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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Hope lives on in Chechen ruins

By Sapiet Dakhshukaeva
BBC, Chechnya

Sapiet Dakhshukaeva, a Chechen journalist with the BBC in Moscow, returned to Chechnya earlier this month and found people living in hope, as well as bitterness, after years of conflict.

One of the first things I noticed, on driving into Grozny, was a sign, with the message: "Better law and order, however fragile, than gross lawlessness."

Ruined building housing beauty salon
Businesses are operating from shattered buildings
It was hanging at an ugly concrete checkpoint on the western edge of the city, and I wanted to photograph it, together with the smiling soldiers, who could have been mistaken for peacekeepers if they had been wearing blue helmets.

But my travelling companion warned me against it.

They would not like it, she said, and any passing Chechens might react very badly to the sight of a Chechen girl photographing Russian troops.

I have no faith in anything, except the almighty - but hope is the last thing that dies, so I went with hope, and voted for a legal order
Chechen woman
It's a strict city in that way.

I had arrived shortly after a referendum on a new constitution, which the Kremlin would like to be a first step back to normality, but which some Chechens see as just another attempt by Moscow to impose its will.

Wherever you looked you could see political slogans.

Official printed signs urged people to vote for "peace and legality", while graffiti warned that the referendum was a deception, or a betrayal.

Grandmother Petimat
We voted for peace and friendship, and for everything to be all right
Grandmother Petimat
People themselves were often distrustful and ironic, but some sincerely hoped the referendum would bring a change for the better.

"I went to vote without faith, but with hope," one woman told me.

"I have no faith in anything, except the almighty. But hope is the last thing that dies, so I went with hope, and voted for a legal order."

Two students told me they thought the result would be rigged, so they did not vote. But they pointed out, nonetheless, that it was actually the first time that anyone had asked the Chechens what they wanted.

Grandmother Petimat said simply: "We voted for peace and friendship, and for everything to be all right."

In Grozny these words do not sound banal - they express the dream of people who have suffered every day of every year of this long-running conflict.

Rose-tinted spectacles

Some outward signs of peace have appeared in Chechnya.

People have endured terrible things, many are still living in hellish conditions. My question is - can there be peace in hell?
Chechen man in Netherlands
They are not that obvious, if the truth be told, but they are there.

The main one is that there is less shooting at night.

I was told that there were now fewer checkpoints than in the past, and that so-called mopping up operations - in which young men are rounded up at random and checked for links with rebel organisations, or just beaten for no reason - had become less frequent.

"We, of course, have put aside our rose-tinted spectacles," said one person I met.

"But we are trying to put them back on again. One inevitably waits for something better.

"You go into town and find the street has been cleared up a bit and that's enough to create a pleasant feeling."

Communications

Against a background of universal discomfort and occasional explosions, suddenly Grozny has acquired its first internet centre.

Graffiti saying - it's very dangerous to go to the electoral commission
Political slogans - both official and unofficial - are everywhere
In some places telephone connections are appearing. For example, my mobile phone was able to pick up a signal in some parts of Chechnya.

A telephone is a special joy, because once people have one they no longer feel so isolated from the rest of the world, abandoned among the ruins. But it is only the privileged few that have this pleasure for the moment.

Among the SMS messages I received in Chechnya was one from a Chechen man who moved to the Netherlands.

"People have endured terrible things," he said. "Many are still living in hellish conditions. My question is: can there be peace in hell?"

I could only answer that all wars in history have sooner or later ended in peace.




SEE ALSO:
Call to scrap Chechnya poll
13 Mar 03  |  Europe
Moscow's man in Chechnya resigns
08 Feb 03  |  Europe
Q&A: The Chechen conflict
29 Oct 02  |  Europe
Profile: Chechnya
21 Jan 03  |  Country profiles


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