/15 Mountains

Rob Hornstra

On the other side of the mountains

The Red East Turns Green

Text by Arnold van Bruggen

Krasny Vostok is a tiny village in east Karachay-Cherkessia, the westernmost republic in the North Caucasus, Russia. On a hilltop covered in birch trees, sit the symbols of Russian authority. A small building houses the town hall, the post office, and the municipal cultural center. In 2010 this used to be the realm of Taisya Makova, the then mayor of Krasny Vostok, who welcomed us with open arms. Taisya was elected in 2008 with 80 percent of the vote, she tells us. Her principal election platform was gas and water. “If you vote for me, it will be here within a year,” she promised. And people believed her. Taisya had ambitious plans for her village. She wanted to replace the old shoe factory with a mineral water bottling plant. And ten years after it was abandoned, the sovkhoz had finally started working again. When we return to Krasny Vostok in 2013, a small revolution seems to have taken place in the village. The mayor has resigned and “a clique around the imam,” as she puts it, has taken the reins. Little else has changed. The water and gas still do not work. The sovkhoz has again been abandoned and the factory is not yet operational. The former mayor Taisya is scared. “There’s a strong Islamic lobby. As soon as they feel a bite, they reel in the new converts. They won’t stop until we’re all leading Islamic lives.” Taisya associates political Islam with suppression and violence. The imam here in the village was educated in Cairo,” she adds ominously, “at a special place where they ‘breed’ bearded men.” The imam in question, Mohamet Adzhibekov, presides over the upper mosque, on the hill next to the abandoned shoe factory. He does not have a beard, but is dressed in a long white robe and turban: “Everything is changing for the better. We’re gaining influence in the village, and finally making it clear that those old traditions, such as drinking alcohol or taking drugs, are incompatible with Islam.” The imam’s greatest example is the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. “He’s succeeded in implementing the Islamic model within the confines of Russian law. “We can make rules, as long as they don’t conflict with national laws. We can ensure that people who pray too little or drink too much are no longer greeted on the street, are ostracized. But we can’t prohibit the sale of alcohol.”

From: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus (Aperture, 2013).