If you think Russia is a frozen country where bears walk down the streets holding vodka in their paws, then you probably should run a couple of online searches to update your mental user settings. Citizens of Russian Federation are vastly different, and not all of them are alcoholics, proving that some stereotypes are just myths. Take Chechnya for example: Locals can barely buy alcohol due to specific regulations that only allow residents to purchase wine and spirits in the morning, from 8 to 10 am.
What else is there, and what is so specific about Chechnya? First, it’s a Muslim republic within predominantly Christian Russia. This makes it a completely different realm.
Where is Chechnya?
Chechen autonomous republic is a part of Russian Federation. It’s located in Caucasus, bordering Georgia. Chechnya has no access to a sea. It lies within the mountainous area between the Black Sea and Caspian Lake.
Chechnya’s total population is around 1.4 million people. A flight from Moscow to Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, takes about 2 hours.
How to behave in Chechnya
There are lots of rules, especially for women. You become one when puberty strikes at the age of 10-12. From now on, you can’t walk outside in a proud solitude, whether it’s day or night. You need a chaperone. Options for an acceptable escort include a grown man (a husband or close relative, and he always walks a step ahead), another woman, a child or an infant. If a woman has male friends, she can’t meet them by herself.
In fact, a woman is not allowed to talk to a stranger if he is a male. (Unless he is doing his job, like a waiter or shop assistant.)
Women are not supposed to look in the eyes of a man they talk to, if they don’t know him well. If needed, she can do it only during the first greeting. A woman says “Hello” or “Good afternoon”, smiles gently and casts a glance, but then she should speak without making any eye contact.
If a man makes a joke, a woman mustn’t laugh loudly at it, even if it’s deadly hilarious. She may only giggle or give a gentle smile that approves of the joke. Otherwise she is a slut.
Locals separate Russian women and Chechen ladies, although officially the autonomous republic lies within the boundaries of the Russian Federation and abides by the federal laws. Local men may forgive minor breaches of the strict code to visiting outsiders, but for a Chechen girl, “abusing” local statues is an unforgivable offence. For example, it’s a shame for a Chechen woman to drink alcohol and she wouldn’t be allowed. Girls are not permitted to smoke either.
Home by 10 pm or get arrested
There is an official curfew for Chechen females as well. They have to be at home by 10 pm. If a lady is out after this hour, she may spend the night at a police station. If she is with a male, too. The police needs to ensure she is with a relative and not doing something inappropriate, a Grozny girl reported to Echo radio station.
There is no special day or night attire for Chechen females. According to MK.ru, ladies have to wear dresses and skirts that cover their knees (preferably maxi skirts), and sleeves that cover elbows. A woman should always wear a headscarf. Otherwise she will hear abusive phrases and may get bombed with paintballs. Venue owners may refuse entry to their establishments unless a female wears a headscarf.
No skin can be displayed: All parts of a woman’s body, excluding her face and neck, should be covered. Otherwise the woman is labeled a slut.
- Since 2008, girls are only allowed in schools and universities in headscarves.
- Since 2010 girls have to wear floor-length skirts to schools.
- Since 2012 female employees have to wear hijabs covering their necks if they work for the government.
In general, local females avoid wearing pants. Bright colors are a faux pas. Some universities only allow women dressed in black clothes.
If a lady wants to wear some kind of a “mini-skirt”, it cannot be higher than 1 hand palm below the knee. If it’s shorter, she will be shamed. More than that: If a woman is dressed inappropriately, the man who escorts her gets in trouble. It’s the male or chaperone who will have to explain why such an abuse of Chechen traditions occurred. Such situations are better to be avoided.
Girls have to wear the prescribed headgear even in a beauty salon (!) or they won’t be served.
Even wearing a blouse with trousers is considered inappropriate for a lady. There is no way of getting around the requirement for a skirt. If a girl wears trousers, they have to be covered by a long tunic or sweater up to knees.
Men, too, should not be wearing shorts or showing too much skin. Covering legs, shoulders, and arms is the correct style.
Relationships between men and women
A woman is strongly guarded and protected. Not only this means a constant escort, but the etiquette rules themselves are exceptionally strict. The only man who can touch a female is her husband or father.
When a lady meets a male colleague or a friend, there can’t be any kisses, hugs or handshakes for greetings. Women can’t touch guys. The act of it is considered a sin and violations bring shame on the whole family for improper conduct. It is also not allowed to touch one’s spouse in public.
The only way a man and a woman can get acquainted is if a common friend or relative introduces them to each other. A woman doesn’t have a right to make the first step, so if she likes a guy, a relationship will cause them lots of grief once people find out about it. And they will.
The only reason why a woman would get acquainted with a man who is not her relative or colleague is a prospective marriage. But even if a marriage is being arranged, young guys and girls can’t meet without anyone escorting them, not even for a quiet walk. Naturally, females must marry as a virgin.
If a virgin is raped, the perpetrator will be killed by the girls’ family. The police will look the other way.
However, even in the restrictive Chechnya, there is a covert way of communication between women and men. In restaurants, for example, young boys walk around selling air balloons. There is a secret game going around this seemingly innocent trade. If a female looks at balloons and says she likes them (or wants to have one), this means she is open to a love encounter.
Men don’t go completely without sex, of course, even Chechen bachelors. As MK reporter discovered, second or third wives (which is quite a regular setup in Chechen families) are often bored and may have secret male friends. A lady-waiter in a cafe may write her phone number to a patron she likes, for example.
One of the safest ways for guys and girls to connect without supervision is though Internet. People chat and find new friends through apps, social networks, or forums.
But officially, this isn’t happening. And a punishment may be harsh, if the hidden becomes known.
Entertainment like casinos, alcohol, and even gambling are totally prohibited in Chechnya. Well, there is some kind of gambling, but you can’t bet anything of significance. Pretend money like in Monopoly are allowed to be used in games.
Considering alcohol, Chechnya has what is called the “dry law”. But still in Grozny, the republic’s capital, there are secret shops where you can get alcohol after the sunset. You won’t just run into them while wandering the streets–there are hidden paths, like it’s the Holy Grail. Just a few chosen locals know these outlets. Options in underground stores are rather limited. Locals don’t drink “exotic” drinks like tequila but a bottle of whiskey might cost around 2500 rubles (USD $40), which is pricey for Russia.
Another variety that Chechens are deprived of is television. Just imagine that they have music channels only on cable TV stations. Any R-rated entertainment is completely prohibited and cannot be accessed even through the cable TV.
Back to pre-USSR
The former Soviet Union’s autonomous republic used to live differently before 1991. But after the collapse of the USSR and the Chechen war, things bounced back to pre-1917 customs. In fact, not just Chechens have to follow the local rules but visitors as well.
But it’s not hard for Chechens to break away from this strict regime, if they wish. The nearby town of Pyatigorsk is considered the “Sin City” of Caucasus, where anything goes. By anything we mean all the things that in our home towns we take for granted.
By the way, there are loud calls in Russia to bring morals to the level where they “should be.” Which means as close as possible to what they have in today’s Chechnya.
Don’t discount it as a joke: There is a lot of support for such views within the conservative wing, which is in vogue in the neo-patriotic Russia. Just look at this photo of the Russian female futsal team on a tour in Iran. The state-run RT proudly reported that Russian sportswomen “fully embraced the traditional Muslim garment” (hijab).
Is it already happening?