Chechnya picks leader’s aide with an Apprentice-style reality show

Russian broadcaster staged eight-episode contest called The Team to find a head of development for Ramzan Kadyrov

The reality television format was borrowed from the US president-elects show The Apprentice: an ever-shrinking group of contestants, competing against each other to be picked by the boss for a job at the end of it all.

But the prize at stake in the Russian series The Team was rather unusual a top government position as an aide to Ramzan Kadyrov, the controversial leader of Chechnya.

Sixteen finalists were chosen from more than 1,000 applications, according to the Russia 1 channel, and they competed over eight episodes to outdo their competitors in a series of tasks, including wading through fast-flowing rivers, stepping into the boxing ring and solving business problems.

This week, 24-year-old Filip Varichenko was named the winner. He will take up a job as head of Chechnyas agency for strategic development.

Each of the contestants came armed with a plan for how they would develop the republic over the coming years. But Kadyrov made it clear that even the best political mind is of no use to him if the person is weak-spirited, so there were physical as well as mental challenges in the game. The contestants were subjected to a number of endurance sports and tested on their archery and equestrian skills.

The Chechen leader has a reputation for tough talking, and was criticised in October for sending his three young sons into the ring to fight in televised mixed martial arts (MMA) fights without any gloves or protection. His 10-year-old son Akhmad knocked out another boy to win the tournament.

There were four women among the initial contestants, but the odds appeared to be stacked against them from the start, with Kadyrov stating that a womans job is to be a housewife and admitting he thought it would be difficult for a woman to achieve a leadership role in Chechnya. None of the four made it to the final six.

During the competition, a number of Russian celebrities were drafted in to help with the challenges, and at one point the contestants were joined by Russias deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, who discussed the regions economic potential with them. As well as chatting with the contestants, the cameo guests took care to praise Kadyrov too.

The Team portrayed Kadyrov as a jovial and good-natured boss, tough when necessary but protective of his family and a wise ruler of the region.

Part of the shows point seemed to be to recast Kadyrov, who fought against the Russians with his father during the first Chechen war but later switched sides, in a more positive light.

Under his rule, Chechnya has been rebuilt, but critics complain about his dictatorial style, and point to the public humiliation often meted out on television to critics. Dubious trials, kidnappings and extrajudicial murders have also befallen critics of the regime. Men from one of Kadyrovs regiments were accused of murdering opposition leader Boris Nemtsov outside the Kremlin last year.

In January, Kadyrov said Russian opposition leaders should be treated as traitors and enemies of the people, and a month later he went even further, publishing a photograph on his Instagram of opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov in a sniper rifles sights. He later said it was a joke.

Although the television series had only one winner, all six of the finalists will be offered work in Chechnya, Russian news agencies reported.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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