About Chechnya By Anjelika Artyukh

in 46th International Short Film Festival Cracow

by Anjelika Artyukh

The film My Dear Muslim by the German director Kerstin Nickig has been awarded the FIPRESCI prize. It is one of the most tragic documentary films in the Competition Program at the 46th Cracow International Film Festival, 2006. The main characters of the film are a family of Chechen immigrants living in Poland. It’s already significant that the film’s director, Kerstin Nickig, could find these people at a refugee camp since they are truly unique personalities. The head of the family, Said-Selim, is a Chechen journalist who was videotaping horrors of the Chechnya war for several years. Not all his archives have survived. A big part of them were confiscated by Federals during the First Chechnya War. However, some of the materials were saved. They were the main reason for the family’s immigration from Chechnya.

The archives are an evidence of the tragedy and accusation against Russia for crimes to Chechens. One of the characters sadly jokes: “Chechnya is a wonderland: one comes out from a house and disappears for ever.” Most of the people caught on these archival tapes are dead (the director Nickig shows a lot of the journalist’s materials). They have been either killed or listed as missing which means the same for relatives – dead. One of missing men, a brother of the journalist’s wife, was a twenty-year old youngster. As the woman says, he never had held a rifle in his hands. But he also vanished without a trace after being arrested. If everyone disappears: innocent as well as guilty; ones who have fought against Federals and those who haven’t, what can one do in this situation? This question is asked by a young Chechen woman Sacita. At that moment she looks directly at the camera facing audience. And we see she knows an answer.

Muslim is a name of a four-year-old son of Sacita and Said-Selim. It sounds exactly the same as Muslim in English. The mother of young Muslim keeps a diary in which she addresses to her son asking him not to forget the sufferings of his people, not to live only for himself, help Chechens and remember his motherland. Her husband and she also dream that the United Nations peace-makers will be brought in to Chechnya and end the war. They dream that then they will be able to come back home. After all, what kind of a Chechen is without his/her homeland? They hope, but don’t plan anything.

After the screening, one French woman came to me and asked how the film’s characters were unbiased in their stories about the Chechnya war? I had no choice but to say people who lost in the war almost all their relatives have rights for these kinds of descriptions. I also had to establish the fact that the broadcasting of this film would be impossible on present-day Russian TV. If for no other reason than the family, living in Poland, feverishly draws information about their abandoned home from a well-known web-site of the Chechen guerrilla – the Caucasus – and admits in front of the camera, as if confessing before the God, they have no sympathy for Russian soldiers.

The videotapes of the Chechen journalist has captured the horrors of Russian-Chechen War: people are crying near a decapitated corpse of their fellow-villager, hiding in basements from Russian bombs, extinguishing fires in inflamed houses meanwhile trying to save last belongings. There is Sacita among them in these Chechen chronicles. She hasn’t given a birth to Muslim yet and is still considered as a marriageable girl. However, there are grey hairs shining through her black kerchief and fear and anguish in her fathomless eyes.

The authors of the film spent six months in close contact with the film’s characters. As a result there was an effect of confidence, an unexpected brotherly closeness. When everything is obvious without words, there is no need in questioning. But it seems that Europeans don’t believe in their eyes and keep asking and asking. Why did they leave Chechnya? Said-Selim’s videotapes and Sacita’s diary make this question absolutely unnecessary. But the characters, who feel as strangers among their own people, are forced to answer: “We left because we wanted to survive. We wanted to live”.

How much time will be needed to tell the whole truth about Chechnya?