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William H. McNeill
"Derluguian is endowed with a special ability to show how the grinding wheels of world history affect actual human lives."
Exploring globalization, democratization, ethnic identity, and international terrorism, Derluguian contextualizes Shanib's personal trajectory from de-Stalinization through the nationalist rebellions of the 1990s, to the recent rise in Islamic militancy. He masterfully reveals not only how external economic and political forces affect the former Soviet republics but how those forces are in turn shaped by the individuals, institutions, ethnicities, and social networks that make up those societies. Drawing on the work of Charles Tilly, Immanuel Wallerstein, and, of course, Bourdieu, Derluguian's explanation of the recent ethnic wars and terrorist acts in Russia succeeds in illuminating the role of human agency in shaping history.
"Derluguian’s method of elaborating class formations, their reformations and historical alliances through the technique of ethnography is an ingenious juxtaposition, making for a text that is both sociologically revealing and narratively gripping. His is a new form of class analysis, based on observation of the micro-sociological details of everyday life; but it also projects the political implications of those ground-level class alliances, and helps to reveal the processes that turn susceptibility to violent breakdown into actuality. . . . Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus gives direction to future work on the perils of authoritarian decline."
"Amongst those who have contributed to conducting scholarly research into the historical, social, and cultural impact of the demise of the Soviet Union is GeorgiDerluguian. His [book] is undoubtedly one of the most engaging endeavours in the field."
— Touraj Atabaki
— Thomas de Waal
— Robert Legvold
— Charles King
— David Laitin
— Marc Garcelon
— Charles Kurzman
— Pavel Baev
"One of the most extraordinary rewards of the craft of sociology is the possibility it affords to enter the life of others, to experience all human experiences." Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 205)
Before engaging in the historical-theoretical reconstruction of the lineages leading from past to present, which is the main method of this book, we first of all need to gain some practical sense of the complex and perhaps exotic environments we shall be investigating. This practical sense may serve as a variety of what Schumpeter called "vision," defined as "a preanalytic cognitive act that supplies the raw material for analytic effort." In this chapter I shall try to convey something of what one may experience and observe today when visiting places like Chechnya and Kabardino-Balkaria. To some extent then, I try to emulate what comes naturally to good journalists or "foreign correspondents," especially when they enjoy sufficient space and editorial freedom, as they do when writing journalistic books or longer articles for magazines like the New Yorker. Journalists rely on a practical knowledge born of their experience in reporting from particular regions for extended periods of time, a knowledge they attempt to translate into images and metaphors understandable to a domestic readership. Being a sociologist rather than a journalist, I shall rely on theoretical concepts drawn from contemporary social science and a professional knowledge of research methodologies. I shall also indicate here – albeit only in passing – various hypotheses linking my empirical observations to deeper structural processes that can be construed only theoretically.
Inevitably, the foreign visitor to the Caucasus – a category which applies to the majority of Russians almost as much as to any other outsider – faces an inchoate and chaotic stream of impressions which may at first seem overwhelming. The various impressions I record in this chapter are presented here as a series of "snapshots" of the region, which I shall endeavor to contextualize in the later chapters. Our immediate task, though, is simply to observe and take note; though this in itself may not be as straightforward as it sounds. In particular, attention needs to be paid to things that otherwise might seem too mundane to be worth considering. For example, a traveler who comes from a country where rice is the main source of food is likely to neglect to mention in his report home that the locals eat rice too. Only if their staple diet seems unusual – if it is, say, maize or buckwheat, or the American wonder of pre-sliced bread – might this fact attract the visitor's attention sufficiently to be thought worth mentioning. Historians and anthropologists may be professionally prepared to detect such simple bias, but this is not, of course, the only potential pitfall we may face.
Sometimes the phenomena observed may be distorted by our own expectations or research agenda. For example, the visiting scholar who intends to study, say, the contemporary role of Islam in Caucasian politics, or the nature of the Chechen guerrilla resistance, may be so focused on his chosen subject matter that he fails to notice important variations and connections in the broader social environment and context. Of course, those "natural" scientists whose subject matter affords them the luxury of working in a laboratory do indeed seek to isolate their object of study from its broader environment in order to treat it in its purest and most concentrated form. Adopting a similar approach, the scholar interested in the Islamic revival may visit only the newly built mosques, while the one focused on guerrilla warfare may talk only to military and political leaders. Now of course, these are indeed concentrated expressions of the chosen objects of study, and some may claim that, insofar as they are typical and culturally authentic, they are the only relevant such objects. But can such social phenomena ever exist in isolation? If one implicitly assumes they can, one can all too easily become trapped in an ideological image, thereby missing the attendant complexities, ironies, and hidden tensions. A case in point might be the following description of my first encounter with Musa Shanib. Were it not for my accidental slip of the tongue, Shanib would have been recorded in my field notes as merely a fiery nationalist ideologue proudly wearing his traditional papaha hat. But then the previous life of this exotically dressed man would have escaped our attention – the life in which he had languished in provincial obscurity, unpromoted for twenty years, while reading critical sociology, listening to jazz, and dreaming of social reforms. Admittedly, I am not just a social scientist; I am also a native – as are we all, somewhere. I grew up in the North Caucasus and was thus inculcated with a practical sense of local realities. But this socialization was never completed to the point of becoming unreflected habitus, since I left home at the age of sixteen – first to study in Moscow and then to work in Africa and later in America. In what follows, therefore, I should be able to offer the fresh insight of a "learned foreigner" (noticing, for instance, what the locals serve at the table) combined with the intimate knowledge of a native (enabling me, usually, to tell why what they serve is being served). Pierre Bourdieu considered this a special observational advantage, similar to that involved in his own study of village life in south-western France, from where he himself originated.
But such local social knowledge also imposes its own limitations. To take one instance, the fact that I was a man in a strongly patriarchal setting often prevented me from interviewing women. Imagine how it feels to be seated at a banquet table together with the head of the household (himself perhaps a professor) while the elder son, in a ceremonious display of ethnic tradition, silently stands to attention, as befits a young squire. His job is to pour drinks; while the women emerge only briefly from the kitchen to bring new dishes: meat with herbs, pickled vegetables, millet bread, pies with feta cheese, traditional dumplings in garlic sauce. They smile but hardly utter a word. Now, as an American sociologist, I strongly suspected that these women could provide a different perspective on the new Islam or guerrilla warfare. But in order to talk to them one has to wait for a less ritually scripted occasion which may or may not arrive. The guest in the Caucasus, as a local proverb goes, is the captive of his hosts. One way around this impasse was to pay particular attention to the accounts of the region published by women journalists such as Galina Kovalskaya, Sanobar Shermatova, Anna Politkovskaya, or Anne Nivat, whose acumen and courage deserve the greatest respect. I also acted by proxy, relying on researchers like the incredibly energetic Daghestani Galina Khizriyeva to ask the questions that I could not.
The importance of gender considerations may be illustrated by a seemingly simple question: in the more traditional households, which are dominated by parental authority, how does the family behave towards a son who joins a guerrilla unit? Here is an account that claims to describe the general pattern of behavior: Ostensibly, the mothers cannot interfere directly, but in fact they have the final say. A mother can emerge from the kitchen with her son's belongings neatly packed for a long journey, or she can loudly refuse to let him go, especially if he is the only son – and then he can leave only over her dead body. This may of course be a romanticized version of what happens. Yet some sketchy quantitative data I managed to gather regarding the families of guerrillas – not only in Chechnya but also in the wars of Nagorny Karabagh and Abkhazia – indicates that a disproportionate number of fighters did indeed come from families with three or more sons. Such a large number of children became relatively rare in the Soviet republics, following the industrialization which was for the most part completed in the 1950s–1960s. Only among specific social and ethnic groups (such as rural Chechens) did high fertility rates still persist. Of course it was possible to find only sons among the fighters too; but these were mostly idealistic students hailing from large towns.
It seems apparent that adult women in the war zones are quietly engaged in complex, almost subliminal negotiations with their own families and communities (neighbors, extended clan networks, religious circles) where perceptions of family status are at stake. Would it appear shameful and treasonous if a family with several sons failed to produce a single volunteer? Might it be acceptable for an only son to be spared? Importantly, in a patriarchal setting, such as we are confronting here, a mother with many sons possesses the highest status attainable by a woman. The self-abnegating mother of a patriotic hero attains perhaps the highest status of all, thereby making a significant contribution to the status of both her family and her clan. But this hypothesis, which might apply to Palestinians and Afghans as well, would require women scholars to conduct the minute field research. This is perhaps one way in which the recent ethnic wars have served to accentuate the patriarchal distribution of gender roles. On other fronts, however, gender is a very ambiguous factor, as I shall seek to demonstrate in my observations on contemporary Chechen women. In part, this is because Caucasian nationalities have been profoundly influenced by Soviet patterns of social mobility and formal education, but it is also, perhaps, because Caucasian women have devised a variety of gendered strategies to cope with extreme hardships and multiple threats to survival.
* * *
While the immediate goal of this chapter is to provide an introductory ethnographic description of a relatively obscure region, my intention is also to render it a little less exotic. This is particularly necessary because Caucasian realities are too often presented in very romantic terms, both by foreigners and by many natives, especially when the latter are trying to impress the former. The literary tradition of romanticizing the Caucasus goes back to the gentleman travelers of the Victorian era. Such gentlemen came mainly from Britain or other Western countries; they included geographers, military officers and spies, diplomats, private adventurers, and no less a celebrity than Alexandre Dumas père, who toured the Russian empire during the late 1850s. Almost invariably, they depicted all the various peoples of the region, whether the native highlanders or my mother's Cossack ancestors, as noble savages. For its part, the Russian literary tradition created an impressive Caucasian mythology of its own, from Alexander Pushkin and Leo Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn and Fazil Iskander. During the last decade these traditions have re-emerged with a vengeance in Caucasian nationalist discourses, in artistic works sympathetic to the Chechens and other Caucasians (for example, the Oscar-nominated film Prisoner of the Mountains ), and particularly in the Western media's coverage of the Chechen wars. In the "journalistic" record that follows, then, I shall try at least to reverse this romanticizing trend by bringing a range of sociological concepts to bear on my own first-hand impressions of contemporary Caucasian reality.
CHECHNYA, THE FREEDOM SQUARE
In January 1997, the Russian anthropologist Igor Kuznetsov and I spent the best part of a long day in Freedom Square, Grozny – the ruined capital of Chechnya. My primary purpose that day was to observe the social interactions occurring at the various election-campaign rallies that were then underway. The public space of the huge square was clearly divided between the Chechen political speakers, small groups of their active supporters standing close to the tribunes improvised on flatbed trucks, a much larger group consisting of several thousand people who might be avid listeners one moment, casual onlookers the next, and last but not least the scores of foreign correspondents who camped at the outer perimeter of the rally.
It was the period of what turned out to be only a temporary cessation of hostilities. A few weeks earlier the last Russian troops had withdrawn from Chechnya after their military defeat in August 1996. An armistice followed, and an agreement was reached to hold internationally supervised elections of Chechnya's new president and parliament. For a short while it looked like the promising beginning of a new, peaceful era and of Chechnya's de facto national independence, a promise which attracted to the region nearly two hundred journalists from around the world.
In mundane reality, it was cold, damp, and very dirty in downtown Grozny on the day of my visit. Despite the valiant efforts of the new mayor and his teams of volunteers to clean up the main streets, one still had to walk over the sticky, crunching mixture of broken glass, plaster, brick, and bullet casings left after the recent battles. For hours on end, the parade of secondary activist speakers went on rehearsing the standard patriotic rhetoric of the period. The majority of people at the rally looked bored. Some were leisurely conversing in small circles or arguing heatedly among themselves; others just wandered around or smoked cigarettes. Still the square was obviously the main show in town, the physical location of what Randall Collins would call the focus of emotional attention. The people wouldn't leave the square even in bad weather and despite the unimpressive speakers. One could feel the universal urge to stay together, discuss the public issues, and witness history.
Perhaps the best confirmation of this feeling was the presence of the tight-knit groups of giggling teenage girls, dressed up almost identically in fashionable leather coats from Turkey, and carrying colorful shopping bags from the duty-free shops of Abu Dhabi or Cyprus. They looked as if they were going shopping or to a discotheque rather than attending a political rally. These urbane girls actually outnumbered the people in unusual kinds of dress such as military uniform, Islamic headcovers or Chechen folkloric costumes; but of course nobody noticed their ordinary presence.
In sharp contrast, the assembled journalists could not fail to notice a small boy, no more than five or six years old, kitted out with a tiny brand-new replica of a guerrilla's camouflage uniform and carrying a toy gun, being paraded around the square by his proud parents. The journalists readily took his picture. The spectacle had an air of carnival, perhaps due to the child's cherubic face and the earnest pride of his parents. Later, on many different occasions, I saw pictures of this same child with quite different captions: We Shall Never Give In! The Nation Lives! or else Bandits From the Youngest Age, or Preparing for the Jihad.
Otherwise the journalists looked very bored, discussing among themselves the prospects for moving on to find somewhere with more action. For my companion Igor and me, it remained to wander around (keeping clear of the surrounding ruins, which were littered with unexploded ordnance) and register the details.
* * *
The first things to capture our attention were the street signs. A poster on a battered lamp post read: The headquarters of the Islamic battalion are now located at Rosa Luxemburg Street, 12. There was an ironic combination of the rising political force and a name from the socialist past. Other place names came as the totally unexpected expressions of more recent politics: Mikhail Gorbachev Avenue and Nikita Khrushchev Square. Where on earth might there exist another place named after Khrushchev? He was, of course, the Soviet leader who in 1957 rescinded Stalin's 1944 order to deport the Chechens and restored their autonomous republic. The street names were the statements of hopeful gratitude to the better Russian rulers, both of them democratic reformers. Importantly, this did not seem to be a purely official effort to see something positive in Soviet rule. From many ordinary families we heard the standard stories told with considerable passion, of a Russian soldier or railwayman dropping a loaf of bread to the starving people in the cattle cars in which they were transported to exile; of an old Cossack, himself long since exiled to Kazakhstan, sharing his fur coat in the first desperate winter; or of a Volga German woman sharing her cow's milk with the Chechen children. Such stories, perhaps embellished, served to underscore that the Chechens would never forget good deeds, as they would never forgive evil. Moreover, they made possible the prospect of living as peaceful neighbours of the Russians in the future.
Excerpted from Bourdieu's Secret Admirer in the Caucasus by GEORGI M. DERLUGUIAN Copyright © 2005 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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