Psychologist Views Chechen Cultural Traditions, Their Influence on Situation
10 January 2003
Interview with military psychologist Leonid Kitayev-Smyk by Yelena Novoselova; place and date not given: "Why d'Artagnan Did Not Become a Terrorist?" -- first paragraph is Rossiyskaya Gazeta introduction
What kind of republic corresponds to the state of Chechen society most? Only a parliamentary republic does, believes Leonid Kitayev-Smyk, military psychologist, senior staff scientific at the Institute of Culture Studies and author of the recently published book entitled "The Stress of War."
Each Chechen Is His Own President.
Vaynakh -- the ancestors of the Chechens and the Ingush -- were a military-democratic society. The Chechens and the Ingush are one nation, which was artificially divided in the past decades. "Each Chechen is his own president," is a very astute expression. Individualism is typical of all mountaineers to a smaller or greater degree, because every person has to survive in his gorge, on his small mountain ledge and to protect himself and his family. However, due to ethnic factors individualism is expressed in Chechens more strongly than in any other people.
[Novoselova] Did anything of the kind exist in our or other nations' past?
[Kitayev-Smyk] As we all remember, there was another military-democratic structure in the European part of Russia -- the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks. When Catherine the Great's hierarchic state system collided with them it realized the two could not coexist. And then, the empress took a very cunning and wise political step: The Zaporizhzhya Cossacks were relocated and settled in the vicinity of the military-democratic societies of the North Caucasus and therefore, neutralized each other. If we go beyond Russia's borders we can recall Basques or the people living on other side of the Pyrenees where they are called Gasconians. D'Artagnan was a Chechen of his epoch. And so was the Gasconian "field commander" Henri IV. He had enough courage, wisdom, and craft to win the French crown. If his traits as a king had been combined, for instance, with Muslim radicalism, Europe would have been in trouble to say the least.
Blood Feuds Under the Guise of War.
[Novoselova] How advisable it is to hold peace talks at this point?
[Kitayev-Smyk] Of course, peace talks are necessary. Several factors complicate the situation. With whom should negotiations be held since each clan recognizes only its own leader? It is necessary to convene a general assembly, a meeting, and in the long run, form a legislature. Negotiations with Maskhadov are absolutely senseless. Most Chechens do not respect him not only because he is a representative of a different clan but also because he did not behave in the best possible way during the period between the wars and during the second Chechen campaign. Second, the Wahhabite instigated young people who had drifted apart not only from the European or Russian but also from the Chechen culture to kill fellow Chechens. This gave rise to blood feud. Chechens have spilled a lot of Chechen blood. Many Chechens are currently fighting on Russia's side not because they support its policy but because they want to have an opportunity to carry out the vendetta.
[Novoselova] Can blood feud spread to involve our military's families?
[Kitayev-Smyk] No. According to the mountain law it can be used solely against fellow Chechens. Incidentally, blood feud does not necessarily mean murder. Preference is given to compensation in the form of 60 cows for a man and 120 cows for a woman (women can give birth to soldiers). Expulsion of the culprit comes second. And murder comes third.
When a Youngster Is More Important Than Elders.
[Novoselova] Is Chechnya doomed to internal conflicts?
[Kitayev-Smyk] The so-called general assembly of one or several clans plays a very important role in Chechnya. The institution of general assemblies, which has existed for centuries, is a prototype of parliament. Intelligent people play first fiddle in the assembly. Not necessarily elders. I saw a youngster (one can take part in assemblies from the age of 14) moved to the first row after he made two or three reasonable remarks. Meanwhile, an old man was asked to leave the assembly for making absurd remarks. There was a case during the second Chechen campaign when a general invited Chechen elders to negotiations. I was in a nearby village and heard young Chechens laugh: "Russians are stupid. They brought together a bunch of Alzheimer patients and think we are going to obey them."
[Novoselova] Does this mean that unconditional obedience to the old is yet another cock-and-bull story about mountaineers?
[Kitayev-Smyk] It is a story invented by ignorant people. I have seen young men from one clan beating up elders from another clan. At present, Chechen young people do not greatly respect their elders for a number of reasons. First, the elders are accused of allowing the 1944 deportation. Second, they are physically weak and unable to fight; they cannot be winners.
[Novoselova] What does the "generation of winners" look like?
[Kitayev-Smyk] Young people who have not attended school since 1993-1994 currently rule in the Caucasus. This can sound paradoxical, but Chechens are workaholics and have a great thirst for knowledge. And what have they studied over the past decade? Only how to fight.
[Novoselova] Is any kind of activity regarded as work? Is it a broad notion?
[Kitayev-Smyk] Work is regarded as a prestigious activity. The point is that due to their individualism Chechens are above all winners. If criminal activity is currently regarded as the most successful in Russia Chechens will focus all their diligence to succeed in this field. If some other activity is regarded as prestigious they will be thoroughly engrossed in it. What should we do? We should open motor and aviation assembly plants, or preferably enterprises manufacturing newest-generation computers, but first, young people should be educated in reputable foreign colleges. If Western peacemaking organizations want peace so much why don't they render assistance as sponsors?