A number of sources have commented on the negative effect the Boston Marathon bombings may have had on the image and public perception of the North Caucasus region and Chechnya. Some observers have focused on the extremist politics that have been woven into Islam by radical Muslims, a worldwide phenomenon, and one that is destructive of religion itself.
The extremist politics have also had a destructive effect on human rights activities in Russia. When I first started to work as a translator with a fairly well-known website that monitored human rights abuses in the North Caucasus, both the Russian-language and English-language comments on articles on the site were very few and far between – in fact there often weren’t any at all. But after a few years, in the early part of 2009, the Russian-language comments became extremely busy – and they nearly all appeared to come from former residents of the North Caucasus who had emigrated to the West and had either obtained asylum there or were in the process of seeking it. Many of the comments they posted were indicative of a particular mind-cast: hateful and intolerant of Western social conditions and Western values, with an anti-American slant that was accompanied by an anti-Semitism that masked itself as “criticism” of Israeli policy in the Middle East.
The website’s original function as an observer and monitor of the human rights situation in Chechnya and southern Russia became obscured, and in place of the previous news reports and informed analysis many of the articles that were published formed part of a polemical and political debate about the North Caucasus insurgency and the role of Islamic extremism in its developing profile. The site became the object of vicious attacks from sites like Kavkaz Center, and finally in 2010 it ceased to operate altogether, though its content has been preserved and is still accessible.
The curious standoff between two types of political extremism on the fringes of Europe – yet in close proximity to the Russian Federation – continues unabated. Most recently, Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat daily newspaper reported on one aspect of the affair, namely the news that Finland’s public prosecutor is demanding a jail term for the Finnish businessman Mikael Storsjö, who is accused of illegally helping dozens of Chechen refugees to enter Finland. But this is only a part of the ongoing situation, which involves a vitriolic campaign by two Finnish pro-Russian activists – the Lutheran pastor Juha Molari and the university lecturer Johan Bäckman – whose aim is apparently to call into question the activities of human rights campaigners in the North Caucasus, and also at the same time to challenge the policies of governments in the Baltic states, particularly those of Estonia and Latvia, with regard to their Russian-speaking minorities.
The problem for outside observers who are trying to make sense of it all is that the confrontation between Molari/Bäckman on the one hand, and Storsjö/pro-Islamist (Doku Umarov) Kavkaz Center website on the other, looks suspiciously like a manufactured conflict representing two sides of the same extremist coin. Since most of the details are published either in Finnish or Russian on websites not normally visited or read by Western media, the potential for disinformation on these and related issues is probably rather high.
Interestingly, it appears that the same Swedish legislation which justifies the legal status of the Aftonbladet article that has provoked outrage in Israel and across the world is also protecting the status of the extreme Islamist propaganda site Kavkaz Center, which is hosted on servers located in Sweden. Sweden’s “freedom of speech” laws are evidently being used for some dubious purposes, with the knowledge and approval of the Swedish government.
Helsingin Sanomat reports that
Helsinki Internet-entrepreneur Mikael Storsjö says that he is the man that the Finnish Border Guard suspects of arranging the illegal entry of 15 Chechens into Finland.
All of the men, women, and children involved have applied for asylum in Finland and they are being housed at Finnish refugee reception centres.
The Border Guard announced the suspicion on Thursday, saying that the Chechens came to Finland through Turkey. The suspect had organised air travel by three different groups from Istanbul to Finland. He was caught when he flew in with the first group.
First Lieutenant Matti Kettunen told Helsingin Sanomat that the suspect is familiar to the Border Guard, and has been investigated for similar activities before.
What Kettunen did not say that the man in question is a well-known human rights activist who has brought in dozens of Chechens before, and was also involved with a Chechen rebel website [Kavkaz Center] that was in the news here nearly five years ago.
Kettunen emphasised that the actions of the suspect are considered aggravated, because the cases show indications of organised activity.
Read it all.
Kavkaz-Center’s English section is curiously silent about the recent KC attacks on Prague Watchdog – the posts, with their accusations against PW of “Israeli influence” and the like (KC thinks it’s all part of a global conspiracy, apparently), are still only available in Russian.
PW’s coordinator Tomáš Vršovský has responded in both English and Russian.
Kavkaz-Center, the Islamist propaganda site, has started to launch vitriolic attacks on Prague Watchdog, the North Caucasus human rights NGO, over the interview with Dokka Umarov which PW published some time ago. It will be interesting to see if KC publishes its attacks in English as well as Russian, but for the moment only the Russian versions are available.