Russia Has Forgotten Beslan
Published: September 3, 2014 (Issue # 1827)
With the ongoing flood of news out of Ukraine, Russia has almost completely forgotten about the North Caucasus. The 10-year commemoration of the Beslan hostage crisis might serve as a sad reminder.
Ten years ago, on Sept. 1, 2004, during the “first bell” celebration marking the beginning of the school year, a gang of armed militants burst into the schoolyard of School No. 1 in Beslan, North Ossetia.
They herded more than 1,000 people — including the elderly and children of all ages — into the school building and announced that they would hold them hostage until Russia withdrew its troops from Chechnya.
Two days later, on Sept. 3, Russian Special Forces stormed the building. In the ensuing battle, some of the militants’ homemade bombs exploded, a blaze broke out and government troops unleashed gunfire toward the building.
The result: 334 people died and more than 700 were wounded, at least two of whom were later added to the list of fatalities.
In the initial weeks after the tragedy, many wondered how a detachment of militants — who, according to official propaganda, should have been holed up in the Chechen mountains waiting to be crushed by Russian troops — sauntered into a neighboring region, seized a school in broad daylight and for two days held more than 1,000 hostages, a fourth of whom died during the subsequent rescue operation.
The federal authorities gave a paradoxical response. No senior siloviki or public officials at the federal or local levels lost their jobs, but the Russian people lost their right to directly elect governors.
Apparently, the Kremlin felt that elections were at least as dangerous as terrorists. Ten years after Beslan, the authorities reinstated the right to elect governors, though not quite to the extent it existed prior to the fall of 2004.
In every other way and in every other place except the city itself, Beslan has been forgotten. Of course, officials will pay a courtesy call to the school this year.
And as he has done each previous year, North Ossetian head Taimuraz Mamsurov, who has two children who spent three terrifying days among the Beslan school hostages, will escort federal officials to the memorial cemetery and the schoolyard monument where they will lay wreaths of mourning.
Only God knows what thoughts will run through their heads during those minutes of silence, but as for the rest of the country, it has forgotten Beslan.
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