A high price has been paid for this superficial stability: the introduction of a regime that behaves in a particularly brutal manner towards anyone who calls into question the official consensus – a mixture of personality cult, top-down leadership and strict Islam. Kadyrov’s private militias, which even carry out armed actions in neighbouring republics, are not the only ones to take advantage of this situation.
Anyone questioning the policies of this “Hero of Russia” (an award he received from Putin in 2004) is exposed to deadly reprisals. Two fierce critics of the handling of the “Chechen issue,” reporter Anna Politkovskaya and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova, were both gunned down – Politkovskaya in Moscow in October 2006 and Estemirova in Chechnya in July 2009.
When human rights activists blamed him for their deaths, Kadyrov was dismissive: “That’s bullshit, that’s just gossip,” he said. Oleg Orlov, the head of the Russian human rights NGO Memorial, was nonetheless prosecuted – and acquitted — for repeating the allegations.
In Chechnya, fear of the regime and the trauma of war mean self-censorship operates at full steam, and the media toe the line. Kadyrov said this about terrorism: “My method is simple. Those who disrupt the people’s peace must be dealt with harshly, cruelly even.” And on the press, he added: “The press must be in the service of the Chechen people’s unity.” In practice, journalists interpret this as meaning they must praise his every action and the people’s devotion to him.
To ensure absolute loyalty, Kadyrov uses not only fear but also money. New newspapers have been created with Chechen government funding to create the impression that the republic’s media are flourishing and vibrant. But with few exceptions, they all just repeat the same refrain ad infinitum. As for Moscow-based and foreign journalists, they are accused of distorting Chechen reality. Kadyrov has a few friends he can count on. They include the only head of state to congratulate him when he was sworn in for a second five-year term as president on 5 April 2011 – Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
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