Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Chechen Students Shun Anti-war Festival

Nearly 60 student groups from the former Soviet Union attend a Nalchik festival aimed at uniting young people against military conflict
By Marina Balzikova

Chechen delegates were noticeably absent from last week's student festival in Kabardino-Balkaria which is held annually under the slogan "Peace, Youth and Harmony".

Student Spring in the North Caucasus, which was inaugurated in 1995, brings together students from Russia, Central Asia and the South Caucasus republics. The four-day festival in Nalchik is aimed at fostering ties between young people and takes a fiercely anti-war stance.

But, although a record 57 student groups attended this year's event, the delegates expected from Grozny failed to make an appearance, arguing that the festival no longer "seemed relevant" to their lives.

A student representative from the Chechen capital explained, "How can you talk about peace when I, who have seen everything and lost everything, am unable to escape my memories?

"A bomb fell on my house and my younger sister was killed. I was left with my mother who sees almost no sense in this life. Now, I only want to avenge my family and the troubles of my people. I envy the peace you have here and that's why I cannot come to your festival."

However, young people from other areas of conflict such as Abkhazia, Ossetia and Ingushetia flocked to the event held in a sports stadium outside the Kabardino-Balkarian capital.

The highpoint of the festival was a gala concert, featured on a specially created Internet site, during which student groups performed ethnic music and staged drama productions.

Many of the songs focused on the theme of war whilst several national costumes - notably the North Ossetian -- reflected the military legacy of the disparate Caucasian tribes.

And, despite the governing ideology of the event, ethnic tensions were occasionally felt. At one point, a group of students from Ingushetia interrupted a performance by a North Ossetian band with shouting and swearing. The fracas continued backstage with a vicious fist fight.

But on the last day of the festival, the prime minister of Kabardino-Balkaria, Pavel Chechenov, told delegates, "Peace in the Caucasus will definitely be strengthened as a result of this event. There are many weapons in the Caucasus but your weapons will never rust or betray you because they are the eternal motto which is the spirit of the festival - Peace, Youth and Harmony."

Many young people in the North Caucasus have developed their own peculiar brand of humour which refuses to be intimidated by the growing threat of conflict. During the festival, one student comedian told the following joke:

"They closed down the Chechen border after the latest kidnapping and stopped anyone coming in. Which is shame because going to Chechnya is the best way of finding out the true value of your life!"

As long as people can laugh in the face of despair, there is still hope for the North Caucasus.

Marina Balzikova is a journalist based in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria

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