Saturday, October 16, 2010

Borat and Chechnya

Remember in the movie Borat when after traveling across the country to meet his dreamgirl, model/actress Pamela Anderson, he decides to propose marriage in the “traditional Kazak manner” by tossing her into a giant sack and hauling her off over his shoulder? It was a pretty funny scene. What's not funny (and frankly almost not believable) is that this tradition of bride-napping is actually practiced, and as the BBC reports with growing frequency, in Chechnya; what's even less funny is the official response to this problem from the Chechen government.

It seems that in Chechnya if you're a man who sees an attractive woman walking on the street, it's culturally permissible for you (or for goons hired on your behalf) to grab her, toss her in the back of a car and drive off – in effect kidnapping her. British filmmaker Lucy Ash, who recently made a film on the bride-stealing tradition, said she has footage of such bride-nappings occurring in broad daylight on the streets of the capital, Grozny. What typically happens next is stranger still – usually the abducted girls' family contacts the abductors, typically using a local mullah as an intermediary, not to demand the return of the girl, but to negotiate a settlement for her. Abducted brides can find themselves married off to their kidnapper within a few days.

Bride-napping was supposedly part of Chechnya's rough-and-tumble past, but Ash reports for the BBC that most indications in Grozny are that the trend is increasing. And Chechen officials seem to not be too concerned about the problem. Punishment for bride-napping had been a fine of about $1,000. Recently the punishment was increased to a fine of about $40,000 – a sharp increase to be sure, but as one Chechen businessman told the BBC, it is an amount a rich man would likely be willing to pay if the girl he fancied was pretty enough.

It is yet another in a long list of human rights violations in this little corner of Russia, and it's unlikely the officials in Moscow will do anything to stop it. As I discussed in this post from last year; Moscow struck a deal with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov – so long as he kept terrorism quiet in Chechnya (by whatever means necessary), Moscow would generally stay out of his hair. So far, they've kept up the bargain and looked the other way over numerous human rights violations, many of which have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. Before the two Chechen-Russian conflicts, which began in the mid-1990s and “officially” ended last year, Chechnya practiced a fairly moderate brand of Islam. The Chechen opposition though became radicalized during the second conflict, which saw their leaders change their demands from independence for Chechnya to a desire to carve a fundamentalist Islamic caliphate out of southern Russia. Since brutally suppressing the insurgency, Kadyrov himself has introduced a more fundamentalist strain of Islam into Chechnya, partially to try to win over the now-radical militants and partially to solidify his own grip on the republic. Under his rule things like polygamy and honor killings have become acceptable in Chechnya, even though they are direct violations of Russian law.

The BBC piece ends with a story that since the summer unknown assailants have been shooting paintball guns at women who go around the streets of Grozny with their heads uncovered, a “warning” the gunmen say. Kadyrov took to Chechen television, not to condemn the attacks but rather to “express [his] gratitude” towards the attackers.
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