MOSCOW — Authorities in Russia’s Chechnya Republic are claiming success in an unconventional, sweeping campaign to compel people who have divorced to reunite, for the sake of the children — and, they say, to help fight terrorism.
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Through the summer, local television has been reporting on the lives of divorced couples living together again under the watchful eye of members of a government commission. It’s reality television, Chechen style.
The commission, known as the Council for Harmonizing Marriage and Family Relations, says it has over the past two months brought back together 948 couples, some after years of separation. Under the program, the council can ask the police to visit divorced people to encourage them to patch up their differences.
The broadcasts show formerly divorced people going about their lives in a now common home, mostly avoiding one another but also spending time with the children.
“This happy reunion became possible because of a program of the region’s leader,” a television reporter said, referring to Ramzan A. Kadyrov. “Despite mutual antagonism, hundreds of divorced couples are responding to the call.”
However farcical on the surface, the program, as with all social policy in Chechnya, is lethally serious. Failure to comply with demands of the regional leadership can have severe consequences, far worse than living with a despised former partner.
In a bargain to hold onto the region, the Kremlin has given Kadyrov, the son of a Sufi imam, or preacher, who switched sides, a free hand to rule as he likes at home in exchange for loyalty to Moscow.
Kadyrov has co-opted the strict Islamic social norms advocated by an insurgency, to sap it of support. He has required, for example, that female university students wear headscarves, and he has also cracked down on gay men.
The family reunions have sparked a backlash from divorced people who say they are being forced to live with estranged former partners, but is lauded in the local state-controlled media.
“My family is my personal business,” one man who had been pressured by the commission told the BBC Russian service. “I said I don’t plan to get back together with a person I divorced seven years ago.”