[...] "Chechnya has won, Russia has won". Perhaps the losers are the many Chechens who chose to go into exile as a matter of honour. Those who stayed have returned to a normal life and can satisfy their basic needs after several decades of hardship. Such a “normal” life, however, requires them to make major compromises and often hold their tongues. There is no alternative for those who want to work, have a home and carry on with their lives. In this state of reassuring stagnation, the authorities control everything, distributing favours as they please. The physical violence so prevalent in the post-conflict years, the kidnappings and the summary executions also seem to have decreased. The Chechens are so frightened that these acts of violence are almost no longer necessary. The violence is now psychological, a form of brainwashing that starts with the young. Davide Monteleone’s study on identity gradually became the story of a compromise, one that all the inhabitants of this republic are forced to make with the authorities in return for a better life. As he was told by a friend in the mountains around Itum-Kali who quoted a letter from Yermolov to Tsar Nicolas I during the Caucasus campaign: “The Chechens are a combative people, difficult to conquer, easier to buy.” "Thank you Ramzan, thank you Russia" for everything. "Spasibo".
“Grozny is a city of phantoms. Phantoms of those who died or disappeared in the war—every family has brothers, sons, or a father who left the house and never returned,” writes the Moscow-based journalist Masha Gessen, in the opening text of “Spasibo,” a monograph and exhibition by the Italian photojournalist Davide Monteleone, which examines Chechen identity after centuries of violence and conflict between Chechen separatists and Moscow. Monteleone first travelled to the Caucasus in 2001, as part of a wider investigation of Russia and its citizens’ relationship to power. He returned most recently in January, 2013, well over a decade after the official end of the second Chechen war, which resulted in Chechnya losing its hard-won independence when Vladmir Putin installed the Kremlin-friendly leader Akhmad Kadyrov to power. Akhmad’s son Ramzan, the current leader—whom Monteleone describes as a young, uneducated megalomaniac—rebuilt Grozny and attained relative peace, although sporadic attacks by separatists continued. Though Chechens now speak their once-banned language, practice Islam openly, are permitted to practice Chechen traditions, and enjoy relative freedom from Russia, Chechnya is still a republic within the Russian Federation. As Monteleone says, “Everything is controlled by the authorities that give to the people as they please. A state of comforting stagnation …. The physical violence that was so much part of the post-conflict years … seems to have decreased. The Chechens are so frightened that these acts of violence are almost no longer necessary. The violence is now psychological, a form of brainwashing that starts with the youngest generations.” “Spasibo” (which means “thank you” in Russian), won the 2012 Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award. The exhibition will be on view at Chapelle de l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in Paris, from November 8th through December 4th.
Genevieve Fussell, The New Yorker - November 6, 2013.