On a mission to improve their world image, the war-torn Russian Republic of Chechnya has enlisted an unlikely ally -- Canadian model Chrystal Callahan. The model currently hosts her own weekly Sunday evening television show in Chechnya, broadcast in English with Russian subtitles. Highlights of the Week with Chrystal Callahan premiered last Sunday night.
Callahan was hired on as an anchorwoman after she expressed her desire to work in the Republic and the Chechen government apparently called her bluff. She has since then embraced the career change and abandoned her international runway career that we are, insofar, unable to officially confirm. The producers are hoping that this new face of Chechnya will incite interest in Russia and abroad and raise moral values within the Republic.
These intentions seem fair and good unless you consider the context -- Chechnya is still a violent war-zone. Unable to exercise its feeble control over the Republic in stabilizing the region, Kremlin opted instead to hire a model to deliver its blatantly positive spin.
The first fifteen-minute episode, dubbed into English on the Chechen Republic News Agency website, focused on positive reportage and culture. Highlights of the Week with Chrystal Callahan included two news items: President Ramzan Kadyrov funds the treatment of children with cerebral palsy by Chinese medicine specialists from Moscow and honor-roll students from Dagestan visit the central mosque in Grozny, one of the biggest in the world. A feature on the importance and celebration of the birth of a son in the family followed. Then, Callahan went shopping for the various bright headscarfs currently in fashion, choosing the bandana in bronze silk.
The sensationalism attributed to its host and the accessibility of the English-language provides the much needed media exposure to a population so rarely represented in world news, to the positive changes within the Republic and to its struggle. However, the media technique of appearances is offensively transparent. Here are some highlights of the week without Crystal Callahan: as symptoms of Kadyrov's counterinsurgency campaign in the neighboring Republic of Ingushetia, a Moscow judge has been gunned down and another fatal gun battle ensued near the Chechen border between Russian security forces and militant rebels, meanwhile, a Russian officer accused of war crimes in Chechnya has been promoted.
Callahan has previously visited the Russian Republic of Chechnya to direct the documentary feature Greco-Roman Grozny with the help of Russian state-owned news agency, RIA Novosti. The short documentary followed the lives of three Chechen teens fighting for a chance to be on the Russian Olympic wrestling team. Her newest state administered news project shares a similar goal of humanizing the world image of Chechnya by way of paid, foreign agents.
We are told that Callahan is under a six-month contract with the agency. We promise to update you as the situation develops.
By Marina Galperina
Image courtesy of David Burghardt