AS RUSSIAN generals continued to wage their brutal war against the Chechen people, campaigners held a meeting in central London last week to voice their protest at the slaughter. All the speakers linked this war to NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia, which made the world a more dangerous place, encouraged military conflict and acted as a model for Russia. Liz Davies, a left winger on the Labour Party's National Executive Committee, opened the meeting. She spoke about the horror of the Russian assault on the Chechen capital, Grozny. 'Thousands of innocent people are freezing in basements, living under the Russian bombardment. Many of these people are elderly and cannot leave the city.'
Liz went on to attack the government's hypocrisy over Chechnya: 'They are saying nothing, despite all the claims for a foreign policy with an ethical dimension. 'Our job on the left and in the peace movement is to raise the level of protest against such atrocities and call for the bombing to stop immediately.' Veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent highlighted how the leaders of NATO must bear part of the blame for Russia's war: 'Moving NATO eastwards and extending the nuclear deterrent has advanced Russia's persecution complex and has helped feed support for Russian leader Putin.' He also spoke of US involvement in the scramble for the oil wealth of the nearby Caspian Sea. 'We can see what America is doing with oil coming from the Caspian. They are trying to involve new states around the Caspian on their side. They are running an oil pipe through Turkey. 'America is saying to the Russians, 'We've got an economic grasp on you all the way and you have to do as we say.' This has helped fuel Russia's sense of isolation.'
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall male life expectancy in Russia has fallen by ten years and 40 million people live in absolute poverty. The ruling class is trying to use the Chechen war to divert people from these real issues. Lisa Taylor spoke as a representative of the group International Solidarity with Workers in Russia. She pointed out, 'Four months ago Yeltsin and prime minister Putin were hated universally by the mass of the population of Russia. They were the people who had presided over the devastation of the country. Four months later and Putin is popular and is 40 percent ahead of his nearest rival for the presidential elections. Russia's aggression is a crime against the Chechen people but is also connected to their attempt to destroy the Russian workers' movement.'
She said we should not demand any NATO intervention in the war. 'NATO does not care about the Chechen people. If it bombs it will be for its own strategic reasons and would only start new conflicts across the region.' Chris Harman, the editor of Socialist Worker, argued against those who claim Chechnya is an integral part of Russia: 'It reminds me of those who said Algeria was an integral part of France, or that India was an integral part of Britain or that Ireland is an integral part of Britain. Chechnya was conquered by tsarist Russia and was kept there by a wave of repression.
The second wave of repression happened in 1944 when Stalin deported the whole Chechen population to central Asia. One in ten people died of hunger.' He said that the third wave of oppression happened in Boris Yeltsin's horrific war of 1994 - 6 against Chechen demands for independence: Those at the top of Russian society united to hold together what had been their empire under Stalin. But the Chechens fought back using classic guerrilla tactics. At the end of 1999 the Russian generals, humiliated in the 1995 Chechen war, wanted to assert control not only over Chechnya but over the Russian people. We have to be on the side of people fighting back and for the victory of the Chechen people.'
Chris pointed to the hope of protests around the world against the New World Order, such as the revolt that ousted the dictator Suharto in Indonesia, the protests against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle and the current revolt in Ecuador. 'We have to link each protest against the New World Order. We have to say down with the great imperialism of the Americans and down with the smaller imperialism of Russia which wants to reassert control of parts of the former Soviet Union.'
Demonstrate against Russia's war in Chechnya: Saturday 5 February, 12 noon, Tothill Street (behind Westminster Central Hall), London. March to Trafalgar Square for rally. Speakers include Tony Benn MP. Called by the Campaign to Stop War in Chechnya