By Sebastian Smith
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Additional info for Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya, New Edition
I see the criminals from the Caucasus come and go through this airport all the time. They don’t work and yet they live better than we Russians do. How is that? We’re workers, us Russians. All our lives, we work for a few kopeks, yet Caucasians live better than we do. Chechens, Armenians, Georgians, they’re all the same. They take from us and make nothing themselves. You should have seen in the old days how we lived in Russia, under the Communists. There was nothing on the shelves. You know why?
Today the old passions survive, even if in diluted form. High up in the mountains of Dagestan, in Gunib, an old man asked me to lunch at his home down an alley from the tiny Imam Shamil Street. Saidputin was 77, a World War II hero, and also a born and bred Soviet citizen. He still used the term tovarish, or comrade, and thought the collapse of the USSR was a disaster. In fact, he had very little bad to say about Soviet rule – not the religious repression, not the deportations of his fellow Moslem highlanders, or the bloody Soviet suppression of the North Caucasus’ attempts to win independence after the Bolshevik revolution.
In such a climate, one could do far worse than to reopen Tolstoy, who a century ago absorbed a number of profound lessons about Russia and about Chechnya that are worth relearning. The reader might turn to the famous scene in Hadji Murat in which Russian troops lay waste to a Chechen village. The soldiers Tolstoy describes are not evil. Simply, they believe that the natives need to be punished. This is their job. Their attitude might be summed up in the colonialist maxim that the people being Introduction xxxvii brought into the empire ‘only understand force’.