Elmira is a guide at the Akhmad Kadyrov museum in Grozny. It is eulogising the first president of the modern Russian-backed Chechen Republic, around whom a personality cult has been built. After supporting separatism during the first Chechen war Akhmad Kadyrov switched sides, supporting Russia during the second with his clan militia, the so-called Kadyrovtsi. The Muslim cleric became a close confidant of the early president Putin, whose large portrait he had placed in his office, a replica of which can be seen on this picture. Kadyrov owed his ascendancy to Putin, who won his first elections largely because of his tough stance against Chechen rebels. The “First president of Chechnya” was killed in a bomb attack in 2004 and was subsequently replaced by his son Ramzan Kadyrov. He is now officially hailed as a mystified founding father of modern Chechnya, a martyr and father of the nation, whose image can be seen on large placards all around Chechnya. The museum contains a lot of personal items of Kadyrov, but no photos of Grozny in ruins, or of the separatist leaders, or of Russian troops in Chechnya. Its message is clear: only the Kadyrovs matter. According to Elmira, Akhmat Kadyrov was a genius who was always the best at school and jumped several grades. She also claimed that on the class pictures displayed in the museum he had put books under his feet to appear taller, as he was actually much younger than his peers.
Ramzan Kadyrov usually invites state guests (politicians but also celebraties like Gerard Departieu or Steven Seagal) to tour the museum, as indeed was the case just 30 minutes before we entered. In such occasions, Elmira would be present, but male guides would lead the guests through the exhibition, as a women guiding groups of important men would be deemed inappropriate in Chechen culture, she explained.
When the first Chechen war broke out in 1994, she was 20 years old. She had to spend a lot of time living in cellars in Grozny during heavy bombardments, often together with Russian inhabitants of the city. She then went to Dagestan as a refugee. Later, people became tired of war and it was thanks to Akhmat Kadyrov that peace with Russia was made, she explained.