Movie Review: Coca – The Dove from Chechnya

Director Eric Bergkraut

Coca is the story of one woman’s tireless efforts to bring to light the horror of the Russian war of terrorism in Chechnya.  Zainap Gashaeva (nicknamed Coca) was born in exile in Kazakhstan, raised four children and become a business woman.  Since the beginning of the Chechen conflict in 1994 she has been collecting video tapes and interviews about the war that Europe refuses to acknowledge.  It is estimated that in the last ten years up to 30% of the Chechen population may have been killed as a result of Russian “anti-terrorist” operations.

Coca and her network of partners have set up an amazing computer database of people affected by the police actions.  The database is cross-linked between names, locations, type of event, video tapes and sources of information.  This makes it possible to put together events that at least partially explain the disappearances that are the hallmark of secret police activity.

She does not attempt to justify the violence on either side of the fence.  Russian President Putin can easily point out the vicious track record of warlord Shamil Basayev who has claimed responsibility for the deadly school hostage taking on September 1, 2004 in southern Russia that killed more than 330 people.  He and his “revolutionary” cohorts have also claimed responsibility for airplane downings, suicide bombings and hostage takings that have resulted in hundreds of deaths since 1995.

But as vicious as the Chechen rebels may be, their work is nothing compared to the systematic murder of Chechen civilians by Russian forces in a massive operation that approaches genocide.  Coca and her group do not seek to single-handedly condemn Putin’s operation in Chechnya.  Rather, they seek to bring to light the complete scale and bureaucratic nature of the operation.  They believe the only force powerful enough to stop the bloodshed is vigorous international condemnation and that such condemnation will come only when the world is educated about the facts in Chechnya.

Zainap Gashaeva (nicknamed Coca)

This, then, is Coca’s life’s work.  But the fact remains that the world is growing hardened to such news and as her database grows, so grows the information avalanche of human rights abuses, suicide bombings and terrorist activity around the world.  The fact that warlord Basayev is associated with Osama Bin Laden does not help his position in western political circles and his own terrorist actions have made support from established governments impossible.  This will undercut the appeal of this film just as it undercuts rebel support in the Chechen conflict.

Nonetheless, there is no measure of renegade brutality that allows a government to use its powers of state to systematically deny human rights to its population.  This is Coca’s message.  Since the downfall of the USSR, Russia has moved aggressively to control the former Soviet states.  What it cannot control politically, it controls economically.  During the days of the USSR Russia had painstakingly assembled a tortuous labyrinth of economic interdependence between itself and the other Soviet states.  This matrix has Russia at the intersection of every crucial financial, transportation and resource hub in the former USSR.  They are committed to maintain this strangle-hold on the republics, no matter what the cost in human life.  When populations resist wholesale, the breadth and severity of the resulting crack down crosses the line from police action to genocide.

It is possible that films such as this have made an important contribution in the continued attempts at independence by the former Soviet states.  At a recent demonstration in Kiev protesting the fixed presidential elections a poster read, “Putin, watch out, Ukraine is not Chechnya.”  Through the work of people like Coca, Chechen bloodshed may yet serve to further the cause of independence in other circles.  Although this documentary is accurate, it will not have widespread appeal because of the complexity of the issues at hand and the relatively inarticulate nature of the interviews within.  The details of Coca’s work are interesting, but the facts themselves are nothing new.  Most of it is old news that has been on television for years.  For these reasons this documentary will not receive the acclaim that Coca, herself, deserves.

Coca will screen, tickets priced $10, at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York on the following dates:

  • Tue, Apr 26 / 9:15pm Regal Battery Park 1
  • Fri, Apr 29 / 6:45pm Regal Battery Park 9
  • Sat, Apr 30 / 10:30am Regal Battery Park 7