’s strategy in Vietnam in the 60’s. At that time all western commentators wrote that the US was much stronger than Vietnam, and was more likely to win the war. Today they say that Putin is much stronger than his adversaries in Chechnya and is sure to gain a victory in Chechnya. So, at that time I said that American armor was not necessarily going to win in the war against the Vietnamese. Since then I have not changed my opinion. On the contrary, the opinion of the American leadership has changed including that of McNamara, the author of the great theory of escalation. Later he admitted he was wrong. Nonetheless, we should note that having won the war, the Vietnamese failed to win the peace. Unfortunately, they took up methods of Stalin and the KGB, the methods that are well known to Mr. Putin. Then I spoke in support of the victims of totalitarianism, and in support of the dissidents. And if the Chechens follow Putin’s way, after they win the war, and begin building the Stalin-type dictatorship or dictatorship of bin Laden, I will be against the Chechen government for the sake of the Chechen people. I have never changed my position on the Vietnamese war, and I have always been on the side of the Vietnamese people, when innocent people died under American bombs and after the war when they were put in camps.
Correspondent: You have just clearly expressed one of the goals of our newspaper. Of course, first of all we want to find a way to stop this horrible war. But we also want Chechnya to become a democratic state after the war.
Andre Glucksmann: You are right…
Correspondent: Your generation is usually referred to as the generation of Solzhenitsyn. «Archipelago GULAG» changed the world outlook of many not only in the USSR, but also in the West and I would like to ask you about Soviet dissidents. With minor exceptions (Bukovsky, Bonner, Kovalev, etc.) the former Soviet dissidents support Putin. Today they support the policies they used to protest against in Soviet times. These are people of world reputation, financially independent, and many of them have dual citizenship. I am saying this to emphasize that they have nothing to fear. And therefore it is difficult for me to understand why Solzhenitsyn, who spent years in the GULAG, suddenly accepts the methods the Russian troops use in Chechnya and also demands the introduction of the death penalty against which he ardently protested in the past; and that relates not only to Solzhenitsyn, but to many prominent dissidents. Perhaps, you know some of them. Aside from that, maybe for you — as a philosopher — it would be easier to explain this phenomenon…
Andre Glucksmann: The shortest answer would be, nobody is perfect. But seriously speaking, I must admit that I ask this question regarding myself. If previously you were able to give correct estimations of some events, that does not necessarily mean that you will always be able to do so. Sometimes something extraordinary happens and it is difficult for you to be able to clearly assess the situation. As for the dissidents whom I know in France, the overwhelming majority of them supported the Chechen cause. For example, a friend of mine, a prominent dissident the late Alexander Ginzburg, was the one who organized our joint trip to Moscow in 1999. At a press conference we openly asked «sensitive» questions to General Manilov, and later when I asked for a minute of silence, in commemoration of Chechens murdered by Russian troops, I made that General stand up. That trip became possible only because of Alexander Ginzburg. We met many people, for example in the Sakharov Center and in Memorial, who still uphold the ideals they were prosecuted for in Soviet times.
As for Solzhenitsyn, I am concerned about his situation. It was difficult to read the compliments he paid to Putin. But it seems that their contacts were perfunctory. I hope Solzhenitsyn «will come to his senses." But I do not understand what is happening to him. Because in his «Archipelago GULAG» he wrote such wonderful words about Chechens! I personally know some Chechens who become passionate patriots after they read Solzhenitsyn’s words. But previously, Solzhenitsyn also expressed nationalist tendencies. Obviously that tendency has prevailed. We shall also mention that Putin who, unlike Yeltsin, managed to be «pleasant» and treated him with respect which official Russia hasn’t shown to Solzhenitsyn for almost 10 years. This is Putin’s merit that he could feign, and be a chameleon. He could please Bush, he is able to tell on American television that he wears a crucifix and is a diligent Christian, he is able to demonstrate to the German public his knowledge of the German language, without mentioning how and for what purposes he studied it. He could speak with grief about Sakharov and visit Andropov’s grave, who, in fact, is to blame for the persecution of Sakharov. I think that Solzhenitsyn fell as a victim to the crafty actor.
Correspondent: President Putin has an extremely high popularity rating in Russia, while Milosevic faces the International Tribunal. Putin’s much more bloodier crimes go unchallenged. Do you think there is any possibility that this person will pay for his crimes? Or will the «nuclear umbrella» protect him?
Andre Glucksmann: Frankly speaking, I think Putin could appear in court. And it seems that Putin himself thinks about it. I remember his reaction to the news that Milosevic was arrested and he was to stand trial. That was during a joint press conference of Putin and Chirac, I watched it live. A journalist asked both presidents about Milosevic’s arrest. Naturally, Chirac said he was positive about it. And then it was Putin’s turn to answer. For the first time I saw him lose self-control in front of cameras. He was irritated. Before that, next to Chirac, he was a kind and polite eastern president and suddenly he exploded and loudly said: «No, no, no!» As if Khruschev were there with his shoe! It became obvious that at that moment Putin saw himself in Milosevic’s place. That news made him lose self-control. Of course, a tribunal for Putin is much more complex. He is well protected with his bombs. But this is a problem for all the democrats in the world. If once and for all it is decided that possessing A-warheads is sufficient to make it possible to exterminate the whole nation with impunity, then this is a clear signal for all dictators in the world to obtain such weapons. And then it appears that Milosevic faces trial not because he exterminated people, but because he had no weapons of mass destruction. It is very dangerous to leave a murderer immune because of his nuclear weapons. If we are realists, it is hard to fight against Putin, but it is easy against Milosevic. Then we should rely on Putin’s weakness at home. We know that today Putin enjoys a very high popularity rating. But it is also obvious that so far he hasn’t been able to resolve the real problems Russia suffers from. For example, remember the situation about the Kursk submarine. We saw his ratings drop because he wasn’t able to make any perspicuous decision and he did not know what to do. Today Russia faces numerous highly explosive problems. Here we could cite public life security, reigning mafias of all sorts, low standard of living constantly falling for the last 10 years, and soon we would compare it to the low level of living after World War II. Oligarchs managed to lay their hands on all of Russia’s resources, and it costs almost as dear to the Russian people as Hitler’s aggression. Russia’s current position is very dramatic and dangerous and the abilities of Putin to oppose it are more than doubtful. And today’s high popularity rating of Putin does not necessarily guarantee it will remain high in the future.
Correspondent: I would like to ask you about the situation of Chechens in Europe. Even though in some countries they are relatively taken care of, although their status is not clear, but in other countries such as in Germany there are cases of forced deportation of Chechens to Russia. There is no news about some of the deported people. In this sense, Chechen refugees have absolutely no protection. There are no guarantees that they would not be deported from the other countries too, although, obviously they run the risk of persecution, if deported, both in Chechnya and in Russia. International human rights organizations have issued detailed reports on this issue. But it seems that the courts don’t consider such reports at all. What, in your opinion, could change the situation?
Andre Glucksmann: First, I would like to stress that the deportation of Chechens to Russia is a scandal. Obviously, this is a demand of Russia, which is proved by another requirement of Russia, not to issue European visas to Chechens. Several times I stood up to support Chechens who were denied visas. This is very difficult. It seems to me that in this issue Germany is one of the countries which are more liable to Russia’s blackmail. We should not forget that Germany receives one third of its gas and necessary oil from Russia. At a meeting Putin reminded Schroeder of this fact and offered him a friendship of «equal partners." And later Schroeder stated that after 9/11 he had a different approach to the problem of Chechnya. Thus, he approved Putin’s actions in Chechnya. But we shall not forget that the public opinion in Germany isn’t unanimous on this issue and there are many groups protesting against the war in Chechnya. And even German Foreign Minister Fischer is more sympathetic to Chechens than Schroeder. Therefore, there is a possibility to block the deportations and the pressure from Russia on western countries. But that will be very difficult because Russia is actively waging a psychological war.
And now I would like to add something on my own. I think I shall thank the Chechens on behalf of all Europeans; Chechen soldiers, and common people and Chechens who live in Russia. They experience the severest pressure, because their pain is unbearable, because they remain humans. This is very precise. They don’t give in to the temptation of blowing themselves up in buses and waging a war against civilians. They do not do what kamikazes do in Israel. If they do not target defenseless civilians, this is not because they have no such possibility; we all know today that it isn’t difficult from the technical point of view. They are brave enough to sacrifice their own lives and they have been demonstrating it for 300 years already. But they do target troops. Such self-deterrent still saves the situation. Despite of their great pain, Chechens still stay restrained. It would have been more reasonable from the side of Russians, from the side of Europe, and even from the side of Putin to stop the bloody massacre as soon as possible, before the «Afghan» scenario could lead to power murderers and terrorists, who do not care against whom to fight.
Correspondent: Thank you very much for the interview
Andre Glucksmann: Oh, I am grateful to you. Today, after the September 11 the entire world realized that a small plane is enough to launch the scenario of Apocalypse. But regardless of all the injustice you keep your spirits.