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The election Chechnya does not have

On Saturday, the Chechens elect their first parliament after the war with Russia formally ended in 2003. Voters still live in daily fears of terrorists, military forces and the police. But no one dares talk about it in the election campaign.


Nazran, Ingushetia.

Officially there is peace in Chechnya.

But in Nazran, 30 minutes by car from the Chechen capital Grozny, we can hear shooting every night.

It is as if two Chechens exist. By day, there is Chechnya Putin talking about: a peaceful, normalized republic. At night, the rifle fire crackles and the sky is lit from time to time by an explosion.

When the day dawns, the authorities strike back with massive arrests of suspects

terrorists. In an eternal state of terrorist attacks and counter-terrorism measures, every civilian is a "potential terrorist".

The war in Chechnya has been replaced by a state of massive human rights violations. A state of fear exists in Chechnya in the days before the election, but no one can speak openly about it.

The civilian population of Chechnya is trapped between Schylla and Caribydis: they fear rebel attacks at night, and during the day they fear being arrested as perpetrators.

Boycotts free choice

Against this backdrop of fear and lack of law and justice, the election observation organization The Norwegian Helsinki Committee believes that it is not possible to hold free elections to parliament. The Committee issued a report on the conditions in Chechnya before the election in Moscow on Wednesday. The organization, which observes elections across Eastern Europe, has decided to boycott because there is no freedom of expression to have a


- Fear reigns in Chechnya, people shut up, and thus the political space is so small that one can not have a real election process, Åge Borchgrevink concludes after his visit to Nazran and Grozny.

Sazita's five children

Sazita's history illustrates the situation in Chechnya before the elections. Sazita (53) doesn't care about the election, she just wants her children back. Before the war she had five, now she has one again. The first son was killed in the market when a terrorist grenade was thrown into the crowd in 1999. Three children were abducted by police on October 2 this year.

Sazita fears the police have already executed them.

The daughter and two sons were arrested in an anti-terrorist campaign involving agents from both the Interior Ministry, the Chechen Police, the OMON rebel police,

the Security Police FSB (formerly the KGB) and the Federal Army. The daughter was suspected as a terrorist aide, the two boys aged 19 and 21 were unluckily present when the action came. They were beaten with rifle flasks while Sazita watched.

- The police said they only give my children back if I sign that we hid weapons, Sazita cries.

- But you searched the whole house, I said. You know there were no weapons there.

Sazita's investigation into the abduction was almost automatically dismissed.

Backdrop of war

Sazita receives free legal aid from the human rights organization Memorial. The organization documented 400 disappearances last year and believes the real figure is two or three times as high.

Memorial reports painted the image of Chechnya as a place where no one "guards the guards". Security forces operate with free hands. They have a blank power of attorney to fight terror that they can use in practice to fight whoever they want. The methods are to abduct "suspected terrorists" without an arrest warrant, and obtain confessions by torture. In the worst case, suspects are executed without law and judgment.

The target of the operations in the relatively clan-ruled Chechnya can quickly become other than proven terrorists. There may be opponents in business, politics or "clan feuds" that they are interested in or are paid to "arrange". The real political power in Chechnya therefore lies with the heads of security agencies and police.

Lot of the abducted

- With an almighty police force, Chechnya has only one party they can vote for: the security forces, says Timur Akiev in Memorial.

Therefore, nobody in the election campaign talks about this power's abuse, disappearances and torture.

- If we formed a party of the relatives of the missing, then we would have had a real opposition party, he believes.

He thinks the election result has already been agreed. He saw for himself how Grozny became a "dead city" during the constitutional and presidential elections in 2003. All cafes and the market were closed, people locked their doors or hid with families in the countryside. Nevertheless, the Russians declared an enormously high turnout.

"Russian man"

The 2003 elections were organized by the military and counted by the same. Moreover, 300.000 Chechens in flight did not get a vote, while 200.000 Russian soldiers voted in their place. In 2005, conditions are somewhat freer, and not everyone wants to boycott. Many journalists and politicians and voters in Grozny support the electoral process. They see in it a thin hope of democracy. Journalists and liberal politicians The Helsinki Committee spoke to Grozny, hoping that a parliament could become a possible counterweight to unrestricted presidential power. They therefore believe that a free choice is better than no choice.

The top candidate for Putin's party, United Russia, speaks of the parliamentary elections on Saturday as "the beginning of the end" of "normalization". In other words, it will be Putin's 'crown on the work' to make Chechnya look politically normal.

But even Putin-critical and war-critical opposition parties SPS and Jabloko are up for election. Jabloko is often regarded in the West as the most democratic and liberal party in Russia. The fact that they are making elections even if ordinary democratic rules of play do not appear to have been created has angered many voluntary organizations.

The politicians in Jabloko say they are posing because a parliament in the long term will contribute to the slow democratization of a clan-led society today.

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