“Novaya Gazeta” had to terminate its work in Chechnya because of the threats received by its journalist Yelena Milashina. Earlier Milashina investigated various dangerous and taboo topics in Chechnya – murders, tortures, reprisals… But her most recent investigation – an attempt to defend a schoolgirl from forced marriage to an elderly police officer resulted in complete impossibility for her to visit Chechnya and continue the work of Anna Politkovskaya there.
Was this particular case – marriage of a girl to an elderly police officer – worth the ado it has created or was it more important to preserve this last possibility for access to unbiased information about what’s going on in Chechnya, this state within a state, where regional authorities alone decide who is to be exterminated and where there is no other, higher authority?
This is a question considered by many people now. But no one could have predicted beforehand what could or could not be done and what would be the price of this particular publication. However, this story of a schoolgirl married forcibly to a man three times older than her should have been reported. This is a very usual story not only for Chechnya, but also other patriarchal communities (or those pretending to be patriarchal and traditional), where children are married in spite of their own will.
The looks of these forced brides are intolerable – they stand in their white dresses, with heavy make-up on their faces, unable to even shed a tear in the face of the approaching rape. And the guests of the wedding have fun, they dance, eat and drink, they “buy innocence” by throwing money onto the tray held by a girl, who trembles from shame and pain.
Thanks to the scandal created by Milashina’s publication, not only the usual guests of such weddings, but all the rest as well (including those who visit similar communities due to their journalist and human rights work) have seen this face, the face of a girl before upcoming rape, because this wedding was later showed on television, of course, as a triumph of good old traditions.
This physical violence is always preceded by psychological violence. It is impossible to watch the footage of an interview with the bride before the wedding, when she is forced to tell it to the camera that she had agreed to the wedding by herself. “I know that he already had a wife and grown up children, but it happens so that I’m marrying him now”.
“It happens so…” – this tells us everything. This girl sees bad destiny, not love and consent to be the basis of this marriage. Many people have already expressed their opinions on acceptability or unacceptability of this marriage of a young girl to an elderly police officer. Some saw the age of the groom to be problematic, as the groom looked like a grandfather of the bride. Some insisted that the age difference was of no importance, but what was important was the fact that the groom already was married to another woman. Yet others were alarmed by the fact that the bride was not yet 18. Others saw politics behind this scandal because the presence of Chechen president at the wedding undoubtedly gave this ceremony a political flavor.
I don’t know why one has to start commenting on such a reverberating event by saying “it is of no importance that…” Is it unimportant that the groom is much older than the bride? Of course, it is important. I have been to the weddings where not only the groom, but also the bride was a child, but in these cases violence was somehow less cynical and cruel, although I do not support any early marriages. However, birth of a mutual feeling of love between two forcibly wed children is more likely than in case of such a striking age difference.
It is also important that the police officer, a figure of authority, already got used to be the boss, he was used to humiliating other people. The fact that he is a police officer promises no good, as the very wedding was possible because he was that powerful (and it is obvious that the bride’s family was forced to agree to this wedding). The fact that the bride is underage is also significant, primarily from a legal point of view: if the law doesn’t allow marriage before 18, one has to wait, and this is not because of some “sexual emancipation” (whatever Russian ombudsman for children’s rights Pavel Astakhov, some expert in female maturity and aging, meant by this), but because in our country an underage person is deprived of rights –parents are legally responsible for him or her, and thus this decision was made by parents and not the girl herself.
It is also important that the groom already had first wife, who was also humiliated by this marriage and whose reaction to the emergence of a second younger wife one cannot predict.
The girl is now likely to be the first to wake up in the morning and the last to go to sleep at night, she will clean the house, wash clothes and please everybody in the house of her husband. But it’s not that which is of utmost importance. The most terrible thing is not the wreckage of her childhood and refusal to give her education and work, not the position of submission and constant humiliation in the new family, not the disgraceful status of a second wife, but sexual violence. This concerns millions of girls worldwide and hundreds of thousands of girls in Russia.
And if Mr.Shevchenko and many others, who stated that marriage to a wealthy man was a destiny one can only envy, are ready to be really responsible for such statements, let them be raped every night, not the girls for whose lives we have to struggle, whatever the cost.
Most recent article by Milashina about this family is simply unbearable to read, because the bride’s sister called on the journalist to come immediately and talk when this was already not possible. What did this girl want to tell? Was it a trap and attempt to manipulation or a real cry for help? We will not learn this.
What we do know is that a girl was handed over to a dragon and that she will never be able to speak by herself again.
by Stefania Kulayeva