Crossing Borders

Gisela Erbslöh:

"Unter den Füßen wächst die Wüste. Gänge durch Grosny"
The Desert Growing Beneath Their Feet. Walks Through Grozny

The facades of central Grozny shine brightly once again. For more than 12 years, the inhabitants of the Chechen capital lived in constant fear. Political pressure, patriotic and religious fanaticism, bombs, marauding gangs, murderous "security forces" from all sides, and the fatal legacy of unreflected national traditions led to destruction on an indescribable scale. Reconstruction has now begun. The din of construction work drowns out the sound of the dense traffic, slot machines, shops, and snow-white house fronts mark out the two main roads leading through downtown Grozny. And yet the backs of many buildings are still as burnt out and empty as ever.

What do the people that live there think and feel? Why does fear still stalk the city's streets, and how do people cope with it? Some rely on ancient traditions and customs to survive from one day to the next - at least within the family. Others, mainly women, are prevented by precisely these traditions from breaking out of life between the front lines, and moving in new directions.

These and other questions prompted me to spend time in Ingushetia and Chechnya. In May 2006, I traveled from orthodox Christian Beslan in North Ossetia to Islamic Ingushetia, where I lived in Nasran and went on several trips to Grozny. I spoke to Ingushetians and Chechens of all ages, from children rehearsing national dances, through young people celebrating a wedding, to old people aged between 80 and 104 in villages and refugee camps. Their staggering hospitality and openness were in stark contrast to the security precautions they had to take in light of possible unrest, attempted kidnappings, or conflicts with the militias or soldiers.

Radio report by Gisela Erbslöh: "Unter den Füßen wächst die Wüste. Gänge durch Grosny" (The Desert Growing Beneath Their Feet. Walks Through Grozny). Broadcasting date: 12.05am, October 31, 2007 on Deutschlandradio Berlin