In This Review

Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society

Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society
By Valery Tishkov
302 pp, University of California Press, 2004

The Chechen wars need not have happened, if one allows that the second was the product of the first and the first was a war of choice. History did not dictate that Russia and Chechnya go to war, according to Tishkov, although Josef Stalin's cruel deportations during World War II certainly poisoned Chechen memory. Nor do ethnic and religious differences, let alone a clash of primordial identities, explain the calamity. Tishkov, a prominent Russian ethnographer who held the government's portfolio on nationality questions in the early years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency, sees the bloodshed as the result of indifference and confusion on the part of Russian leaders when the Chechen challenge first emerged and of a bull-headed reluctance to deal with Dzhokhar Dudayev while they still could. He also sees the first war and its aftermath through the eyes of more than 50 Chechens interviewed at length, imbuing his account with a unique directness and subtlety.