Chechnya: Rethinking the bonds that bind us

Leaving aside the need for subtitles in order to understand Russian, there is nothing keeping us from instantly empathizing with the words of Vyacheslav: one of the victims of the decadent state of the fight for human rights in the Russian Federation. A couple of months ago, hundred of men have been kidnapped, tortured and even murdered by Russian security forces in the Chechen region. All of them men suspects of “homosexual behaviours”. The first ones to report this terrible situation were members of Novaya Gazeta, a Russian organization specialized in human right investigations. A unique and discrete report, that follows the long tradition of censorship towards opinions that oppose the official ones, and particularly the ones calling out on the terrible state of LGBTG+ rights in the Russian Federation, fearing retaliation, kidnaps and more tortures.

Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International (1) and Human Right Watch have manifested their concern towards the situation and have called on the Russian authorities to set in motion investigations and programs to ensure victim’s safety. The level of disinterest and denial of the authorities is unbelievable. Everything comes together while hearing the terrible speech (2) of the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, who not only denied the existence of homosexuals in the Republic but also added that: “If there were, their families would take care of sending them somewhere they would never come back from.” The homophobia in the region reaches tremendous levels, with evidence of the so called honor murders in which the families are the ones who murder the victims, for putting on the tight rope not only their honor but also their most firm ideals.

Vyacheslav and the rest of the Russian citizens, share a culture, a language, and a history. They have lived surrounded by the same smoke. Regardless, an Argentine a thousand kilometers away with whom he doesn’t share almost anything, understands his perspective more clearly than the rest of those Russian citizens, who did not doubt for one second to shoot him, kick him in his ribs or yell at him: “Where are you going fagot?”. How can all the shared history and culture be forgotten only to focus on a much more irrelevant aspect of the identity, such as sexuality, that is currently the only bond binding Vyacheslav to that Argentine a thousand kilometers away.

Two persons, that apparently do not share anything, that live on two different sides of the Earth, that do not share the same language or think in terms of the same culture, can bond over one miniscule portion of their identity. That detail of our identity can be used to find a starting point, a place where we can begin building something together. This detail was more important than what the main pieces of anyone’s identity, like their national identity, their religion, their history or their culture were. How many details such as this can be found in order to build bonds that cross frontiers and challenge the limits settled by the most obvious and traditional pieces of our identity? It is important to take a moment to question and explore each of the things that influence our way of thinking. To go through that drawer full of little bricks, recognizing them and understanding why they are there and which role they play in our upbringing. By doing this we can find points in common with the rest of the people. We just need one shared detail, even though it is lost among thousands of other pieces that seem irreconcilable.

After reading about the situation in Chechnya, a quote I heard in a Ted talk a couple of years ago came back to me.

…because, aren’t you lucky that you don’t live in Uganda (3)

Privilege? Yes. Luck? Yes. But even if I lived in Uganda, Chechnya or Argentina, there are obviously bonds that bind people that go much further than geography, religion of national identity. Even though it is true that I do not live in Chechnya, and that I do not suffer first hand the terrible atrocities that Vyacheslav had to suffer, there is a bond that binds us and that allows me to share the suffering. The suffering that serves as power to make everything better, to fight for a better reality. The suffering that we both share but that the rest of the Russian citizens that perpetuate these atrocities don’t. The suffering that ignores frontiers and that allows us to cooperate regardless of our differences. Once more the national identity is diminished by another not so irrelevant aspect of our identity. Once more it comes to evidence that the traditional frontiers are left behind, that there are new ways of connecting thoughts and perspectives. It is a new way of understanding cooperation and building new starting points.

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