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How a Russian Journalist Ruined a Chechen Wedding

Dustin Hoffman's character crashes the wedding of Elaine Robinson in the 1967 classic film "The Graduate." Image from YouTube, edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Dustin Hoffman's character crashes the wedding of Elaine Robinson in the 1967 classic film “The Graduate.” Image from YouTube, edited by Kevin Rothrock.

When Elena Milashina, an investigative journalist at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, spoke up against an attempted cradle robbing in Chechnya on Facebook, she probably did not expect it to become what might be the first successful grass-roots social media campaign for the republic.

Milashina was contacted recently by 17-year-old Heda Goilabieva from the village of Baitarki of Chechnya's Nozhai-Yurt District. Goilabieva told Milashina that Nazhud Guchigov, the 57-year-old head of the Chechen Interior Ministry in Baitarki, wanted to marry her. Despite clear indications from the girl and her family that this was not acceptable, Guchigov was relentless. Milashina wrote:

…выставил посты по всему селу, чтобы родители, наотрез отказавшиеся выдавать дочь за человека, которому она годится во внучки, не увезли ее подальше от престарелого жениха.

…he set up posts around the whole village, so that the parents, who categorically refused to give their daughter to a man old enough to be her grandfather, would not take her away from the aging, would-be groom.

Guchigov apparently gave the girl’s parents an ultimatum: hand her over by May 2, or he would take her by force.

Heda Goilabieva, age 17, and Nazhud Guchigov, age 57. Photo: Novaya Gazeta.

Fellow villagers and the girl’s family were understandably terrified of challenging Guchigov, for fear of openly resisting a state official. Milashina reported that Heda’s friends tried to help by writing to Ramzan Kadyrov through Instagram, where the Chechen leader is extremely active. The website KavkazCenter linked a screenshot of their message (written in Chechen), but it appears it has been deleted from the original Instagram post, presumably in the spirit of up keeping Chechnya’s positive public image.

Milashina wrote about the matter in a story for Novaya Gazeta, which she reposted on Facebook, appealing to fellow colleagues from news outlets Echo of Moscow and TV Rain to help disseminate the story. She said:

Не только мы читаем инстаграмы чеченской власти. Чеченская власть читает с такой же активностью – нас. Времени на официальные запросы (из-за праздника и даты ультиматума) нет, хотя их я тоже сегодня пошлю. Пожалуйста, распространите информацию, если есть такая возможность.
Это единственное, что может помочь 17-летней Хеде.

We read the Instagram of the Chechen leadership, but the Chechen leadership reads us with the same intensity. There is no time for an official inquiry (because of the May holidays and the date of the ultimatum), although I will send them one today as well. Please, share this information if you can. This is the only thing that will help 17-year-old Heda.

Echo of Moscow republished Milashina's article.

Drawing attention to the fact that Ramzan Kadyrov had actually banned bride kidnapping in 2010 and underage marriage in 2012, Guchigov’s threats, Milashina emphasized, also went against the leader’s will.

On April 30, after pursuing this social media campaign, Milashina reported on Facebook that she was finally able to contact Guchigov on the telephone. She confronted the would-be kidnapper, who denied any role in the affair, pointing out that Guchigov already has a wife and does not need a second.

Finally, Milashina reported confirmation that the betrothal had been averted, adding an update to her story that read:

Обновлено 18:00 (мск). Свадьбы не будет.

Updated 6:00 p.m. (Moscow time) There will be no wedding.

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