Throw everything overboard that smells of blood ...

Valeriia Novodvorskaia

Translated by Steven Clancy

We have never understood them, and we will never understand them, because the full do not comprehend the hungry. We have always had bushels of geography: 'many are her forests, fields, and rivers.'1 So we could afford ourselves the luxury of throwing Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine, and the Baltics out the window, and we were none the worse. One-sixth or one-eighth of our land - is it not all the same? Both ways, it is still about a nine-hour flight from Moscow to Vladivostok.

In life and in death, Dzhokhar Dudaev and Zviad Gamsakhurdia have been the sources of unbearable irritation for the Moscow intelligentsia, the KGB, the FSK, the FSB, for President Yeltsin's administration and for other power structures.

Having gotten some 100 million people off their hands, our rulers are apparently full up to their ears with the remaining 150 million. In the meantime you give everyone food and drink, pacify them, and woo them before the elections. We have always had a surplus of people, land, fossil fuels, soldiers, special services, bureaucrats, police. All of this 'Russian wealth'2 kept chafing away at our withers, so we kicked up our hooves, became indignant, and tried to gallop off into the steppe.

But they kept dreaming feverishly about their tiny shred of land. They dreamed that they would hoist a national flag there and would manage their own economy. So that it would not be worse than anywhere else, they too would have their own ministries, their own parliament, and their own police. They would have their own army, even if only one company, but their own. They would have their own counter-intelligence, their own postage stamps, and their own currency, even if you could not get more than a ruble for a whole bag of it. It is with these new toys that a tiny, weak, premature government starts out and tries to survive.

Then the happy government sits down to write its own history textbook, as happened in Georgia during Zviad Gamsakhurdia's times.3 The textbook is touching, like the dialogues of Romeo and Juliet. Those green, naive young ones were not for this world, because 'the banks of life cannot contain my love, broad as the sea.'4 In this textbook, it is written that the Georgians are direct descendants of Prometheus, and that Mingrelia never asked to join Russia.5 We read about all kinds of kings and queens, even the mythical ones, and about all the knights for whom one tiger skin sufficed.6 These are the myths and legends of ancient Georgia. Concerning Chechenya, we find here her own "Song of Hiawatha." We read of Sheik Mansur and Imam Shamil,7 of exile, deportation, and prison camps, but also of a glorious campaign and the great struggle, and of the free race of wolves in the mountains of Zion.8

For whom was this history written? Whom did they hope to convince with the history of green, naive, young governments who are not for this world? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow thus addressed those who value legends and folk ballads:

Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple, Who have faith in God and Nature, Who believe that in all ages Every human heart is human, That in even savage bosoms, There are longings, yearnings, strivings For the good they comprehend not...

But there are few such people among us Russians.

If only these fledgling governments had arisen somewhere besides the sinful, post-Soviet lands, if they only had time to grow, to learn to crawl and then to walk and then to become familiar with economics, and if they were given just 50 to 100 years, time which the United States, France, and Russia all had, they too would make it. If they were just given time to outgrow measles and mumps and to get over rubella and scarlet fever. Yet without fail, the devil always gets involved with an infant. The empire will come, and it will brush aside the fact that the small nations are tossing about in a fever and need a doctor. Just when they need a doctor, the hatchet man comes. He will not allow them to grow up. Then it becomes clear that food, fossil fuels, money, andmanagement all remain in the hands of Big Brother. And a portion of the hungry population will go back to asking for the warm cattle-shed with its full trough, while the new government can only offer a broken one9 for the coming decades of toil, privation, and corner-turning. The devoted supporters, as always, turn out to be in the minority, and thus the government will be overthrown, as Zviad's was. Or, if a miracle occurs and the supporters are the majority, then they will be conquered, as was Dzhokhar Dudaev.

Few know that Dzhokhar Dudaev sought death. . . believing that when he was gone, Russia would begin to negotiate.

We have been able to watch the tragedy unfold in the comfort of our theater seats. In the final scene, no one will remain on the stage except for some 'leading' political scientists and a chorus of journalists. It will be even worse than in Lao-She:10 the dead will begin to bury their own corpses, and the living will keep chewing on their lotus leaves. A net result: five soap operas per day.

When the Soviet dissidents from the metropolis brought down communism (or perhaps just set it aside) with the help of the shrewdest members of the nomenklatura and the progressive Boris Nikolaevich, they solved most of their problems. With a few exceptions, they deemed it madness for the dissidents from Russia's colonies to start solving their own particular problems. Such activities flew in the face of the favorite slogan of 'defense of human rights.' The dissidence of an entire people (say the Georgians) turned out to be diametrically opposed to the dissidence of an individual who disagreed with his nation (say Merab Mamardashvili).11 The cup of hemlock was left untouched, however. Zviad Gamsakhurdia, an aristocrat of the spirit, was no match for the Athenian mob, but reproaches (justified, in my opinion) of disrespect for sovereignty and collaboration with the enemy certainly match those [directed against Socrates] of corrupting youth and disbelieving in the gods.

But Socrates did not teach during the Graeco-Persian wars, nor did he collaborate with Critias, the leader of the 'thirty tyrants.'12 In the Georgian case, everything worked out according to the rules of algebra. Zviad was a dissident with respect to the evil empire, Merab Mamardashvili was a dissident with respect to Zviad. This situation suited the tastes of the empire, which quickly acknowledged Mamardashvili as the 'wonderful Georgian' and a true philosopher. He is so presented to this day.

Similar things happened here in the metropolis. Every now and then, some dissident would rise up in opposition to a Sakharov or a Ginsburg or an Orlov. Sometimes he would take to writing about it in Literaturnaia Gazeta, as did, for instance, Petrov-Agatov. Then he would be declared a traitor and a KGB collaborator. Merab Mamardashvili, of course, did not place his complaints with the Department of Defense or the KGB, but his opinions received wide publicity.

Now there is neither Merab nor Zviad. Zviad died as a martyr, at the hands of the enemy, therefore he won the argument. The Zviadist intellectuals have been victorious over their colleagues who got along just as well with the pre-perestroika Shevardnadze as with Shevardnadze the communist and satrap or Shevardnadze the president of Georgia.

When the Soviet dissidents from the metropolis brought down communism (or perhaps just set it aside)... they solved most of their problems. With a few exceptions, they deemed it madness for the dissidents from Russia's colonies to start solving their own particular problems.

Why was Zviad victorious? Because, while the 'Shevardnadzists' were called all sorts of names, it was the Zviadists who were sent to prisons and torture chambers, put to death and exiled (and before that they stormed the government buildings under fire). Whoever gets help from the Soviet tanks and Admiral Baltin's fleet is never right. An evil empire does not help the good guys.

Zviad Gamsakhurdia was a dissident from the age of sixteen. Dzhokhar Dudaev began to sense that he was a dissident when he was ordered to prepare for the suppression of the Estonians.13 He repaid with interest the 'debt' of not having been a dissident all his life. He and Zviad succeeded in a way none of us has: when they became presidents, they set their entire nations and peoples on the path of dissidence.

Every genuine dissident is a bit like the Count of Monte Cristo. He dreams in his cell, even if only about a new cell. Zviad Konstantinovich put into practice his dreams of many years: he abolished the Soviet holidays, including the 8th of March;14 he closed down the Stalin Museum; and he dispersed the KGB agents so well that Shevardnadze was unable to restore 'ranks' for years to come. He drove all the communists out of the administrative posts and put democrats in their places. He recognized Chechenya, made anti-communism the state ideology, and subjected himself to a blockade, having refused food and supplies from the [evil] empire. But famine did not have time to spread in Georgia: Georgian independence lasted only eight months, because [all of a sudden] Abkhazia and Ossetia15 decided to take up arms not for independence, but for the right to become subject to Russia. The communist leadership of Northern Ossetia, sitting on the lap of the Russian Federation, waved a carrot to Southern Ossetia, and it turned out that [the Abkhazian] Vladislav Ardzinba (of the Soyuz group) could not tolerate Georgia, but was prepared to get along fine with the USSR and, subsequently, with Russia. And then the salvos were fired from the tanks and the Black Sea sailors just happened to be in the neighborhood.

It is interesting to note that Dzhaba Ioseliani's militia forces fought in Southern Ossetia; that Shevardnadze invaded Abkhazia after Zviad was already in Grozny; and that Zviad's adversaries destroyed Rustaveli Boulevard16 with cannon fire, trying to smoke him out of his final refuge; yet the empire-generated rumors attribute all these actions to Zviad. Way to go. This was done so that he would not show up bringing back his ideals, so contrary to the empire's ideas. The happy, light-minded and cosmopolitan Georgian intelligentsia were not attracted to that heroic stoicism which required starting over from zero.

A second war is being waged over Zviad's grave... It would have been better for him to have stayed in the mountains of Mingrelia. They dishonor his body both in Moscow and in Tbilisi. Few people know that when Zviad was leaving on his first and final military campaign in the fall of 1993, he already understood that Georgia had perished, that the uprising was doomed, and that he was marching to certain death. I was [probably] the only person to whom he spoke about this. But he had to take up arms and go. He had nothing more to give to Georgia besides his life and his example. After the defeat of the cherry-colored Georgian banner, everyone should understand that Zviad's renunciation of [the tactics of] 1978 was not motivated by cowardice. Dzhokhar's returned helicopter is indisputable proof of this.17

When he and Dzhokhar were composing some kind of lengthy document under the evening sky of a still undemolished Grozny, they were like two kids planning to tie an empty jelly tin to the tail of a wolfhound. They tied their tin can to the tail of the empire. And the empire had its run...

The "Caucasian Home" was Zviad's idea, but it took hold in Chechenya at just the right time, and Dzhokhar Dudaev elevated it to the status of a state ideology. But how did they picture this home? A little from Kuwait (they wanted golden faucets), a little from Urania (the city of philosophers and poets, built by Greek intellectuals at the time of Alexander the Great), a bit from the green Sherwood Forest, a bit from Lisse, Zurbagan, and Guelle-Gue.18 It would be the promised land, a land of political sanctuary, and a land of people. There is no sea in Chechenya, but this is no matter. The people's expectation of a schooner with scarlet sails called "Independence" easily replaces the sea.21

In life and in death, Dzhokhar and Zviad are the sources of unbearable irritation for the Moscow intelligentsia, the KGB, the FSK, the FSB,19 for President Yeltsin's administration, and for other power structures. When you are dealing with serious, adult matters, when you struggle with inflation, when you are fixing an airplane engine after a forced landing, it can be quite distracting when someone from the stars arrives and asks: 'If you please, draw me a sheep!' Why do the Chechens depict a wolf on their banner? Probably, this is a noble Akela from The Jungle Book, because in their lives and in their national character, the Chechens harmoniously combine Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. 'The wolfhounds of the century go for my neck, but I am not a wolf by my blood...' It would have been better if they had drawn a clover on their flag, the coat of arms of King Macius Pierwszy, the symbol of Janusz Korczak's orphanage, destroyed fifty-odd years earlier by different zealots of another unconstitutional order.20 It is not so important that green is the color of the prophet as that children love the forest and the forest is green.

You can smell the sea, the warm, salt sea,
The eternal sea and human vanity.
And in gold on a banner green
burns the clover, clover, clover.

Whoever speaks up for murdering 'bandits' 'according to the constitution,' should come to understand that it will become necessary to murder everyone, even women and children, so that, in Stalin's terms, no 'avengers for the fathers' grow up. But [in Chechenya] even ten-year-olds are already bearing arms. Let the Department of Defense, the official channels, and the newspapers on Stalin's side all declare that Stalin was right, that it is acceptable to shoot children twelve and under. Let them do it, even though they have read what Vladimir Vysotskii wrote about the Montenegrins, since it can also be applied to the Chechens:

It was honorable to die
By bullets and dull blades
And to carry with you to your grave
Two or three enemies, two or three enemies.
That was the true revenge -
They don't burn themselves for nothing!
The self-immolation of people and mountains
Is like discord and revolt.

Few know that Dzhokhar Dudaev sought death and that his security people were often angered by his lack of prudence. He said that when he was gone, Russia would begin to negotiate. He could not forget that he had promised his people Kuwait and not ruin.

If you ask what good is independence for the Chechens when they would not acquire thereby any natural resources or professional cadres or economic advantage, I will answer your question with another. Why did Frezzy Grant run along the waves?22 There was no gain in that either. Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Chechenya were challenged to that duel of pistols at the invitation of their Unrealized Fate who had not visited Georgia since the twelfth century and who, if the truth were told, had never ever made its home in Chechenya. Whoever has read enough Grin will understand me and it is useless to talk about the resolution of the Chechen conflict with any others.

And now we come to the main point. The Jews are called the people of the Book, and indisputably they are the most educated people on the earth. But the Chechens are people from the Book... and from film; from Jungwald-Khilkevich's film about the Three Musketeers, from Scandinavian sagas, from English ballads, from the novels of Walter Scott and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and E.T.A. Hoffmann. They do not live in our grown-up and boring reality. Therefore, the question of Chechenya ought not be answered by politicians, but by the authors of children's literature, the fantasy writers and storytellers. How was it expressed in the Constitution of Janusz Korczak's orphanage? 'We wanted it so much that it was impossible to resist.' The ones who should solve the Chechen question are those who, instead of a hat, are able to see a boa constrictor who has swallowed an elephant.23 And those who see bandits, separatists, mafiosi, and the hat - those who cannot see the sheep through the box - should not even write about Chechenya, because each phrase about the complexity of the situation, the mass of contradictions, the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, the necessity of 'protracted consultations,' means another day of war. There would have been no war in the first place if the grown-ups from the newspaper and the TV had not spouted platitudes about 'Dudaev's mafia regime,' 'the violations of human rights in Chechenya,' the calamities for Russian speakers and the notorious train robberies.

We do not need to hang a rifle on the stage.24 Though the journalists did not do the actual shooting, they did create an atmosphere, lacking in acceptance for the Republic of Ichkeria,25 and this is as good as providing cartridges and loading weapons. The federal army is not fighting against the separatists. Rather, it is shooting point-blank and destroying our own childhood: Snow White and the dwarfs, the fairies, the Nutcracker, Pinocchio, Chippolino,26 and Mickey Mouse.

All the TV channels bemoan the fate of civilians in this war. Thanks a bunch. They seem to remember that every Chechen soldier was a civilian at some point. Dzhokhar Dudaev, Aslan Mashkadov, and even Shamil Basaev were civilians a long time ago, before the war started.

Our laws do not even consider the possibility of ever letting go of anyone, at any time. Interestingly, countries such as the United States, France, and the Netherlands are all silent on the matter of granting independence to Chechenya. They too are grown-ups. We can garner advice only from literature and from nowhere else. It's all right there in Vysotskii: 'Throw everything overboard that smells of blood,/ and know that the price is not too high.'

V.I. Novodvorskaia is the author of Po tu storonu otchaianiia [This side of despair] (Moscow, 1993). She is the leader of Demokraticheskii Soiuz, one of the first dissident parties in post-Soviet Russia. In the late 1980s, she was arrested numerous times and was incarcerated in a psychiatric prison. The above article first appeared in Novoe Vremia in September 1996.
Steven Clancy is a PhD student in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of North Carolina. Printed by permission.


1 From the refrain of a Soviet Russian song by V.I. Lebedev-Kumach, “Shiroka strana moia rodnaia.”
2 Russkoe Bogatstvo [Russian Wealth] was a journal of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
3 Zviad Gamsakhurdia was the first freely elected President of Georgia. Ousted from office in January 1992, he died in unexplained circumstances (allegedly by suicide) a year or so later. In the course of his struggle for Georgia’s independence, this Christian President sought, and found, refuge in Dzhokhar Dudaev’s Muslim Chechenya, as both leaders sought to secure their nations’ independence from postcommunist Russia. Novodvorskaia is clearly convinced that Gamsakhurdia was murdered by the Russians.
4 Another popular Soviet Russian song.
5 Mingrelia is a province of Georgia. The reference is to the year 1801 when the Russians double-crossed the Georgians by incorporating them into their empire, as a consequence of the Georgian request for assistance in fending off Muslim attacks from the south.
6 Shota Rustaveli, A Knight in a Tiger Skin. Rustaveli was a major Georgian poet of the 12th-13th centuries.
7 Two of Chechenya’s national heroes who fought the Russians in the 19th century.
8 The Chechen national anthem refers to the Chechens as mountain wolves.
9 The image of the broken trough comes from Pushkin’s fairy tale, “Skazka o rybake i rybke.”
10 Lao-She (1899-1966), a Chinese writer.
11 A Russian collaborator.
12 Greek philosopher and political leader (5th century B.C.), ‘The thirty tyrants were appointed by the Lacedaemonians.
13 As a Soviet general stationed in Estonia, Dudaev was ordered to fire at the Estonian independence demonstrators. He refused. Since that time, he became a national hero for the Estonians as well as for the Chechens.
14 ‘Women’s Day,’ one of communist-designed secular holidays meant to replace religious and national ones.
15 Provinces of Georgia.
16 Tbilisi’s main street.
17 Dudaev provided Gamsakhurdia with a helicopter as a means of escape in case of emergency. In Novodvorskaia’s interpretation, sending back the helicopter meant that President Gamsakhurdia was ready to die for his nation’s independence.
18 Lisse, Zurbagan, and Guelle-Gue are all locales from the novels and stories of Aleksandr Grin (1880-1932), a Russian fantasy writer.
19 FSB, the Federal Counterintelligence Service; FSK, the Federal Safety Service. Both are successors to the KGB.
20 Janusz Korczak ((1878-1942), writer and pedagogue, director of an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw. His poem, “Król Macius Pierwszy” [“King Matt the First”] inspired the emblem Novodvorskaia mentions. Korczak and his children were killed in Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland.
21 Scarlet Sails is one of Grin’s novels.
22 A reference to the heroine from Grin’s Running Along the Waves.
23 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince. As a boy, the author gave up on a career in art because the adults saw only a hat in his drawing which was intended to present a boa constrictor who had swallowed an elephant.
24 A reference to Anton Chekhov’s comment that if a rifle hangs on the wall at the beginning of the play, then it will surely be used by the end of it.
25 This is how the Chechens refer to their Republic.
26 Gianni Rodari’s Chippolino, a children’s story translated from Italian into Russian. In the story, most characters are fruits and vegetables. Its popularity during Soviet times had to do with the fact that in the story, the poor vegetables (the onions) win out over the rich ones (Prince Lemon and his clan).