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Russia's rebellious regions: In Grozny, a new museum reinforces a personality cult

The Grozny facility honors deceased former President Akhmat Kadyrov.

GROZNY, Russia — A deep voice blares from the loudspeakers at a gleaming new monument in the center of Grozny, Chechnya's rebuilt capital: “He showed the world that politics is the art of the possible.”

"He" is Akhmat Kadyrov, the rebel-turned-Russia supporter who led the troubled republic out of its separatist war with Moscow.

Kadyrov is also the subject of a massive cult of personality in Chechnya, propagated by his son, the current president, who owes his legitimacy entirely to his father's legacy and the support of their main champion, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Now the son, Ramzan Kadyrov, has opened a museum entirely devoted to his father — eerily displaying the clothes that he died in and dozens of photographs detailing every aspect of his life.

In the wake of the March Moscow subway bombings, GlobalPost correspondent Miriam Elder traveled to Chechnya and Dagestan to investigate the relationship between these rebellious republics and the Russian state.
A trip through Chechnya and Dagestan

The price of Chechnya’s stability

A new museum reinforces a cult of personality

Islamic militancy brews in Dagestan

An opening ceremony was held on May 9, a major holiday in Russia marking Nazi Germany's capitulation in World War II. On that day in 2004, Akhmat Kadyrov was attending a holiday parade in Grozny's main stadium when a massive bomb exploded under the VIP area where he was sitting. Thirty others were also killed.

That evening, Ramzan Kadyrov flew to Moscow and held a teary meeting with Putin. Thus began his rise to the Chechen presidency, a post he assumed in 2007 upon turning the legal age of 30.

One of Putin's quotes from that evening lines posters on nearly every street in Grozny and the villages and roads that surround it: “He left undefeated.”

Technically, the museum is not yet open to the public, but upon hearing that an American reporter was roaming the grounds, its director quickly allowed entry.

The museum lies at the end of a long path, framed by arches, dubbed the “alley of glory.” It is topped with an obelisk, a small pathway and an eternal flame. In front of its doors stands a monument bearing an etching of the former president, the Putin quote noted above, the dates of his life and his full name, Akhmat-Hadji, honoring the fact that he made the hajj to Mecca.

Inside, a grand white and gold staircase leads visitors to the exhibition space. The central hall holds photos of Chechen veterans who fought in World War II. But the real goods lie in two rooms behind the hall.

One room holds an exact reconstruction of Akhmat Kadyrov's office — the maps he had on his wall, the armchairs he used to relax, the desk placed in front of a portrait of Putin, the conference table where he held meetings. All clocks in the museum are stopped at 10:05 — the time the bomb that killed him went off.

“It's a moral-ethical arrangement,” said Musa Labazanov when asked about the clocks as he led me on a tour of the facility. Labazonav proudly spelled out his full title: deputy general director of the memorial glory complex in the name of Akhmat Kadyrov.