The documentary The Family. A film about Ramzan Kadyrov on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov was launched in May 2015 in several different languages – including an English edition. Every version is available on Youtube. The film is produced by Mikhail Khodorkovskij’s foundation Otkrytaja Rossija – An Open Russia. Khodorkovskij was the owner of the oil company Yukos and an oligarch when he was arrested for financial crimes in 2003. He and his supporters claim that the reason for the arrest was the financial backing he had provided to the Putin opposition. Yukon was expropriated by the State, and Khodorkovskij sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was pardoned in connection with the 2013 Sochi Olympics, on Putin’s condition that he would no longer be involved in politics. Later, Khodorkovskij applied for political asylum in Switzerland where he still lives. In 2014, he founded the organisation An Open Russia.
Hell’s forecourt. Khodorkovskij’s 26 minute-documentary is professional, featuring both voice-overs and special effects. Scenes taken from the ground in Chechnya has a red filter, thus emphasising the portrayal of Ramazan Kadyrovs’ Chechnya as a sort of hell’s forecourt. The soundscape is uncomfortable and gloomy akin to a horror film. We are introduced to a Chechen dictator who rules the country with an iron fist, and a population in fear of his arbitrary power abuse. Representatives from the Russian human rights organisation The Committee against Torture tells about attacks on their offices and the torture they themselves have suffered at the hands of Kadyrov. We are told about the Kadyrov family fund, into which all Chechens must contribute 10 percent of their salaries, which funds the Kadyrov-family’s luxuriously extravagant lifestyle. Footballing legend Diego Maradona was paid millions worth of kroner to play football with Kadyrov, whilst world class artists are flown in for private functions, entire Grozny city blocks are painted orange in homage to the city’s football team coach Ruud Gullit, and high rise buildings are constructed in the centre of Grozny which no one can afford to live or work in. We are told that one in ten Chechen men form part of Ramzan Kadyrov’s well-equipped army, and that Kadyrov brags that he dispatched 74,000 soldiers to East-Ukraine.
PUTIN has every reason to be satisfied
Frankenstein character and enemy image. Whilst The Family has been portrayed as a revealing documentary about Kadyrov’s regime and Chechnya’s critical human rights situation, the film’s most prominent feature is its Russia-orientated, oriental approach. It is worth noting the way in which the roles are distributed and who we hear in the film. Kadyrov is cast as the tyrant, the Chechen play the victim, and expert commentary is provided by Russian journalists, political scientists, human rights activists and Mikhail Khodorkovskij himself. When we encounter Chechens human rights activists in the Grozny-department of the Committee against Torture they are not cast as experts – instead they are portrayed as victims alongside the rest of the Chechen people.
In the film, Russian political scientist Stanislav Belkovski claims that Kadyrov’s regime in Chechnya is really about Putin losing the Chechnya-war, and that the country, under Kadyrov, is enjoying a sense of independence never experienced before. The Russian journalists Ksenia Sobchak and Xenia Sokolova paint a picture of Kadyrov akin to a Frankenstein-character that can turn against Russia. The Committee against Torture leader, human rights lawyer Igor Kaljapin, who is part of Putin’s human rights board, expresses worry that the only thing that connects Kafyrov to Russia is the close personal relationship between the two state leaders. We see two sequences where Putin refers to Kadyrov as a son, and Kadyrov describes Putin as his idol.
The summarising and conclusion is done by Khodorkovskij, who closes that the backward Chechnya must be elevated to Russian levels, if the country is to remain in the Russian sphere and danger averted.
The purpose of Mikhail Khodorkovskij’s documentary is to paint a picture of Kadyrov as the enemy – not just to the Chechen, but to Russia and the rest of the world – whilst exonerating the Putin regime. Putin has every reason to be satisfied. Khodorkovskij has learnt his lesson: He abides by the release provisos. This documentary does not challenge, but validates the power and legitimacy of Putin’s regime.
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