Trust is a very fragile thing (Part 2)
Jana Hradilková
 

 

 

1. Caucasus and Chechnya: seen after 8 years of relationship

Caucasus as such means for me an essence of the term crossroad. In modern world history a similar role is played by areas such as Balkan, Israel or South America. What happens in Caucasus is not only a matter of the region itself, but reflects a conflict that is a key for western civilization. By the same mean it is a country that fights a desperate and hopeless fight to keep the space for people living there as well as the space, „foreign"powers are fighting for.  The life of people there is because of this double plan very influenced - what happens there is more or less a conscious inner conflict. In Caucasus two contrasting principles meat - a local principle, based on a will to live „at home", in their country, a principle based on a daily practice of ancient, not written rules - and on the other hand there is a principle of those, who come and need somehow benefit from this country. But on the same time they bring with them something personal and that what they leave here is not without influence. If there was „only"another perspective! Even that is, of course, remain of colonizing practice of large powers. Problem is though that there are many of those interests in Caucasus that were historically and still are conflicting, and so the local as well as the „colonizing" situation is no longer the same - therefore even the means of „colonizing" are more complicated. Another indisputable influence is, on my opinion, an obsession by electronic devices and internet!

Caucasus attracts me exactly by the energy of this country (and its print on human), its magic, historically attractive and desirable, constantly resisting, decimated but on the same time showing incredible ability to regenerate...Caucasus is such a center of sky and earth, where, in a history, it reflects others interests, but still it is a country where you can have tomatoes, pickles, ram at someone's home and you are in heaven...Who meets Caucasus, will never forget about it. Everyone wants it, and no one has it - not even the one, who lives there and loves it, and not the one, who comes and is fascinated with either its richness, or its crossroads...

Of course, I very often come across during meetings a question of never-ending conflicts in Chechnya and Caucasus. War is reflected in lives of people that I met in Chechnya, but also in upland Karabach even in times when there in no shooting and bombing. War changed especially perceiving of time of several generations of Kavkazians - they almost generically started to live with a feeling that tomorrow everything can be different. Of course, stronger role is then played by other aspect of their personality - not written rules of behavior, habits, mythology, and religion. I knowtise and think of those characteristics that influence the daily life of people because it is my proficiency. To explain and describe causes of war here is possible to pass by just stating events, but most times I get by with a simplified reference to beginning of hot era of modern history. It is somewhere in the beginning of 18th century, where the key role was played by greedy colonial ambitions or Russian imperia that needed and still needs to have this magic country under control.  For example a conflict between Chechnya people and Russians has been dragged, with intervals, since the last war that started in 1999.

In connection with last two conflicts, terms such as genocide, annihilation wars etc. are used deservedly. The fact, with which today's world doesn't know what to do, is that in this region during a very short time and in front of the eyes of the whole word, happened one of the biggest catastrophe that put this country totally on its knees and it will take whole generations for the heath and integrity to resuscitate.

Chechnya society especially the last two years of conflicts severely damaged and internally broke down. In my opinion, what happened there is especially for us Europeans a reason for a deep thought about everything that it reflects. Above all there is a surprising level of brutality, obsession and mutual aversion that Russian - Chechnya conflicts generated. At the same time it isn't about a classic ethnical conflict! It is about a total example of historically contingent and centralized will to resist on one side and absolute power to destroy on the other. The most common type of explanation is "it's mainly about oil" doesn't pass; it seems that in this conflict a main historical role is played by two entirely irrational emotions. It is an emotion of a giant that needs to live and survive a passive, controlled mass, and emotions of dwarf whose strength comes from within. People born in Caucasus, geologically younger and restless country, have in their genes fire or an inner energy that is given by growing in conditions of continuous alertness. People that nature thought how to listen feel and act in harmony with its rules and rules of specifically defined small area, will never submit to anything that is lacking the vital logic. If a power, dominating large areas and functioning on the "unconscious" and manipulative principle, will not understand this main principle and will not accept it, repeated cycles of violence will continue.

 

 

2. About current Chechnya

 

 

There is a relative piece in Chechnya today, if I compare its present atmosphere with the atmosphere in other neighboring republics - Ingush, Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and of course today Gruzia. It is interesting that compare to these other countries, where there is a large restlessness, almost a war case, only Chechnya still has a status of closed zones for military operations. That is typical for Russia, a lot of things lack any logic. Lately in Grozny there are constantly new foreign delegations coming, in November 2008, there was a festive opening of the largest and the most magnificent mosque in Europe with a garden and an Islamic educational center, where Islamic clergies from the whole world organize congresses, the main street was called Putin's street and pop stars compete who will organize a more grandiose concert in a new built concert hall...By the way, this cultural establishment is furnished with beautiful crystal chandeliers from Czech company Preciosa. The centre of the town brings everyone to astonishment - from rubbles in less that six years became a show town with fountains and marble sidewalks. It isn't possible not to be proud on this magic change - and you can feel that even Chechnyan people themselves are astonished, especially Grozny people that have a relationship to this town. This change doesn't touch villages though at all. Even this magic city reconstruction is a part of radical normalization tactic of an authoritative regime of the president Ramzan Kadyrov, who, at any occasion, is showing his friendship with Vladimir Putin, but on the same time is carefully cultivating an image of reviver and savior of Chechnya people and identity of Chechnya nation. And it is really interesting to monitor how there is slowly an increasing even a strange form of respect to this man between Chechnya people, even though his role is considered temporary and really not maintainable. Changes that this man did are so distinct that they exactly correspond with the personality of the nation - nobleness of form, emphasis on pomposity, glance, elegance, luxury. It doesn't matter how much it costs - a feeling of form is for Chechnya people practically an imperative if it is not almost a self-preservation cult. Of course it doesn't mean that there would be an improvement in inner conditions that are real keys to revive the nation - which are conditions on a job market, in education, heath service, economics or living environment. There were more new sicknesses, different pathological phenomenon came out, in human relationship dominates fear, lack of confidence, different forms of paranoia...people themselves often express doubts about their mental-psychological stages. People simply stopped talking about certain things. This applies in Chechnya itself, but even more in Chechnya migrating dispersion that more than any other is suffering from inner dilemma - on one hand is scared of it own country and refuses humiliation, and on the other side it is not able to disengage from its pain so it can devote itself to build its content life elsewhere. It even looks like if the inner Chechnya conflict prolapsed outside beyond the borders of Chechnya. It is of course very provocative and general statement - Chechnya diaspora outside of Chechnya is a very complicated and explosive subject and I do not want to get into it. I will limit myself just by stating that it is too dark for a healthy person to start being engaged it in. Chechnya society became in last two years somehow "externally" consolidated - but inside, you feel a permanent intensity, persistent alertness and on the same time an enormous physical tiredness that somehow almost reaches strange stupefying.

I perceive this stage as another, due to say almost desperate war to survive. Nevertheless blood is not pouring and bombs are not exploding, which is I think for people there the most important. The question that I often receive is - why should we help those people. There are many myths about Chechnya people. And I must say that more and more often I hear negative characteristics. It is often mentioned their wildness, eagerness, heartlessness and caginess. In folklore mythology it is on the contrary a strong sense for honor, pride, and respect to elderly and generally to others, and absolute hospitality. I personally never met anyone (at their house or in emigration), who would do something bad to me. But it is true that I saw in few cases of Chechnya women (refugees) different forms of purpose manipulation to receive as many possible sources - but it is easily understandable regarding the situation. My personal experience is that they don't have such garrulity; they observe others for a while before they say something about themselves, but in fact they don't talk much about themselves. On the other side, their nonverbal communication is highly developed. Eyes will in a second give you clear and specific information. I experienced that especially in Grozny. What also caught my attention was their sense of humor - they like laughing very much, they make jokes, sometimes it seems to me that they are program to do that in such a way of continuous self remedy. 

Helping those people means knowing how to receive a continuous flow of information - sometimes not easy information - not only about them and their life, but about us as well. Chechnya people with their history, mentality and lifestyle offer strong experience of contrasts, sharp edges between light and dark, laugh and sadness, love and hate, and clearly defined poles. If you have a long relationship with them, you have the ability of noticing and distinguishing contrasts even in your own life. It is through those contrasts that I felt in love with my country even more than before.

May be it is a strange answer to the question why we should help Chechnya people. It is appropriate to say that it is a country that suffered from a limitless injustice and collected so much pain that it can't take it anymore - and everyone who realizes it (it isn't that difficult) should help lightening carrying this burden to keep the inner equilibrium. It is possible by giving ourselves to them the way we are at least for a moment. They immensely appreciate it.

 

 

3. Our women in Grozny

 

Even if I try to pay attention not to succumb to some of my illusions, establishing and maintaining a relationship with Fatima, Rosa, Aminat, Chava, Madina, Lena, Elza, Seda, Cheda, Tamara and others, I see it as one of the most beautiful gains in my personal and professional life. These are women with which for several years we create something that we call Chechnya program in Berkat. (more at http://www.chechnya.cz/) Main point of our relationship is exactly that it is evolving, and is not static, stagnating, but that through those years it changes its colors, temperature, and dynamics. At the beginning it wasn't easy - I remember being desperate so many times that I responsible to find funding for activities in Grozny can't manage the amount of responsibility, that everything will fall down, that I am not able to fulfill mine and their expectations in unpredictable conditions. Often we were put down by the feeling of "blind walk". Of course they expected, especially in the beginning, money and my long term concept was rather ridiculous and a lot of my ideas they saw as crazy. It changed a lot after their visits. They saw our living and working style, and did not expect such level of really practiced self help, amateurism, and improvisation. They had completely different idea about foreign help. At some point I was almost scared that they will give up on us. Not only that they didn't, but they understood and adopted a principle of creative work from "below" and even understood the magic of an appeal "to do a ball from fart". It is almost a miracle that this was successful with women that often feed the whole family from a rather low salary from us. Of course there were many intensive and rough moments - between themselves as well as between them and me. But after each conflict it was possible to see how hard they think about what I want from them, what I need and why. Each conflict was good for something! In certain moment they understood why I constantly repeat some wholly naïve things and I insist on them - for example that they need to decide collectively, respectively work with their roles and learn to use them supplementary to the collective interest. And they gradually "felt in love" with our common interest that their personal interest moved to the second place. They really started to think collectively but on the same time each for each other. I am very grateful for this process and their personal honesty, because I find it to be rare. For a community to prosper, it is necessary that its members learn to think collectively as well as individually. In my opinion it is a base of cultivation. And so in that last two years despite of the distance we became very close. This continuous getting closer maybe enriches us the most. Even though sometimes it is hard to deal with confounded problems at the distance, I suddenly found that when I think of this group of women, I feel such a new type of calmness and certainty that what is behind us will never disappear.

And how are our Grozny women? I can see myself that I don't want to individually write about each of them. The each are very different...But what they have in common is that they don't like talking about themselves - and if they do, it must be in a right time, after dark - and I believe that if I start talking about them, I break what is for us the most important right now - spirit and strength of their community. One of our latest meetings comes to my mind - during my last trip to Kavkaz, in Nalciko (in Kabardino-Balkarii), I accepted an invitation of my old Chechnya friend Tamara, a woman about 60 years old, journalist, translator, propagator of Chechnya language, folklorist and in my opinion a reviver. I had a long conversation with her that I will never forget. We talked about perspectives for Chechnya, broken relationships, possibilities of their renewal, sense of personal isolation. This conversation was interesting because it suggested possibilities that are and still must be hidden. This very educated, hard working and conceptual woman isn't alone and is waiting for an appropriate moment, which is generally rare at Chechnya and Kavkaz people and on the same time they would need it so much.

 

 

4. Genesis of finding sources for Chechnya program, role of Friendly help and - what else, if we succeed...

 

For the first program that we named "Help to people in ruins" in 2001 we received money from public collections that were held at different events - discussions, beneficial concerts, moving exhibits of photography done by Iva Zímová, who spent with Petra Procházková a lot of time in Kavaz during a critical time of conflict.  During the first years we cooperated with the organization People in need that had a continuous mission in Chechnya and it was due to a first commonly conceived program of female community center we received financial support from the governmental development program under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Even though nothing much changed since then, we still cooperate and it was thanks to that that we were able to help in Grozny to create local organization that is renting a house in which they further develop everything that we built since 2001 - individual help to families, children, elderly, and their own educational, self help foundation and socially medical program. State money alone would not be enough. What substantially helps the program is money from public sources - friends that mainly participate on keeping our collective Czech-Chechnya business. They are mostly people that believe in long term sense of our work in Chechnya and know how important it is to keep relationships created at the beginning of everything. That are not that many of those sources, because the work we do isn't anyhow showy and is really difficult to measure. But it is especially their long-lasting participation that is one of the reasons of our work - they are a measure of resonance of what we do in Chechnya and how we do it. They are people that contribute to the program called Friendly help of families to families, which was created some years ago. This group of Czech sponsors help exactly in selecting families in need in Grozny that we help to deal with different actual or long term difficulties. One of the veterans is for example Šovlachova family that was already in the first program Help people in ruins. This family of five was unlucky that in both wars their house was bombed and they survived, but lost everything else. Three girls and parents that, because staying in wet and cold caves for a long time, got sick with TBC. Mother died two years ago, and prognosis of the father is very bad. Girls are healthy and all three are happy and smart. It is because they are not alone - they are basically adopted by our group of Grozny colleagues, they receive financial help from Mme Eva Majerová, who lives and work in Washington and also Mr. Jiří Zavadil from New York. Thanks to this help the girls have regular vitamins, warm clothes, school supplies and recently we bought them a sewing machine on which Makka learned how to sew and is sewing for a whole family. We pay a driver for them to take them to cooking, sewing and English courses to downtown of Semja - family lives in a rented house and the girls would not be able to go otherwise. We are saving up for them to purchase this house, a ruin that belongs to a Russian owner.  Another example where Czech sponsors successfully helped to a big positive change is a small Madlen - who is today 7 years old. She was found by a Russian woman Agajeva in a cave after bombing. They, together with her husband took her and took care of her. The girl had very severe neurological problems and needed a long, systematic medical care to start walking and talking. She was diagnosed thanks to a sponsorship of people from Liberec that paid for her to see a doctor for the first time. Medical care needed in sanatorium near Moscow cost about one thousand rubles - we collected it over two years and at the end it was successful and Madlen made a huge step forward.

Similarly we try to solve problems of other selected families - it always depends on their momentary situation. It is monitored there by Roza that we talked about. It is important to mention another aspect of this help - it is mainly about people that consider themselves to be "third sort", people not visible, eliminated from all connections, so without any possibility of help from the family of the government. When they came the first time three years ago to the center in Grozny there were also few local administrative functionaries who were really surprised that people like that really exist in Grozny. Even more surprised they were realizing that someone is actually taking care of them. And when something like what happened to Madlen get about, it looks like a miracle. After two wars, when the society became cynical and peoples' life is measured with money, when you get nothing without bribery, an existence of this type of program seems exotic and almost suspicious. Services and classes for free, tea and food to those that need it - for a long time people were convinced that there is something else behind it. Last two years was our house in Grozny under a constant supervision of authorities - controls were as often as three times a week. (It is quite funny to imagine how such civil servant reads a note from Štěpán Černoušek in a Czech corner that is making fun of us. It took a very long time before local public and administration understood that the things are really the way they look - it was funny to see that no one believed it. A local (not foreign!) association Semja is today very popular because it is based on giving not taking. In harsh conditions of a corrupt society is this act of generosity provocative and standing up element. However it brings its fruit - thanks to its unarming transparency people started to believe in it and this year there was a store opened called „Bezplatnyj magazín", Free store, where more wealthy people bring what they don't need and very often there are luxury items and they are then taken and used by others, less wealthy. This is a activity that was really created from the will and especially confidence of the people in the town. And the foundation was dicsovered by our women in their test laboratory for creating good in the middle of a dark, wasted forest...

If everything will go well, in February we should open a special two year long institute in Grozny that we called Practical family institut Eva. It is especially for this project that mentioned stories make money. It is very exiting because we created this school together with girls and women that teach and work in Semje and the program we designed is based on what they said they need know and learn how to do, what they can further give to their daughters, and what they can use in their life.  The educational curriculum combines practical learning such as chechnya traditional cooking, curing, sewing, housework, first medical help, personal culture that includes history, basic russian law.

Other two projects are in a form of preparation, such as creating of a film festival Czech days in Grozny and building a small Czech culture center with joined Club of young culture. These two projects will confirm in its way what is behind us and will prove how beneficial can be concentrated bilateral business, everything that can be done in such space that we call "our ChechCzech"...

How can our readers contribute: (accounts, etc.)

Selection of how can readers contribute is in section How to help on the web site http://www.berkat.cz/ or http://www.chechnya.cz/