Freedom Gives Gataevs New Hope
On Easter Monday, it is a time for celebration in the depths of a bookseller’s storage room in Helsinki’s district of Kruununhaka. Cakes and chepalgish, Chechen butter-baked bread, are carried to the table.
“To freedom and innocence”, says film director Pirjo Honkasalo, raising her glass. All eyes turn on a headscarfed woman and her husband, standing on the other side of the room. They are Khadizhat Gataeva and Malik Gataev, who fled from Lithuania to Finland last autumn.
The Gataevs were released more than a week ago after having spent nearly three months in Finnish prisons. Prior to their release, the Supreme Court of Lithuania ordered a retrial for the couple, who are known as benefactors of orphans of the war in Chechnya. They kept an orphanage in Chechnya and another in Lithuania.
The Gataevs had appealed to the Lithuanian Supreme Court with regard to the 18-month prison terms they had been handed by a lower Lithuanian court for allegedly abusing their foster-children. The decision of the Lithuanian Supreme Court backs the accusation made by the Gataevs and their support group that the charges against them had been manufactured and the court proceedings had been biased.
That is why they are now celebrating, drinking wine, and eating chepalgish that Gataeva, known as the “Angel of Grozny”, has baked herself.
After many twists and turns, Khadizhat Gataeva is now optimistic, but a little concerned over what the future holds. “I hope that we would be granted asylum in Finland. I do not want to think about returning to Lithuania or to Russia”, Gataeva says.
Most of all the orphanage keepers are worried about their underage foster-children, some of whom are now staying in Lithuania while others are in Chechnya. Even their adult foster-children who have remained in Lithuania have been pressured, Gataeva reports. “It is my greatest dream that we could gather our family together again and get on with our lives here”, Gataeva hopes.
She is full of praise for the kind treatment and sympathy expressed towards her in Finland – even while in prison.
But what is the fundamental reason for the fact that the Gataevs became a sore spot with the Lithuanian officials and the targets of political persecution in the country, as they so firmly believe? “I do not know the answer. We lived in Lithuania for ten years without any trouble. Then someone wanted to destroy our family”, Gataeva notes. “The only thing I know is that we are innocent of the charges”, she adds.
Irina Vähäsarja / Helsingin Sanomat