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Ethno-Radicalism and Centralist Rule: Western and Eastern Europe at the End of the Twentieth Century.



Case Study: Chechnya and the Caucasus

Lecture held at the International Conference "Ethno-Radicalism and Centralist Rule - Case Studies", organised by the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI), Sandbjerg Estate, 17 to19 October 1997. Manuscript updated in 1998.
A summary can be found at

By Helen Krag, University of Copenhagen. Copyright: the author.

Introduction: The war in Chechnya

Russia's war in Chechnya 1994-96 was, so most Russians and Chechens today agree, a severe mistake. Probably all wars fought by central powers against regions in upheaval, minorities or ethno-radical movements can be said to be mistakes in the final run. It can be seen as a sign of political maturity to admit it. Admitting, though, does not change the severe consequences. Russian and Chechen observers agree that appr. 100,000 ( 20, 000 depending on source) civilians were killed during the 20 months of regular warfare in Chechnya[1] and Chechnya was left in ruins to such a degree that international media compared post-war Grozny (the Chechen capital) of 1996 to the post-WWII-Dresden of 1945. When on 11 December 1994[2] troops were sent into Chechnya followed by a full scale armed attack on the Chechen capital Grozny in January 1995[3], the Russian government openly demonstrated its willingness to solve by force a longstanding political disagreement with regional Chechen government structures. It is no secret that this model of conflict resolution resulted in an extraordinary catasptrophy in terms of deaths, wounded, orphans, displaced and homeless families, destroyed towns and villages and the like. The war also changed much of Russian societal attitudes towards the use of force, and it added significantly to the vulnerabilities of Chechen society. 

The "ethnic" factor in transition and conflict development in the Caucasus

So-called "ethnic conflicts" became a major trend in the break-up of the USSR. They have accompagnied the transition process fromits beginning a decade ago. The Caucasus is the most conflict stricken region in this respect, and thus offers itself for closer scrutiny concerning general and parallel dynamics in conflict development, especially with concern to the issue of ethnic mobilization visavis centralist rule.[4] In this respect Chechnya is no isolated case, neither in geographical nor in geopolitical terms. Simultaneously, it has to be stressed that the war in Chechnya not only or not simply confirms a genera