June 19, 2008 / 5:26 PM / 11 years ago

Clashes in Chechnya tarnish film week's bid for normality

GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - A week-long film festival in Chechnya had been designed to prove the south Russian republic has ditched its war-torn past. Instead it coincided with an upsurge in rebel attacks.

During the seven days of the festival, which ended on Thursday, rebel attacks on Russian military convoys and a raid on a village killed at least six people and injured around a dozen more in the mainly Muslim republic, the authorities said.

Not that Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov dwelled on those attacks at his closing speech at the event called “Noah’s Ark” which attracted films from Africa, Brazil, the United States and Russia.

“It’s symbolic that the festival is being held in the Chechen Republic,” he said at his fortress-like residence on the edge of the town of Gudermes, about 30 minutes drive east of the capital Grozny where the festival was held.

“But unfortunately modern cinema teaches the new generation only violence. Today we need a higher moral content in films.”

Russian forces have fought rebels in Chechnya since 1994 in two wars. The Kremlin now wants to portray the conflict as finished and has promoted Kadyrov, a 31-year-old wrestling fan and former rebel, to be leader.

With Kremlin money Kadyrov has rebuilt Grozny — once described as one of the most destroyed cities in the world — and he now promotes it as another peaceful Russian republic.

But violence still flares in Chechnya, although the rebel attacks over the last few days have been particularly brazen.

The reaction from Chechens to the film festival was mixed.

“The staging of the film festival confirms the peace process,” 48-year-old lawyer Leila Osmayeva said. “I did not think that in Chechnya I could meet such wonderful directors.”

Others were more reserved, saying it was premature to hold a film festival in Chechnya.

Writing by James Kilner in Moscow, edited by Richard Meares

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