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Chapter One

Ethnography and Theory

A Moral Dilemma

Along the way, I found myself confronted by a moral dilemma not easy to explain. For eight years, Chechnya has been a part of my life: from my attempts to settle the conflict when I was federal minister of nationalities in 1992 under Boris Yeltsin to participation in Russia's delegation at the talks with the Chechens in December 1994; in my work on the Russian government's proposed peace plan in 1995-96; at disparate conferences and in publications of various sorts; and in backhanded remarks by my wife, Larisa, "Formulating the Chechen situation again, are you?" It was she, in fact, who first raised this moral problem: the danger of turning research into a war into a self-serving academic study.

Whatever sympathy and compassion writers may express about a society afflicted by war, they remain in some sense outsiders to it. Even if they are "participant observers" or committed ideologues, even if they experience suffering and danger firsthand, as journalists often do (and scholars less often), the war is still not their war. They are on the front lines, but not in the war; they are in the zone of conflict, but not in the conflict itself.

A sense of the wariness of those directly involved about outsiders exploiting the conflict for their own purposes, something I often saw, never left me in the course of my work on this study. Each time I met Chechens in Chechnya or received other informants (to use the technical term) at my Moscow office, I felt awkward about my professional distance. I knew that most of these people had suffered deep psychological traumas and irreparable losses. My partners in research (as I prefer to call them) would leave my office, but not for home. Kheda Abdullaeva returned to a one-room apartment in Moscow rented for a month by her uncle; at the end of the month her prospects were dim (at the close of 2001, she was still striving to find a decent job to cover her living expenses in Moscow). She subsequently married a Chechen living in Nal'chik, in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic in the northern Caucasus, and had a child. Vakhit Akaev walked to the Moscow University hostel where he lived while undergoing retraining. In 2000, he also moved to Nal'chik, but he asked me to get information about emigration to Western countries for him. I have since lost contact with Akaev. Dzhabrail Gakaev, who had lost a spacious apartment in Groznyy and his rich library of books in the social sciences and humanities, had bought a three-room apartment in Moscow, which he shared with his five grown children. Tragedy struck when his eldest son was killed in a car accident not far from his new home. Andarbek Yandarov and Galina Zaurbekova lived in several places in Moscow during the period in which we worked together and finally obtained a room in the student hostel of the Agricultural Academy, where they brought their two small children, aged three and five.

The contrast in lifestyles between "informants" and "anthropologist" struck me each time I raised my eyes from the painful stories before me to ponder the staggering beauty of Lake Como and the Italian Alps seen from the Villa Bellagio, where I began writing this book. My sense of my own good fortune was, however, somewhat diminished when, as a citizen of "a country with low living standards," I received additional "pocket money" from the Rockefeller Foundation. Indeed, compared to that of my Western colleagues, my Moscow prosperity seemed quite humble.

The moral dilemma that confronts me lies also in the obvious fact that, as a Russian living in Moscow, neither my cultural nor my geographic identity is neutral where Chechens and Chechnya are concerned. It is "Russia," "Moscow," "the Russians" that are simplistically projected by many participants in the Chechen discourse, both within and far beyond the country, as the cause of the recent tragedy. Kheda Abdullaeva told me that a colleague at the Chechen Republic's mission in Moscow once asked her: "Isn't he ashamed to write about it after what the Russians did to Chechnya?" Still, I have noticed that Chechens see most Russians as "passive culprits." In the words of one Chechen reviewer, Rustam Kaliyev, their guilt lies in the fact that "Russians did not protest actively enough and so failed to prevent the war."

Zalpa Bersanova, a Chechen sociologist, asked in a survey in 1995: "Do you regard the Russian people as guilty of the tragedy that befell the Chechens?" Among older people (60-80 years), 15 percent said "Yes" and 67 percent said "No" (18 percent were undecided); among young people (17-30 years), 32 percent said "Yes" and 46 percent said "No" (22 percent were undecided). "The Chechens distinguish Rossiya, its authorities, from Russians, the Russkie; and the very fact that, in spite of all its sufferings, the Chechen majority does not blame the Russian people speaks of the potential for tolerance," Bersanova concluded, (1999: 247).

Only twice, while collecting material for this book, I did feel like an unwelcome outsider. In all other cases, I found open and sincere people of different ages and gender who shared their life stories or political visions of everything that had happened to their country and to their families. Many of them knew about my personal involvement in the case, as well as my political position and scholarly views. So as not to disturb the dialogue, and to keep myself from unwittingly influencing the results, I restrained myself from making public statements or contributing to conferences during the time I was writing the book.

But there were several exceptions to these policies after the new war began in the fall of 1999. On February 9, 2000, together with a small group of my academic colleagues, I met with President Vladimir Putin on the premises of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This was Putin's first visit as head of the Russian state to the central offices of the Academy. And, as I understood it, this was to be a visit to talk about Chechnya—as such, quite an unusual type of briefing on the issues provoked by the publication of a report from the Academy's Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, "The Ways to Peace in the North Caucasus" (1999).

This book is densely populated with real people, and many Chechens know one another quite well. So as to avoid undue complications with the reception of the text, and for their own safety, I have decided to omit the last names of my informants, apart from those who are already well known in their fields.

War as an Ethnographic Field

This book offers no exciting moments of frontline ethnography drawn from the battlefield. The war and the postwar situation prevented me from following the most basic rule of an anthropological study: doing systematic fieldwork within the study locale itself. Since Chechnya was inaccessible, for reasons that will become clear below, I had to reassess the bounds of the ethnographic field confronting me. The recent work of Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson (1997) on "anthropological locations" raises a fundamental question: what constitutes a field in modern anthropological research? It is not, they argue, a geographic locality, but a construct created by the anthropologist, with both mental and spatial boundaries; it is a shifting locus within time and space. Their work thus raises an important issue: the linking of politics with anthropology. And in cases strongly tainted by both politics and violence, maintaining scholarly purity and ideological neutrality becomes all but impossible.

Uncritical loyalty to classical notions of ethnographic fieldwork divides the world neatly into the "home" of the anthropologist (a white European or American, presumably) and the field, where the anthropologist studies the aborigines in their natural state. This understanding of the ethnographic field is less and less suitable for the analysis of nonterritorial cultural systems and their wider interactions. It is still less suitable when analyzing a society whose geographic and cultural identity has been ripped apart by intrinsic and external influences and can be described only as a result and a continuation of these impacts.

It is now clear that modern cultures and "anthropological events" are no longer rigidly tied to geographic localities: they travel just as much as, and often faster than, a professional ethnographer. When I was in Geneva at an international conference of nongovernmental organizations in June 1999, I talked for two nights in my hotel room with a Chechen, Umar Dzhavtayev. In Geneva in two nights I learned more about the Akkin Chechens of Dagestan and their attitude toward the Chechen war than if I had gone to Dzhavtayev's native Khasavyurt region myself. The reason for this is rather simple: being outside of a politicized and emotionally laden local milieu, my informant spoke more willingly and openly. In neutral Geneva, we developed close contact and straightforward dialogue that would be hard to imagine in another location. Umar argued passionately: "Don't you know that a big war will start in Dagestan no later than September? This is perfectly obvious." His bold prediction (or information?) was only slightly wrong: the war in Dagestan started a month earlier.

The field is complicated even more by the psychological effects of war. A researcher immersed in a society torn by war tends to lose the ability to understand the enveloping events clearly or to describe them adequately. Information obtained under such conditions is full of slogans, manifestos, and intense emotions absent in a calmer climate. Informants may be in such an agitated state that one can record only the background noise of an imposed reality that is often mistaken for "hard reality."

The fact is that audiotapes brought back from the field by my colleague the Russian ethnographer Yan Chesnov were useless: nearly all the questions, asked of both Russians and Chechens, were pointlessly stereotypic and superficial. "What are you fighting for?" "Why have you come to Chechnya?" "How do they treat you?" "Who is responsible for this and what is happening here?" This approach generated a standard repertoire of answers that turned a mass mentality into a mass media myth. "We don't know what we are fighting for," say federal army servicemen in the zone of a conflict. "Chechnya is not our land," say local ethnic Russians. "We are fighting for our mothers and our homes," "We have a right to self-determination," "Why is Russia bombing us?" say Chechen combatants. The ethnographic field shrinks to the scale of a newspaper page; reality is reduced to stilted or false propaganda; rumors and superficial accounts form and sustain the conflict-tainted mind.

And the responses are still further degraded when someone is interviewed by an external observer. The outsider nearly always fishes for his or her own preconceptions, hoping to fit them into a book or essay on the Chechen war. Most books on Chechnya share the same weakness: the "direct voices" in the text sound more like political declarations, and it is impossible to take them seriously as the position of "the Chechen people" as a whole. Books thus cobbled together are not about the conflict, but about the sweeping statements that swirl around it. Something is clearly amiss with politics and scholarship in conflict-rent societies. Both seem immoral in many respects, and both are unready to admit, "We were wrong," as Robert McNamara finally did about the Vietnam War twenty-five years after it ended. Is unbiased and self-reflective analysis possible with so many things at stake—including tens of thousands dead?

Out of all the conversations I recorded in 1994-96, I was unable at the time to construct even a fragmentary analysis: my attempts collapsed owing to the highly politicized nature and mythopoetic content of talk and the excessively dramatized nature of public discourse. Time was needed for at least a partial cooling of emotions. To me, the time seemed ripe three years later, though my Chechen cross-reviewer, Rustam Kaliyev, disagreed, saying: "I am not sure that your moment of partial cooling off three years later has really changed the basic rule you mentioned. Some of the political emotions have settled down, but others—no less acute or complicated—have come along to replace them. Just as before, willingly or not, an observer of Chechen reality risks getting bogged down in excessively politicized and emotional attitudes."

Rustam's analysis seems to me valid. No cooling off of political emotions has come about in the years since the first war ended in August 1996. The proof is that, for most observers, for security reasons, a trip to Chechnya in the postwar situation was impossible. I have been unable to visit the conflict zone since October 1995. It was necessary, therefore, that I seek a new mode of collecting material and access a different history.

The Method of the Delegated Interview

What I employed in my work was the method of the delegated interview. I chose Chechen partners, Galina Zaurbekova and Andarbek Yandarov, as well as Kheda and Vakhid, to conduct interviews, in Chechen or in Russian. The questions or topics of conversation were simple: where were you during the war, what were you doing at the time, and how did you earn a living; what happened to your family; what did you think of the rulers and their aims; what has changed in Chechnya, and what can be expected in the future. I particularly asked my Chechen assistants to talk about what the war meant to the Chechen people they enlisted—men, women, old people, and teenagers.

I was struck by the sincerity and insight of the texts of the interviews that they brought back from Chechnya (done mainly in 1996-97), as well as by their imagery, their preciseness, and the refreshingly simple language that scholars forget how to use. These materials powerfully supplemented the interviews I had conducted in Moscow and elsewhere, particularly with political and intellectual leaders. The analysis is based on the evidence of fifty-four people, fifty of them Chechens, one Ingush, one Buryat, and two ethnic Russians.

But there are Chechens and there are Chechens. At one international conference, held in 1995 in Oslo, I overheard a participant say, during the speeches of two Chechen delegates, "These are the wrong Chechens!" The remark was a response to the fact that two Chechen delegates at the conference condemned Dzhokhar Dudayev's regime, presenting a version of events different from what most participants had expected to hear. People promptly turned their attention, during informal meetings and in the corridors, to a third Chechen delegate, who figured as "Dudayev's representative" in the West. This delegate was well acquainted with the role expected by the audience.

So are the Chechen voices in my narrative those of the "right" or the "wrong" Chechens? My own interviewees, like those of my research partners, were not selected on the basis of any particular political preferences. It is true that I dealt more with those who opposed Dudayev's forces, owing partly to accessibility. But in Chechnya itself, the choice of respondents was wider, and to my satisfaction, quite a number of Dudayev's men were interviewed. In general, the political sympathies of our informants are varied: they range from firm supporters of Dudayev and Chechnya's independence to pro-Russian opponents of radical separatism, and the others with no clear political orientation. Most often, there is a contradictory mix of convictions, strongly colored by condemnation of war, in a respondent's remarks. The fifty-four informants consisted of forty men and fourteen women; thirteen were elderly (fifty and over), twenty-one in middle age (from thirty-nine to forty-nine), and twenty young (twenty-nine and under). Their professions varied, from statesman to housewife, and the geographical span was quite wide: eighteen people were from Groznyy and the rest from other places, including mountain villages.

Nearly all the younger men were combatants who had fought actively on the Chechen side. Of the ten young men, only two had not taken part in the fighting. Among the middle-aged group, seven men were active combatants, and five others were in the auxiliary services (reconnaissance, transport, and other). Among the elders, there were no combatants, although some Chechens over sixty are known to have fought. The combatants on our list included a couple of men who boasted the rank of "general," that is, field commanders. The rest were rank-and-file fighters, many of whom had been wounded or shell-shocked. The women were mostly housewives and mothers without permanent employment, some of them widowed or single. There were also some young unmarried women.

Another innovation emerged at the final stage of preparing the Russian-language text, when I presented a finished manuscript to my partners, Gakayev, Yandarov, Akaev, Abdullaeva, and Kaliyev, to be read for verification of their statements and for them to make such other comments as they might like. This process acquired its own meaning, and I decided to include some of their comments in footnotes as another "layer" of the text, one that originated from those whom I call "cross-informants." As I discovered later on, these footnote debates between informants became a hot issue after the book was published in Russian in the summer of 2001. The interesting reactions provided a good lesson about anthropological inquiry in cases where the author places his or her professional colleagues in the position of being themselves sources of ethnographic information.

Practically all of those who received a signed copy of the book were more concerned not with the holistic version of the conflict but with how they personally came across in the text. All of them resented being depicted as "nonscholarly" witnesses with everyday mentalities, not alien to stereotyping. "I am disappointed by the way you interpreted my remarks about Dagestanis' perceptions of the Chechens. The things I told you reflected not my personal vision but those of ordinary people, which I, as a professional sociologist, certainly do not share," complained Enver Kisriev, a scholar of penetrating mind and my good friend. For me, frankly, amid the flow of otherwise positive reactions to my book after it had been released, that was the most unpleasant moment of all. Maybe without these collisions of mutually unpleasant remarks, the book would not have been read so carefully by so many readers. But it is clear to me now that I would prefer to have had fewer readers rather than to have risked close friendships. Good anthropology cannot make people feel bad. No one should engage in the enterprise of writing at the cost of bringing people into conflict.

Explanatory Models and Theories of Research

Social science literature has accumulated a great deal of research, undertaken from a variety of disciplinary approaches, to situations of armed separatist conflict, as well as on the more general issues of ethnic violence and war (see Alker et al. 2001; Beissinger 2002; Bocharov and Tishkov 2001; Brass 1997; Brubaker and Laitin 1998; Das 1990; Gurr and Harff 1994; Horowitz 2001; Ivekovic 2000; Kaldor 1999; Koehler and Zürcher 2003; Mekenkamp, van Tongeren, and van de Veen 1999; Petersen 2001; Premdas 1995a, 1995b; Stavenhagen 1996; Tambiah 1996; Tishkov 1997a, Vayrynen 1994). But despite considerable progress in understanding the range of problems presented by culturally/ethnically motivated covert wars, two main gaps remain. First, an insufficient number of sociocultural anthropologists have studied armed conflict, particularly in the former USSR and Yugoslavia, and there remains a serious lack of reliable ethnographic data amid an ocean of political science texts and enlightening journalism. Second, having become prominent, the business of conflict research often evinces a lack of theoretical concepts and a deliberate disregard of social theory. A striking example of shifting social science research from theory to "participation" can be found in the acclaimed and well-funded "War-Torn Society Project," with rather poor findings and recommendations (see Stiefel 1998).

As for analyses of the Chechen war, the list of publications is long, but the results are not very persuasive for a demanding (or even curious) reader. In Russia, among the more noteworthy publications are those of Dzhabrail Gakayev, who did substantial political science analysis of the 1990s events in Chechnya, with some historic background (Gakayev 1997, 1999, and D.E. Furman, who compiled a collection of well-written articles by both Russian (including Chechens) and Western experts (Furman 1999a). In Western literature, apart from journalistic texts (Gall and de Waal 1998) and secondary-source observation (Dunlop 1998), the most impressive research has been that of Anatol Lieven (1998). Lieven's writings and those of his referent authority in Chechen ethnography, Yan Chesnov (1994a, 1994b, 1995-96, 1996a, 1996b) have been the primary inspiration for the polemics in my own text, which, however, comes to conclusions quite opposite to theirs.

Let me offer a few words about "big theories" in conflict studies before moving on to explaining my own theoretical predispositions. In recent years, a number of authors, proceeding from a global vision, have written on how they see "peace by peaceful means" for the twenty-first century (Galtung 1996) or how one big fight should follow another for the dominance of world. But as often happens, global concepts or theories, such as, for example, "basic human needs theory" and "group risk theory," do not meet the minimum definition of a theory as a reasoned proposition put forward to explain facts, events, or phenomena.

The basic human needs theory (Burton 1987, 1990) posits that groups (ethnic groups in particular) are collective bodies that have certain inborn needs, such as striving to preserve their identity and political self-determination. This proposition prompts the provocative conclusion that "people will aspire to meet their needs one way or another, even to the extent that they may be defined by others as 'deviant,' or even as 'criminal' (i.e., terrorist)" (Sandole 1992: 13). The ontologization of an ethnic group ignores the more modern view of ethnicity as a means of constructing cultural differences to meet the goals of human strategies arising out of specific contexts. The approach of Burton and Sandole fails to explain why the instigators of violent conflict are more often than not found among affluent groups in which a higher level of basic needs are met. It also ignores the fact that needs as a highly situational (relativist) category should first be explained and internalized before becoming an aspiration to be sought after and a slogan for combat.

More sophisticated but equally fragile in explaining conflict situations is risk theory, which attempts to identify minorities in a state of risk. When the proponents drew up a worldwide catalogue of such minorities (Gurr 1993), they knew nothing of such groups as Chechens, Ingush, Abkhaz, or Karabakh Armenians. The weakness of the theory is thus that the risk group is often unidentifiable, a priori. Risk theory explains a conflict only in retrospect—for only at this point can it qualify one or another group as "at risk." Another problem, one that affects both approaches, is the denial of "need" for majority groups, which invariably accords them a "no needs" and "non-risk" status. In the meantime, we can observe no less numerous cases in which representatives of minorities dominate and suppress "others," initiating and executing violence.

In general, the methodological weakness of holistic conflict theories lies in their obsession with the systemic and inability to see beyond groups as collective bodies with "will," "needs," and "universal motivations," which are more often than not invented, explained, and prescribed. They also ignore uncertainty and creativity, the role of human projects and their rational and irrational strategies, and people's often-mistaken decisions and choices. Even more serious is that in a highly interdependent and increasingly sophisticated international community of policymakers, scholarly theories can create (or destroy) reality. Predictions may be borne out as enforced realizations.

In many cases, academics have adopted a self-appointed advocacy for what they see as suppressed groups and through this engagement proceed to build their narratives and research methodology. The writings of such advocates are deadly, and the part they have played in the conflict in Chechnya is discussed below. Outside of their carefully selected data, the big theories fall short as regards case analysis. The general reader can find in scholarly literature such curious statements as "minorities at risk constitute one-sixth of the world's population. There are at least 47 violent conflicts in progress, generating about 50 million refugees" (Carment and James 1997: 206). One is given no chance to ask, how do these groups get counted and why are they so directly related to violent conflict? The statement quoted also ignores the fact that a number of conflicts have been initiated and pursued by minorities against majorities, or by minorities against other minorities (e.g., in post-Soviet states, Karabakh Armenians against Azeris and vice versa, Abkhazians against Georgians, Transnistrians against Moldovians, Ossets against Ingush).

Storytelling, or ethnography, is another aspect of information-gathering too often dismissed by analysts. For the purpose of presenting Chechnya and the Chechens as radically and culturally different from, and thus alien to, the rest of Russia's population, experts on the conflict prefer not to mention the basic commonalities among representatives of different ethnic groups, their modern sociocultural profiles, and the fact that Russian is the first language of the majority of Chechens. Academic and journalistic analyses tend to highlight cultural differences, so in the case of Chechnya, a civilizational watershed seems obvious: Orthodox Christian Russians are pitted against Muslim Chechens.

This book raises a number of issues that invalidate this assumption of difference. The Chechens' cultural similarity to the rest of Russia's population, to ethnic Russians and North Caucasians in particular, is far greater than their difference from them. First, the overwhelming majority of the post-Soviet populace, including those living in "Islamic republics," like the Chechens, are nonbelievers, even atheists. Second, a significant number of values, personal life strategies, and even standards of cultural behavior were held in common before the war and continue to be after the war.

Cultural differences resulting from "hard reality" have undoubtedly isolated members of this war-torn society from outsiders. The war itself drew a more rigid line of demarcation between Chechens and non-Chechens and heightened Chechens' sense of group solidarity. The warring parties in such a conflict start to "think" each other, and this thinking is intrinsically divisive. In a sense, it is the conflict that constructs Chechens, not vice versa.

Self-Determination as a Political Project

The word "nation" is intimately related to the notions of statehood and political self-determination. As a result, immediate associations arise when the same word is used in its ethnic connotation; for the ethnic Abkhazians, Chechens, Kazakhs, Letts, Russians, Tatars, and Ukrainians, this means that they must seek national self-determination and possess their own states as nations. If they do not have their own national state, then they are a kind of semi-nation or incomplete nation. Equally, all ethnic Germans, Hungarians, Russians, and others who are outlanders from separate nations must reunite with, or return to, their "historic homeland."

As it had in the former USSR, scholarly rhetoric about ethno-nations as biosocial or ethnosocial organisms (e.g., Bromley 1983, 1987; Gumilev 1989) served as the basis for (post-)Soviet ethnic engineering. The words "ethnos" and "nation" came to be seen as totally synonymous, and in a time of painful transformations, provocative political projections were made about the "destroying" of small nations and the "dying out" of big nations as dangers in multinational states. There is no difference between the two—between concerns about "nations without [a] state" in a new Russia (Bremmer and Taras 1993) and the rhetoric about "the tragedy of a great people," Russians allegedly being in danger of "dying out" (Kozlov 1995); the arguments and message are similar. They represent militant and exclusive—but politically unrealized—projects for usurping the state's power and resources on behalf of ethnic particularists. They tend to be projects of elite and armed sects determining for themselves (not necessarily for their constituents) what is and is not ethnic oppression.

A simplistic, monocultural image of the external world motivates the argument of ethnonationalists. Many domestic and outside experts on the former communist world believe that after the breakup of the USSR and Yugoslavia, the historic norm of nation-states has been (re)established for most of their constituent states, from the Baltic countries to Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia. For these experts, the sole remaining multinational state is Russia, only fourteen of whose nations have attained self-determination. Behind this rhetoric, there is a hidden political agenda, based on the assumption that in the post-Cold War world, the coalescence of "quasi-sovereign states" remains incomplete (Carment and James 1997: 205). The Russian Federation is perceived as a "mini-empire," an "improper Russia" (Brzezinski 1994) covering a huge territory spanning eight time zones.

The irony in all this is that the USSR fissured not along ethnic lines but between the existing multiethnic Soviet republics. Post-Soviet ethnonationalism thus emerged as a political and academic metaphor that provoked a serious reassessment of the idea of nationalism and the concept of self-determination. These changes in thinking seemingly came about as effects of new political agendas and ambitions, not as a result of new knowledge.

Many contemporary experts agree that the so-called Marxist-Leninist theory of the nation and the national question had unforeseen destructive political consequences (see, e.g., Brubaker 1996; Suny 1993), although these did not lead to serious revision of that decrepit ideology. The Soviet Constitution did not concern itself with the notion of multinationality or the concept of "self-determination up to cessation"—there were neither procedures for nor hope of implementing any such thing—but the 1993 Russian Constitution, devised by constitutional experts, begins: "We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation. . . ."

Western experts and politicians used the same self-destructive Soviet jargon to analyze the ongoing disintegration of their long-standing opponent. In "multinational" Russia, rather than ethnic minorities as a sociocultural issue, there are "non-status nations" or "nations without states" as an unrealized political agenda. Problems of minorities, of their cultural status, are ethnic problems (that is, in the West); but the trouble in the case of the Russian Federation is the "national problem" of self-determination in relation to the imperial system. As John Hall writes, "In retrospect, it is obvious that the Bolsheviks continued the work of the Tsars, thereby so delaying nation-building that its contemporary incidence is that much sharper and more determined. The peoples of the former Soviet Union itself were always likely to be attracted to nationalism, for the imperial system which dominated them was led by Russians—whose depredations were not merely political and economic but quite as much ecological" (Hall 1995: 25).

This stance ignores the point that it is precisely the Bolsheviks who constructed, institutionalized, and sponsored the pattern of ethnic nations that constituted the Soviet Union. It is also because of the Bolsheviks that all major non-Russian ethnic groups long ago had, and still possess today, a good measure of ethnoterritorial autonomy, each with its own constitution, state symbols, languages, legitimate government, and strong representation in the federal power structures.

The irony is that for Western social scientists, peoples like the Navajo, Ojibwa, and Hawaiians, each with its own long-established self-determination and first nations program, are not nations without states but just second-class minority citizens. It is not they but Chechens and Tatars, as linguistically nationalized groups, who deserve separate states. It seems to me that in the post-Soviet era, too much blood has already been spilled over these definitions, over constructs that become uncompromising political projects. The critical agenda for today is the de-ethnicization of the state and de-etatization of ethnicity. Ethnonationalism leaves little room for a peaceful transformation from an ethnos- to a demos-based polity.

The rhetoric of self-determination has been the chief legal and emotional argument underlying disintegration and violent conflict. In Chechnya, that rhetoric pervaded the entire ideological space: it was the main argument advanced by the leaders of the Chechen resistance, and it was talked about by common Chechen people, at least before the war. Not everything, however, is a hopeless morass, at least as regards understanding European nationalism. Rogers Brubaker argues that the upsurge in nationalism need not lead to the reification of nations: for him, nationalism can and should be understood without invoking nations as actual entities. Instead of focusing on nations as real groups, we should focus on nationhood, on "nation" as a practical category, an institutionalized form, a contingent event. "Nation" is a category of practice, not (in the first instance) a category of analysis. To understand nationalism, we have to understand the practical use of the category "nation," the ways in which it can come to structure perceptions, to inform thought and experience, and to organize discourse and political actions (Brubaker 1996: 7; see also Tishkov 2000).

The Demodernization Phenomenon

The various theories of modernization proceed from the common epistemology of society's physical and intellectual progress. But the Chechen situation does not reflect this context. In Chechnya, change tumbles forward too swiftly for society to cope. The state order falls into anomie, beset by such violently imposed dynamics as to fall into social disintegration. It is not a situation of organized anarchy, so long seen as an intrinsic feature of the Chechen tradition, that makes order and governance impossible in Chechnya today. Comparing it with Afghanistan, Anatol Lieven writes: "The same in Chechnya, ancient traditions of 'Vainakh democracy' did not prove more capable of creating a contemporary democratic state than [had] other similar tribal traditions" (Lieven 1999: 283).

What I call the "demodern phenomenon" better fits this context. Our analysis shows that the Chechen people, or Chechen society as a collective body, no longer exists as an agent or locus of social action. Since 1991, Chechnya has been torn apart by various violent contradictions, notwithstanding that the most widespread external image of Chechnya is that of a rare ethnic group in solidarity. In a book by one of the chief ideologues of Chechen secession, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, we are told that "only the Chechen people can stage major events and determine their choice" (Yandarbiyev 1996: 15). This is a figment of his imagination. If one discounts all those so disdainfully treated by the author—the "combureaucrats," "rotten suit-and-tie intellectuals," "Zavgayev's accomplices," "Moscow's stooges," "empire's minions," all those "cowards," "treacherous fellow-travelers," "provocateurs," and others he excludes from the "history-forging Chechen people"—what remains is a rather narrow, ragtag group described as "We." In fact, "We" was an armed group that throughout the war did not exceed three to five thousand people.

In the course of the war and its aftermath, people's minds became inflamed with massive doses of propaganda inherited from Soviet ideology or borrowed from national liberation rhetoric. The impoverished stock of ideas bearing on political life had narrowed down to a single solution, one brooking no alternative—an armed fight. "The result of the struggle for independence is preordained," Yandarbiyev asserts. "The people know what they are doing. . . . A people wishing to be free and to build its independent state should be able to act resolutely and be ready for sacrifices. Each father and each mother should be prepared, as in our epic songs, to give their sons for the cause of the people" (Yandarbiyev 1996: 43).

In the analysis of real-life stories, neither my partners nor I came across Chechen combatants' parents holding to that view. The phenomenon of people dying for their nation is explained by the psychologist Paul Stern as resulting from limited information about possible alternatives, or variants of action, rather than as a basic instinct or human need. In certain situations, emotional links to a core group, as well as socially transmitted norms and rules, may be more powerful than individual interests and calculations, because "it is easier to follow rules than to make utility calculations" (Stern 1995: 227). It is extremely difficult for an individual to escape this outcome.

The salient characteristic of demodernization is a mental world usurped by simplified and limited versions of events, past and present, and of individual decision pursued under pressure of limited information about available choices and under acute pressure of time. There is little time for debating when tanks are lumbering along the streets and bombs are falling.

Another characteristic of demodernization is an exodus of those people capable of implementing the agenda of modern life through society's key institutional structures—such as economic and political administration, education and culture, and social security. The first to flee from Chechnya were those who were not ethnic Chechens. These were followed soon by Chechen intellectuals and professionals. The conflict then ousted great numbers of urban and rural dwellers who had suffered ruin and devastation, as well as those who did not wish to stay and see their children living in a society torn by conflict. Finally, after the war of 1994-96, Chechnya was abandoned by those who could not or would not link their lives to building the new kind of social order that emerged. In the end, more than half the population of Chechnya (its best half, in the sense of education and professional qualification) had left the ruined republic.

An exodus of that depth and breadth changes the very nature of a society. In place of the Chechen people as a distinct entity in a complex dialogue with its multiethnic environment, we have an ethnically "clean" Chechen population controlled either by an armed fraction of that population or, after the fall of 1999, by the federal army and provisional administration.

Demodernization is thus a radical transformation of social links and institutions that undermines the otherwise universal capacity of human communities for self-organization. But it does not pitch society into a state of complete chaos. Rather, it retains the basic institutions of family and even local quasi-administration, though the latter is left severely eroded. Family links are weakened through death and departure; the established norms of family relations are altered; and the psychological climate is distorted by devastating trauma. Local administrations, usually run by appointed leaders, are invaded by interlopers who dictate their will at the point of a gun. At a higher level, the government is built on military rule. The "nation" has become a "Kalashnikov [or gun] culture."

What emerge, as ways of rescuing the territory from chaos, are false coalitions and mythical social structures. In Chechnya, such coalitions, brought about through the war, often consist of groups of battlefront warriors camouflaged as 'traditional' Chechen clans (teips). Our analysis shows that these armed coalitions are extremely volatile, that their members' solidarity is limited to microgroups of men coming from the same village, most likely with a more informed city man as their commander.

Another feature of the Chechen society in conflict is the habit of turning to the abused past for arguments applicable to the present. The argument for the Chechen militants rested on a dramatic representation of the past—of the nineteenth century's Caucasian war and the deportation trauma suffered under Stalin. The search for a lost ideal (which never existed) is still the driving force of intellectual debate in Chechnya.

Chechen society also borrowed foreign models, before, during, and after the war. First, the resistance copied the texts of the Lithuanian and Estonian People's Fronts, in the course of piecing together its own political platforms; emulated the activities and symbols of armed combatants in other Islamic (and non-Islamic) regions of the world; and, finally, drew upon Sudan's harsh Shari{a Code in establishing a similar rule in Chechnya. Such eclectic borrowing of ideas that differ sharply from long-adopted norms and values may also be seen as demodernization. In fact, European norms of life had long been adopted in Chechnya, though often in forms distorted by the Soviet regime, and co-existed with so-called traditional institutions and cultural values.

Still another feature of demodernization is the state of apathy, as well as disregard for human life and common decency, that so easily develops. Despair becomes the dominant mood. In the spring of 1992, I observed it in Tskhinvali (South Ossetia, Georgia), and in October 1995, I saw it in Chechnya. The evidence collected in this book suggests the many forms despair takes. Social psychologists, focused on individuals within larger groups, know this phenomenon as postconflict trauma or post-traumatic stress. In this study we look at the phenomenon in a wider social context.

What all these factors yield is such a deep exhaustion of society's resources that it can neither restore the former status quo nor develop efficacious new structures. Escaping demodernization is extremely difficult, for it has never been proved that social evolution always moves in a progressive direction. War and political violence have never been put in the category of progress, unless, of course, defined a posteriori, for the purposes of historical legitimacy, as liberating, revolutionary, or just.

What external recommendations might reasonably be made by a scholar studying the phenomena of war and conflict? To what end and for whom is such a study undertaken in the genre ambitiously designated "public anthropology"—that is, anthropology addressing urgent social needs and seeking, from the perspective of certain political positions, the ways and allies whereby a society might emerge from the abyss of crisis? By the time we reach the last chapter, this study will have attempted to answer that question.