Veiled and Unveiled in Chechnya and Daghestan

January 2016 9781849045575 192pp


Offering an unflinching portrait of life in Daghestan and Chechnya, focusing on its girls and women, this book presents the north Caucasus today through the eyes of two Poles, an anthropologist and a writer, who travelled there amid a locally rooted but newly assertive Islamic revivalism.

Shadowed by Russian secret police, they participate in Muslim rites in villages which penalise those caught smoking or drinking, even in their own homes; spend time with polygamous families; talk to human rights and democracy activists whose names feature on hit lists, and to young people about religion, polygamy, prostitution and sex. They also track down ‘Wahhabis’ (known locally as ‘devils’) who conceal their religious affiliations for fear of persecution. In Daghestan the authors encounter two Sufi religious leaders, both of whom were later murdered, and in Grozny, young men who survived torture but were forced to commit perjury. They hang out with young women ‘encouraged’ by the Chechen regime to ‘conduct themselves morally’ for the good of the nation; accompany girls on dates; and find out from eighteen-year-old divorcées why it’s better to share a bed with another wife than have no husband at all.


‘Kaliszewska and Falkowski clearly love the Caucasus and, despite official harassment and occasional scoldings for not being Muslim, feel at home there. The tone is fond and, most of the time, surprisingly light …  [they] have serious points to make about the resurgence of Islam.’ — Literary Review

‘By offering moving scenes from everyday life across a region consumed by history, Kaliszewska and Falkowski remind us why the North Caucasus is so compelling.’ — Professor Bruce Grant, NYU, author of The Captive and the Gift: Cultural Histories of Sovereignty in Russia and the Caucasus

‘The works of Bronislaw Malinowski and Ryszard Kapuscinski taught us that Polish travellers have a special place in the canon of ethnographic description. Here is another example of that distinguished tradition.’ — Professor Georgi Derlugian, NYU, Abu Dhabi, author of Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus: A Biography in World-Systems Perspective

‘This is a wonderful book. The North Caucasus republics of Chechnya and Daghestan have become a black hole in Europe, tainted by the word “terrorism”. The authors, both scholars and inquisitive travelers, give us a vivid picture from the inside, with insights on everything from Islam to sex to Communism.’ — Thomas de Waal, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Iwona Kaliszewska has been researching the North Caucasus since 2004. She teaches anthropology at the University of Warsaw.

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