Sun was shining over the freshly harvested fields. Was this really Chechnya, the reign of terror that he had heard so much about? Thoughts of the idyllic picture before his eyes were interrupted by his Chechen companion's comment: "It's the new cluster bombs. Their razor-sharp projectiles shave the face of the earth clean."
This story of a western journalist, travelling through Chechnya a few years back, serves to illustrate how difficult it is to comprehend the infathomable realities of daily life in this war-ridden country.
Only today, Sveriges Radio (Swedish State Radio) reports on a mysterious illness that has struck the population - mostly children - of Chelkovskaya, a village some 70 kilometres from Grozny. Symptoms with difficulties breathing and stomach-pains have led the local population to assume that the illness is caused by Russian troops dumping nerve gas or some other poison near the village. Russian authorities, however, claim that symptoms are wholly psychosomatic, and that there is no ground for the dumping allegations.
Last Friday, UN Human Rights Commissioner, Louise Arbour, said that there is "a climate of fear" in Chechnya, caused by the "very serious shortcomings of the law enforcement system," BBC reports. The area "has still not been able to move away from a society ruled by force to one governed by the rule of law," according to Arbour. Having finished a week-long trip to Russia and the Northern Caucasus, Arbour met with president Putin to discuss human rights issues. It is not hard to imagine that the two - despite diplomatic decorum - had difficulties sharing a common view on the situation.
Needless to say, regular talks on and visits to Chechnya, by representatives of the international community, are important to highlight the situation in the republic. The question is to what extent they help to lay the foundations of peaceful conflict resolution and reconstruction of Chechen society. Not even the Russian government seems able to grasp the situation in full - blinded by their "war on terror" and society's rampant racist sentiments towards Chechens. Also, it seems unlikely that the West will grasp realities and act on them for a true change of the situation. Regrettably, it is safe to assume that - also this year - the only harvesting the Chechen people will see, is that of the great reaper.