A Russian Reverie: Chechnya's Literary Legacy

Susan Layton on how the Russians viewed the Chechens in their struggle for autonomy - in the 1840s as well as the 1990s.

During a televised debate prior to France's 1995 presidential election, Jacques Chirac recalled a 'viscious Chechen' in a poem by Mikhail Lermontov (1814-41), an author best known outside Russia for his novel A Hero of Our Time (1840). The quoted phrase correctly suggests historical antecedants to current Russian stereotypes of Chechens as a rebellious people prone to crime. However, Lermontov himself was no agitator for war against Chechnya. On the contrary, he was one of several writers who gave Russian readers thrilling images of the Caucasus as a realm of freedom on their despotic country's southern edge. This romantic literature contributed to a split in nineteenth-century Russian public opinion comparable to the modern-day cleavage between the Kremlin's party of war and proponents of non-violent resolution of tensions with Chechnya.

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