24 hours in Chechnya Part II: Islam, patriotism and propaganda

As I told you recently, I have been very impressed by the Chechen hospitality.

And equally impressed by the omnipresence of propaganda, in a way that I found reminiscent of Astana, the city I call Dubai of the steppe, with a pinch of Pyongyang”.

The bromance of the Caucasus that unites Kadyrov and Putin is something you cannot miss when strolling around the streets of Chechen towns. It is the visible part of a strong political effort to create a national sentiment, in the context of the post-war reconstruction of Chechnya.

This national sentiment is very much centred around Islam. It is no coincidence that the first building that the government erected in the then war-destroyed capital Grozny, was a great mosque.

The big and beautiful Akhmad Kadyrov mosque, also known as “Heart of Chechnya”

And it is no coincidence that this great mosque bears the name of the previous leader Akhmad Kadyrov, and was opened during a ceremony that Putin attended.

Me inside Grozny’s mosque

A very impressive and beautiful mosque, now in the middle of a super modern district with skyscrapers, gardens, and a few cafes and restaurants.

The war feels it happened ages ago, and there are no remaining traces of it (unlike in some other parts of Caucasus such as Abkhazia)

All the city centre has been rebuilt with lots of pretty details of Muslim inspiration

And as this great mosque’s prioritisation for the post-war reconstruction manifests, Islam is a serious matter in Chechnya. Almost all men have beards (our host Alik was one of the few who don’t), almost all women wear hejab (albeit sometimes with high heels and make up; but it’s still modest clothing), there is no alcohol available, and the 5 daily prayers are observed by everyone.

All of that sponsored by the government and with the benevolence of the Russian Federation as partner; and with a strong personality cult for Akhmad Kadyrov, because what better way to contain religious fundamentalism than creating a competitive passion for another hero than God?

Besides the mosque, Grozny is full of other monuments dedicated to the glory of the leader Akhmad Kadyrov, like this museum with golden obelisque.

The personality cult is very similar to what’s observable in Astana. Portraits, quotes everywhere, newly built and enormously pompous museums and monuments to his glory.

24 hours for Chechnya was a bit short; next time I’ll stay longer!

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Leninglyptophilia aka Lenin-statues-mania: I’ve found my alter ego!

If you read this blog, you certainly know how big a fan I am of Lenin statues. I’ve identified the recurring principles behind Lenin statue design, I’ve played with a giant Lenin head, I’ve reported funny attacks on Lenin statues, and demonstrated how much prestige Lenin loses when covered with snow in winter…

I was very pleased to realize I’m not the only one. First, because it’s always pleasant to meet like-minded people. Second, because I write a blog, so it’s comforting to know there’s an audience for my Lenin statue related silliness.

And finally, because this other fan of Lenin statues has committed to a true public interest task: an inventory of all the past and existing Lenin statues; more comprehensive than a Wikipedia list, and with pictures. A daunting but oh so useful challenge!

https://www.instagram.com/collection_lenin_monuments/

You’ll find their Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/collection_lenin_monuments/

Follow them and you may well see some of my own Lenin statues pictures that they are reposting!

PS I’ve been looking for a word to say “statue-mania”. Greek is often a good source for this sort of word creation, and I looked for the Greek word for ‘statue’ hoping to simply combine it with ‘philia’.

Alas, the perversion of human beings is such that agalmatophilia, literally the liking of statues, is commonly used (apparently) to describe a perverse practice involving sex and a statue, doll or mannequin.

I wanted to make sure you do grasp the irony in my love of Lenin statues, so I resorted to another Greek-based neologism around the idea of statues, glyptos – glyptophilia.

Kadyrov & Putin: the bromance of the Caucasus

It was Kadyrov’s way to end terrible wars and contain religious fundamentalism.

It was Putin’s way to wreck, once and for all, Chechnya’s aspiration for independence.

They had to become close friends. They had to work together. They had to support and legitimate each other.

Chechnya would remain part of the Russian Federation, led by a man chosen by Putin, in exchange for peace and the illusion of autonomy.

This resulted in a strange dual patriotism and dual personality cult, supported by heavy propaganda, with Russian and Chechen flags everywhere in Chechnya, and Kadyrov’s and Putin’s portraits omnipresent in the public space.

In today’s Chechnya, there is a strong cult of personality around the previous leader Akhmad Kadyrov, assassinated by religious fundamentalists in 2004. This cult of personality seemed an inevitable propaganda technique to keep working on the unification of the Chechen people behind a project of peace.

Rather than celebrating just Kadyrov, Chechnya however has a dual personality cult, with portraits of Putin alongside with the former local leader everywhere in the territory.

Putin and Kadyrov are everywhere together. On the big buildings, like the one of the Mayor of Grozny here…
And they are together, possibly on every official building.
Here a group of men, posing in front of Kadyrov’s memorial, are carrying flags with Putin’s portrait.

It’s an intricate mixture of cult of personality and patriotism. Two flags (Russian and Chechen), two portraits (Putin and Kadyrov).

They were each other’s strength. Here a reconstitution of Kadyrov’s office, with on the wall, of course, a portrait of Putin.

The museums tell the common history of the two fellow statesmen…

…insisting a lot on the close bond between them!

Why Cubans are so ready for Americanisación 2.0

Life was so miserable in americanised Cuba that the starting point of the Cuban revolution was not just ideological: it was mostly nationalist, and aimed at getting rid of the North American occupation and all its negative consequences.

What did Cubans dislike about the North American occupation? Oh, all of it. The exploitation of the whole country to enrich just a few fat asses. The corruption that went along with it. The lack of possibilities of development for the Cuban people. The fact that rich U.S. citizens were using Cuba as a playground for short but wild debauchery breaks.

Americanisation was worth fighting against.  It was worth all these years of deprivation preceding and following the revolution. Worth these violent fights and casualties. Worth these long decades of poverty imposed by Uncle Sam by means of an utterly unfair blockade.

But whilst the world is now wondering what will happen with Castro dead and Trump in charge, there are very obvious signs that the poor Cuban people are more than ready to be colonised again.

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I’ve seen many people wear US flag coloured clothes across all Cuba during my visit in August 2015.

Don’t imagine that it hasn’t started already anyway. Western goods circulate a lot in Cuba: clothes of course, as Fidel’s well-known Adidas outfits, but much more than that, smuggled more or less openly from family established overseas or other non government sponsored channels. For example I found remarkable that many teenagers had smartphones from a much more recent model than mine.

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I was wondering how a tent from the French make Quechua ended up on a beach in remote Eastern Cuba…

The inhabitants of the cities are all gathering on public squares where public WiFi has been installed; and whilst access is granted against a fee and by using a unique code, so the government knows what you are doing on the Internet, this is very unlikely to prevent the flow of ideas from the rest of the world to permeate into the Cuban society.

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At all times of the day, Cubans gather on the public squares to connect to the WiFi using electronic devices that can’t be purchased in Cuba.

What surprised me most, when I visited Cuba in August 2015 and had good discussions with the local population at several occasions, was that people felt really ready for a greater openness of their country.

There is this widespread belief in Cuban society that the blockade should be blamed for the immense majority of the difficulties Cuba is facing today – this is what propaganda says and I think Cubans are probably right to believe it is true. And what’s most: friendly talks with Obama meant that the end of the blockade, and of the problems, was probably nearby.

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This poster found on the side of the road in Cuba depicts the blockade as the worse genocide of history. Notice the hangman’s knot shape for the letter O!

I visited Cuba in August 2015, before the country was opened to visits from U.S.A. citizens again; and the main form of worries I heard locally were related to the crowds management rather than ideological: how were we going to be able to host masses of additional tourists when the country was already hardly able to put up with the large current number of visitors?

But I also heard some locals who feared that the country would be pulled back to its pre-revolution situation of dependence and almost slavery to its Northern neighbour.

Alas, we live in a post-democratic society where owning an iPhone that can connect to the Internet is much more important than the right to vote for an idiot unlikely to do a good job anyway, so I doubt Cubans will massively fight against Americanisation 2.0 in the coming years.

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I came across this graffiti on a Cuban street. Cuba doesn’t need help?

How well off Cuba will be in this new era of economic colonisation will depend on how the U.S.A. will treat them; and with such leadership as Trump, there is a lot to fear. But history has shown it: every time the U.S.A. treat a country like shit, it ends up bouncing back against them. Can’t wait to see Revolución 2.0 in the years 2040….

 

Propaganda at its best (9): The posters that remind you who you voted for

Spotted in the streets of Yakutsk in July 2016: posters that remind voters who their member of parliament is, and how much they like him!

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The poster simply says “Our deputy Tumusov” and a Facebook like icon. It is interesting that the photo in the poster’s background is not that of the Parliament, but of the Kremlin. Tumusov is an ambitious man!

Fedot Tumusov’s highly democratic methods work really well by the way, as Fedot’s Facebook page has 909 followers, and on Vkontakte (the Russian social medium) he has exactly 5.

Go Fedot!

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