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Thomas Goltz, 'Chechnya Diary: A War Correspondent's Story of Surviving the War in Chechnya'

Thomas Dunne Books, 2004. ISBN 0 312 26874 2; US$27.95; 352pp HB

In December 1994, days after the first modern invasion of Chechnya by Russian forces, Time magazine wrote, “Unless someone backs down, Moscow's advance into Chechnya threatens to start a guerrilla war that could wreck Yeltsin's presidency or end Russian democracy.”

Yeltsin is long gone, and so now, following the recent re-election of President Putin, with the attendant, and embarrassingly muted, concerns about it perhaps not being entirely free and fair, is an ideal time to revisit the events of what became known as the First Chechen War.

Thomas Goltz's latest work is the one first-hand account that should be read in order to feel what happened.

Arriving in the Caucasus in 1991, Goltz was well placed to observe the collapsed of the Soviet Union. What he also saw was the reawakening of the desire for independence of the republic of Chechnya.

For anyone who is still unsure of the brutality of the Russian campaign, they need only to read here of the massacre at Samashki. This name, largely unknown in the West, deserves its place in the gallery of abhorrent episodes as any other in the course of the bloody twentieth century.

Equally important in this work are the author's reflections on what it means to be an observer in a time and place of conflict. Indeed, the book opens with a quote from the physicist Heisenberg: “The observer affects the observed.”

Ten years after the Russian invasion, and the fate of the Chechen people seems to be no closer to resolution than at the start. Perhaps today their situation is even worse, with the world now even freer to ignore their plight, since Moscow has declared the conflict as an arm in the “war on terror”.

There are few more accessible or powerful introductions to Chechnya and the job of war correspondent than Chechnya Diary. A must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in Chechnya and the role of the press in conflict zones.

Topics: War and peace | Russia