Chechnya

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The British journalist Anatol Lieven has written an illuminating account of the Chechens’ long contention with Russia in CHECHNYA: TOMBSTONE OF RUSSIAN POWER Lieven finds Russia’s humiliation in the 1994-1996 war to have resulted from the general collapse of Russian society and the woeful conditions and complete demoralization of its military forces. Lieven’s study of Chechen traditions emphasizes the elements in Chechen culture that have always energized the Chechens’ fierce resistance to Russia (and the Soviet Union).

Lieven made several trips to Chechnya both before and during the war, interviewing soldiers and civilians on both sides and keeping his head down during the intense Russian bombing. His evaluations of the leaders on both sides are sharp. Ruslan Labazanov, for instance, was a colorful thug who switched over from the Chechen rebels to the Russian side before being killed in 1996. The courageous Chechen commander Shamil Basayev, although guilty of terrorist tactics, emerges as an intelligent and in many ways agreeable patriot, whereas General Dzhokhar Dudayev, president of the Chechen rebel government, impressed Lieven as arrogant and untrustworthy. General Aslan Maskhadov, whom Lieven respects, won the presidential election in 1997.

Lieven deplores the rise to power under liberal capitalism of a corrupt elite that is exploiting Russia’s resources for personal profit while contributing nothing to the economy. He rejects the arguments for Russian historical continuity and for Russia’s being “deeply, perennially and primordially imperialist, aggressive and expansionist.” In his chapter on Russian military incompetence, “A Fish Rots from the Head,” Lieven stresses that Russia is in no condition to threaten anyone, doubts the likelihood of an intense ethnic nationalism springing up, and even fears that Russia may become economically dependent.

Lieven has provided excellent research and analysis in this work.

Sources for Further Study

Current History. XCVII, October, 1998, p. 347.

The Economist. CCCXLVII, June 13, 1998, p. S10.

Foreign Affairs. LXXVII, May, 1998, p. 147.

Library Journal. CXXIII, April 1, 1998, p. 112.

The New Leader. LXXXI, August 10, 1998, p. 14.

The New York Review of Books. XLV, September 24, 1998, p. 44.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, June 21, 1998, p. 5.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, April 20, 1998, p. 53.

The Times Literary Supplement. June 5, 1998, p. 13.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, June 21, 1998, p. 6.