AboutLanguage: In English
In support of MEMORIAL
A journalist in Chechnya during the 1994-96 war observed this scene at a queue for water:
Russian woman (pushing to the front): âLet me past, we don't have to be afraid of you anymore.'
Chechen woman, pushing back: âStay in line. We weren't afraid of you then, and we're still not afraid of you.'
Coming across this in summer 1998, and knowing nothing at the time of the Russo-Chechen conflicts, I was haunted by the simplicity, strength and bare-knuckle irreconcilability of the exchange. It seemed the grit from which a pearl of a play might be made.
Women and children are the foremost victims of conflict and civil war; yet our theatre features men soldiers, politicians, analysts and academics as the chief protagonists of war stories. Because they are the natural shapers of events, or because we women, in the imperfectly emancipated West, still cede the big cultural political stages ?
How to tell a women's story existing simultaneously in the public, political and personal arenas ?
Researching Chechnya, I came across many books by women journalists Anna Politkovskaya, probably the most well-known of them; also non-Russians Asne Seierstadt, Carlotta Gall, Anne Nivat. These women wrote from firsthand experience of the one of world's most macho professions, from a culture in which women are traditionally, and increasingly, segregated and constrained, from what has been described as âthe world's scariest place'.
Women, under the regime of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, are reverting to a life enclosed and circumscribed by the domestic;but also, activists such as Natalia Estemirova are directly challenging the power of the State as champions of its critics, and, for their courage, paying the grimmest price.
As a Brit writing in 2010, my own country in a state of war about which it seems to be in a state of denial, many other, related, themes wash through the work. Discussions of the British mission in Afghanistan often throw up mention of how many Afghan girls, post-Taleban, are now being educated, how many girls' schools built. Defenders of Karzai's administration like to point out that the Afghan parliament boasts many more female representatives than does our own. Yet, if one looks at the totality of the average Afghan and European female experience acknowledging that those are both wide spectrums one has to ask, what exactly do such totemic achievements mean ? And what relation does the emancipation of women bear to the Afghan mission's other trumpeted aim of securing Britain's streets against jihad planned abroad ?
It's interesting and curious and ironic that, in the conduct of this war, in which human rights are often interchangeable with women's rights, the role of women in our armed forces is increasingly under question, and the right or duty of female soldiers to close in combat with the enemy is suddenly, once again, up for discussion; and the future for our maimed and traumatised troops of both sexes has never been more in question.
Seierstadt's compassionate and funny investigation of reconstructed Chechnya and the damaged children who grew up in wartime, âThe Angel of Grozny', offers a recurrent image of contemporary Chechen women in hijab and high heels, an image which strikes me as the most mixed of messages.
âRamzan' hopes to explore and illuminate these tangled paradoxes. I am barely qualified to describe them, and do not pretend to achieve resolution.
THE PLAYWRIGHT: PAULA JAEGAR
Paula Jaegar is a research associate of UK Defence Forum, for whom she has written articles and reviews on international relations and defence issues. She is particularly interested in Russia and its satellites, and in the roles of women in wartime and reconstruction. This is her first play, and one of a trilogy disinterring Russia's past, investigating its present and imagining its future.