As we enter Derbent, a fat traffic policeman stops our car, a black Lada of the make preferred by suicide bombers. The cop is surprisingly jovial. A “special operation” against terrorists is under way, he says.
Dagestan Airlines Flight 372 is a Tupolev-154 which hasn’t seen a redesign since the 1970s. I get a window seat in row 31, where I can put up my legs on a hump that covers the landing gear. The only advantage of my seat is that I’m next to an emergency exit.
You won’t find it on any map, but Setuland really does exist. The place is inhabited by the Setus, an agrarian people who have distinguished themselves as singers of marathon epics about their legendary king and fertility god, Peko.
As Jaroslav Klenovsky approached his shattered hometown, he encountered a sight that remains seared in his memory. Armed young men were escorting thousands of women, children, and elderly people out of the city. The German population of Brno was being expelled.
The reality of life makes ethnic identity secondary to the main task of getting by. The monthly wage on the cotton farm is less than $20, and many villagers look back wistfully to the days when Chairman Kim made it rich and famous.
Less than an hour’s drive to the north is Tskhinvali, where fighting began after Georgian forces took the city following a night of heavy bombardment. Most houses had broken windows and were either pockmarked by bullets or gutted by shelling.