Chechnya: the background of a modern-day horror story
Chechnya is host to the greatest crimes perpetrated against gay men in generations. But what are the social, political and cultural factors that have created this situation? Why has it erupted now? And can anything be done to stop it?
In the Summer issue of Winq, Jack May examines the factors that have led to the detention and abuse of gay men in the Russian-backed state.
Since February of this year, law enforcement and security officials have been zealously executing an anti-gay purge in locations that have been likened to Nazi concentration camps, and called modern-day gulags.
Understanding the current situation in Chechnya means getting to grips with two things: the region’s turbulent, bloody history and infamously ‘macho’ culture, and the personal political power-play between two men – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Professor Brian Glyn Williams, author of Inferno in Chechnya, looking at the region’s two wars in the 1990s and 2000s, is Professor of Islamic History at the University of Massachusetts. Addressing the country’s attitude to masculinity, Williams says: “There is this self-reinforcing trans-generational narrative going back centuries that Chechens are fearsome warriors. It’s almost primordial, in the sense that the Chechen man has his [traditional warrior’s] Kinzhal knife and he could take on five Russians or ten Russians, or ten Dagestanis, and they had this legend of being Robin Hood warriors up in the mountains, riding back to their victorious clans.”
Religion is also a crucial part of Chechnya’s social fabric. Sufism, a mystical strand of Islam that promotes social conservatism and is technically in breach of the Russian constitution, has a firm hold on Chechnya, and is practised by an overwhelming majority of Chechens.
Maxim Eristavi, the only out queer reporter in neighbouring Ukraine, and research fellow at the Atlantic Council, says it’s all too easy to blame Islam. “Especially now, with Islamophobia
on the rise all over, and especially in Europe or in the States, it’s very fashionable to blame everything on cultural fault lines. And specifically on fault lines between religion – on right religion or wrong religion.”
Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s autocratic leader, is certainly a fascinating case. He’s an Instagram celebrity, with almost twice as many followers as he has Chechen citizens, and has ruled the region with an iron fist since 2007. Kadyrov has used his Instagram account to shower praise on Vladimir Putin, fawning sycophantically to the great, benevolent, strong Russian leader: diplomacy via social media.
When the lives of gay men are given such little importance in the political to-ing and fro-ing of these two autocrats, can there be any hope of putting an end to anti-gay persecution in Chechnya?
Elsewhere in the Summer issue of Winq, there are interviews with artist Grayson Perry – his first in the gay media – and Danny Watts, the most successful racing driver to come out as gay anywhere in the world. We travel to Thailand and Rotterdam, and ask if the pink pound can advance equality around the developing world. Melvyn Bragg recalls his friend Francis Bacon, Patrick Gale writes a letter to his younger self and Russell T Davies picks his cultural highlights. Packed with insightful commentary from a newly expanded panel of columnists, Winq is the journal for gay men by Attitude..