[T]he enigma remains unanswered. Why so much obstinacy from the time of Catherine the Great until the present?
For three centuries the “white” and then “red” autocracy has continued its battle in the territory of the Northern Caucasus. Today’s Russia has waged two wars in Chechnya, which have initiated terrorism. From the eighteenth century to the present, the conflicts in the Caucasus have been cited “as an example for the entire nation”. Caucasian martyrdom is a deterrent, an example of what people had to pay to resist orders that came from above.
Leo Tolstoy perfectly described the reason of the Russian fighting in the Caucasus in his last novel Hadji Murat – “eradicate the red thistle [symbol of the Caucasian fighter] to destroy the idea of freedom in each Russian soul”.
Today Northern Caucasus is a concentration of stereotypes in the western imagination. A lack of human rights, suicide bombers, bloodthirsty leaders, separatist movements, fundamentalist Islam, ethnic conflict and the permanent pride of the mountain people, as described by Ermolov, Pushkin, Tolstoy and Lermontov. Northern Caucasus is all this and more.
The inhabitants are Russian citizens, though of different ethnicity, religion and social customs. Yet this land just south of Russia, for the vast majority of Russian citizens, is a foreign and dangerous land – lost, a world away. Politkovskaya, Beslan, Estemirova, Dubrovka, Grozny. When the Northern Caucasus emerges from the shadow of history into breaking news, it always does so with tragedy.
This project explores the extraordinary and unknown daily life of the people here. The breaking news and the geopolitical interest in these regions remains, however my focus is rather to build a new interpretation of this culture of people through the details of everyday life. To record the aftermath of two centuries of cruel disputes and fights.
Davide Monteleone (www.davidemonteleone.com), born in 1974 in Potenza (Italy). In late 2001, Monteleone moved to Moscow where began working as a correspondent for Contrasto agency. His first book, Dusha, was published in 2007, followed by La Linea Inesistente in 2009, and Red Thistle in 2012. His work has won numerous accolades including the World Press Photo awards in 2007, 2009 and 2011. In recent years, alongside his editorial work, he has started exhibiting and teaching. He joined VII Photo in 2011.