Politician faces up to Chechnya challenge

Andreas Gross spoke candidly to swissinfo about his mission in Chechnya Keystone

Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross has been appointed the European Council’s new rapporteur on the political situation in Chechnya.

This content was published on July 6, 2003 - 11:22

swissinfo caught up with him as he prepares to take on what is considered to be the most difficult dossier at the European Council.

The European Council is the only international body represented in Chechnya, which has been ravaged by conflict since 1994.

Relations between the European Council and the Russian delegation have been strained for years because of the situation in the Caucasian republic.

Last month Chechen officials and Russian government representatives launched discussions on how much autonomy Chechnya can exercise while remaining part of Russia.

But despite Kremlin claims that peace is returning to the country, a Russian general said on Wednesday that rebels continue to kill and wound security forces on a daily basis.

swissinfo: What is your mandate?

Andreas Gross: My task is to find out how the killing and misery in Chechnya can be brought to an end. As a member of the European Council, Russia has a duty to uphold human rights and to resolve conflicts according to state laws. Different parties are ignoring this duty in Chechnya.

Chechnya is probably one of the biggest and saddest problems on the European continent and is certainly one of the most difficult missions that one can take on in Strasbourg. I will give it my best.

swissinfo: What exactly will you be doing?

A.G.: Next week I am going to Moscow and will listen to the different positions and theories about how you can solve the conflict politically. At the end of August, I am then going to Chechnya for the first time in three and a half years. While there, I will also try to sound out ideas from the different parties involved.

Furthermore, I will regularly write reports in order to inform the assembly about how the process is progressing. At the moment, the mandate is due to last two years. I hope to be in Chechnya at least once every three months.

swissinfo: What is the situation like in Chechnya at present?

A.G.: Civilians, Russian soldiers and Chechen guerrillas are dying on a daily basis.
Most of the Chechens feel like they are the meat in the sandwich between the Russian armed forces on one hand and the militant guerrillas on the other. The latter is partly involved in criminal activity and seldom represents the interests of the Chechen majority.

I would like to help these people who are exposed to violence through no fault of their own.

swissinfo: How can the European Council have any influence there?

A.G.: We need to listen, think things through together, and then discuss them openly. We also need to publicise the suffering, the ways out of it, as well as the quest for understanding.

After the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was thrown out, the European Council was left as the only international organisation whose presence is even tolerated. It is primarily about being able to talk about what you see and what you think.

swissinfo: Do you think there is the will to find a political solution?

A.G.: That is exactly the question my consultative talks in Moscow next week are going to address. Russia’s president Putin told me three years ago that he is aware only political solutions to the problem exist; so that is one basis to work on.

Most of the Russian parliamentarians consider themselves to be a part of Europe and want to be a European nation-state. But for that you have to pay a certain price, in so far that European standards are upheld.

On the other hand, you have in Russia, as everywhere, hardliners who do not wish to put an international spotlight on Chechnya, and who believe the conflict is simply a domestic matter.

swissinfo: Parliamentary elections are being held in December and presidential ones in March. Do the right conditions for voting exist?

A.G.: After the acceptance of the new constitution in March, the next thing is the functioning of democracy. It is going to be one of my jobs to make sure the national elections in Chechnya are conducted correctly. Chechen citizens must be able to really participate in these elections.

But as long as violence is so prevalent and people are killed every day, the prerequisites for a democratic system of thought and action, not to mention a proper election campaign, remain truly poor.

swissinfo: Do you have any ideas as to how the situation can be resolved or at least improved?

A.G.: I recently submitted a report to the European Council which described how peace has been achieved in countries granted autonomy, while respecting the statehood of all parties involved.

Chechnya is a case in point. You don’t need to become independent in order to become self-determined. This point of view might enable a peaceful resolution which allows both the self-determination of Chechnya, as well as respecting the sovereign integrity of Russia.

swissinfo-interview: Hansjörg Bolliger (translation: Tania Peitzker; the interview was conducted last Wednesday)

Key facts

Andreas Gross, 51, is a Social Democrat parliamentarian and member of the parliamentary assembly at the European Council.
45 countries belong to the European Council, whose goal is the protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The Swiss delegation consists of eleven parliamentarians.
Gross is succeeding Lord Frank Judd, the British expert on Russia and Chechnya.

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In Brief

The Chechen conflict has been going on for almost a decade.

Human rights organisations say the situation in republic is critical, citing an atmosphere of violence and lawlessness.

They say people are regularly killed, abducted, tortured or disappear without trace after their arrest.

110,000 refugees from the crisis live in dire circumstances in the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia. Since the end of 2002, many have been forced to return to Chechnya.

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