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Thanks from the new Czar

A comment on the assassination of Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov. By Andre Glucksmann

Thank you, Messrs Chirac, Bush and Schröder. Aslan Maskhadov, the man elected president of Chechnya under international supervision, is dead. Assassinated.

The Russian authorities have succeeded. Their only opponent now is Shamil Basayev, the radical warlord they themselves trained and often spared, be it in Budyonnovsk or Dagestan. Mr Putin, the Soviet agent who spends his holidays in the company of Messrs Schröder and Berlusconi, finds himself faced with a man like himself, a man who may not have his clout yet, but already his cruelty. The massacre may now continue, the attacks recommence.

Aslan Maskhadov had just declared a unilateral ceasefire and announced he represented Western values, not those of radical Islamism. This ceasefire had been respected by all boeviki (Chechen fighters) for the past month. Maskhadov had shown his strength. The time had therefore come to kill him to prevent the spirit of "permanent revolution" – which our friend, the Czar, abhors – from reaching the northern Caucasus.

Not a single Western leader dared call for the Kremlin to negotiate with the only legitimate leader of a martyred and heroic people. Remember Ahmed Shah Massoud of Afghanistan? First he resisted the Russians, then the Islamists. He was abandoned by the world's democracies and assassinated – to Osama Bin Laden's benefit. There too, not one of our representatives contradicted Vladimir Putin when he equated Chechen pro-independence military resistance with international terrorism. On the contrary, Chirac and Schröder proclaimed the master of the Kremlin the archangel of peace in view of his sympathy towards Saddam Hussein, a blank cheque the KGB man has now cashed in.

Stripped of their morals, our leaders have also shown remarkable political stupidity. Who will now be able to calm the thousands of torture victims who dream of nothing but revenge? Who will now be in a position to negotiate if the Russians don't one day become aware of their murderous insanity? Where in this young generation that has known nothing but war and oppression can we find a man of Maskhadov's stature and temperance? Chechnya will plunge further into horror, but it won't dive alone.

Who prevented the pain-crazed fighters from blowing up a nuclear power plant in Russia? Corrupt secret servicemen, perhaps? Evidently not. Who reined in the influence of Basayev – a former agent of the GRU, the Russian army's special forces – within the Chechen resistance movement? Who, if not Aslan Maskhadov?

The dying Yassir Arafat was granted full honours in France and Europe. And yet the Chechen president who never called for the murder of civilians died alone, just as he had fought. Abandoned by the world, isolated in his rebel mountains, seeing his people massacred amid general indifference, Maskhadov unconditionally condemned the Moscow theatre hostage drama and the horrors of Beslan, offering to go there in person to forbid the massacre of innocents. Just as he had not hesitated to denounce the September 11th attacks.

Despite being a pro-independence hero, Maskhadov proposed an anti-terrorist peace plan that deferred the question of independence. In the name of peace. His plan called for the demilitarisation of the fighters under international supervision. The UN, EU, OSCE, Nato and all the other "things" designed to preserve the peace among the world's peoples and guarantee the self-determination of nations didn't even see fit to discuss the three-year-old and constantly reiterated plan.

In spite of the filtration camps, the ethnic cleansing, the rape and theft, the death of almost a quarter of the population (imagine if 10 to 15 million people were wiped out in Italy or France) and the exodus of a similar number of frightened civilians, Chechnya resists both the Russian barbarity and the sirens of religious fanaticism. Why all this relentless hounding of a population of (once) a million people? Why so little compassion?

Moscow's obstinacy is based on neither strategic motives nor mere interest in fuel. The main reason for three centuries of colonial war and Russian cruelty in the Caucasus is pedagogic. The great Russian poets had identified it: it is simply to set an example and teach the Russian people themselves that it's not worth disobeying orders. In 1818, General Ermolov gave Czar Nicolas I the key to such a combat: "This Chechen people inspires by its example a rebellious spirit and a love for freedom even in your Majesty's most devoted subjects." Putin has translated the lessons of czarist imperialism into his terms, that is, those of a Soviet-era non-commissioned officer. He says these eternal rebels should be "kicked all the way down the drain".

So yes, Aslan Maskhadov had blood on his hands, just like the resistance fighters in France and elsewhere. But he was up against an enemy armed and guided by genocidal impulses. It's not good being a resistant nowadays, not a real one. Maskhadov also died because of our lexical inability. We constantly make a hue and cry about genocide – except when it actually happens, as was the case in Rwanda in 1994. We describe as "resistants" the Salafists and Saddamites who slit the throats of election officials and voters in Iraq, yet refuse to use the same term for freedom fighters who won't accept the annihilation of their people. By refusing to call him what he is, namely a president and a patriot, western leaders gave their blessing to his assassination in advance.

Maskhadov liked me. During my travels in Chechnya in June 2000, we couldn't really talk properly, as our meetings were interrupted by bombs on three occasions. I sent him my questions, he replied by cassette, a very long letter in which he denounced Islamism and concluded, "In a free Chechnya, no Chechen woman would ever be forced to cover her face."

At the end of his last novel "Hadji Mourat", Tolstoy painted a hallucinatory picture in the form of a literary and political testament: A spineless Czar is brought the decapitated head of a noble Chechen leader on a plate. Aslan Maskhadov died yesterday in the village of Tolstoy-Yurt. Chechnya has lost its de Gaulle, and we have dishonoured ourselves once again.

The article was published in French in Le Monde dated 10 March, 2005, and in German in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 11 March, 2005.

André Glucksmann is a philosopher.

Translation: Jan Liebelt.

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