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The Chechen authorities have announced they will punish people for ‘spreading rumours’ about the quality of local agricultural produce, Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov announced on Monday. The move came in response to reports on social media that Chinese farmers working in Chechnya were using harmful pesticides.
Multiple audio recordings circulated widely on social media demanding the deportation of Chinese people from Chechnya.
The anonymous recordings described in detail how Chinese farmers supposedly grew tomatoes and other produce. One woman said in a WhatsApp recording that workers in greenhouses were given masks and made to spread red dye on the stems of tomato plants. ‘Quickly, the green, unripe fruit became red’, the woman claimed.
Reports began to spread that Chinese workers were deliberately poisoning the people of Chechnya in order to eventually occupy the territory. Supporters of this conspiracy theory, which has gained popularity, disregard the official reports on food quality.
Maret, a vendor in the Grozny market told OC Media the tomatoes ‘look good, but many are afraid to eat them’. She added that she was afraid of eating them now as well.
‘Before, when tomatoes started to go bad, it was possible to cut off the bad part and use the rest for salads. Now, the tomatoes turn into a gelatinous, disgusting mush within two days. A vegetable grown normally wouldn’t do that’, Maret said.
[Read about the influence of urbanisation on Chechen agriculture: Urbanisation in Chechnya: why do people leave their ancestral villages]
According to state news agency Grozny Inform, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, declared that ‘provocative forces’ were behind the rumours of poor quality local produce, in an attempt to harm Chechnya’s reputation for ‘ecological produce’.
A source in Chechnya’s Ministry of Agriculture told OC Media that there were Chinese farmers in Chechnya, and they work mainly in greenhouses, but all of them are hired by local entrepreneurs.
‘Blaming them for poisoning the produce is illogical, because the owners of the entreprise, rather than their workers, are responsible for the quality’, the official said.
Kadyrov said that Chechen agricultural produce is in demand not only in Russia, but also abroad.
‘Our fruit, vegetables, and drinks are sold not only in Chechnya. Our agricultural produce is well established and in demand in various regions of the country, including Moscow and other large cities. It’s even popular abroad. But there are those who intentionally disseminate provocative rumours in the hope that the demand for our environmentally friendly produce disappears’, Kadyrov said.
During a special meeting to address the issue, the heads of food safety agencies at Chechnya’s Ministry of Agriculture noted that no deviations from the norm were detected during product quality checks, soil sampling, or water sampling. All of the tests, according to Minister of Agriculture Musa Dadayev, were conducted in the best laboratories in the country.
The acting head of Chechnya’s Veterinary and Sanitary Supervision Department, Aslanbek Daudov, said that an annual test for soil contamination by hazardous chemicals showed no deviations from the norm.
Kadyrov said during the same meeting that those spreading rumours about the poor quality of local produce would be ‘held administratively responsible’.
Chechen psychologist Zulikhan Aktemirova told OC Media that the anxiety of the Chechen public over poisonous produce can be best described as ‘mass hysteria’, and is typical for Chechen society, which has been subjected to very high levels of stress.
‘People have now emerged from the stupor that they were in during the war. A peaceful life has come, with many new worries — finding employment, which is often unsuccessful, and uncertainty for the future. For this society, the current inert state is unusual, and without realising it, the people are looking for enemies to blame all their problems on. No one is working with these people’, Aktemirova told OC Media.
In 2014, a number of Vietnamese people were deported from Chechnya shortly after rumours were circulated widely on social media that a Chechen man had been murdered by one of his Vietnamese employers. No such case was taken to court.