November 01, 2003

Chechnya Votes

Behind the Ballot Boxes, Situation Normal

GROZNY, CHECHNYA — Dukuvakha Abdurakhmanov, Chechnya’s deputy prime minister, was adamant: there is no war in Chechnya. The situation here is perfectly normal, he said, apart from a few bandits. And it is getting more normal all the time. As for some 80,000 refugees that remain in neighboring Ingushetia, often living in very difficult conditions, Abdurakhmanov said he just did not get it. “We are offering them apartments in Grozny. Why do they need to stay in their hen houses in Ingushetia?”

For six-year-old, fair-haired Bislan, the answer to the prime minister’s question is engraved on his belly. Four years ago, Russian forces surrounded his village of Tsotsen Yurt, in western Chechnya, and set his house ablaze. His mother Rosa, a gaunt woman in her mid-thirties, has five other children and is expecting yet another. She cried when she recalled that day.

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