Beslan: Violence the Only Way Out

The bloodshed that finally ended the two-day stand-off at Middle School #1 in Beslan, North Ossetia was reportedly started by accident: security forces’ reaction to shots being fired at hostages trying to escape and/or some explosives set by the terrorists going off accidentally. It should go without saying that that bloody conclusion to the crisis, which has claimed 335 lives and counting, was not supposed to happen. After all, the Russian authorities had made it plain that the safety of the hundreds of hostages being held captive on the school grounds had “absolute priority.”

Don’t believe it. Even if things came to the particular conclusion they did unintentionally – and even in view of the 25 people the authorities had persuaded the attackers to release unharmed the day before – a violent end to the drama was ultimately inevitable. Journalist Manfred Quiring makes this point well in his recent analysis for Die Welt (“Let It Cost What It Will).

After all, once enough time had passed for the attackers to finally come forth with some coherent demands, these rather predictably included not only freedom for comrades held from an attack earlier this year, but also independence for Chechenya via the withdrawal of the Russian troops stationed there. Could we realistically expect that that “absolute priority” of the hostages’ lives would force through such a dramatic policy about-face as this?


Rather, as Quiring notes, Russian president Vladimir Putin can at least take out of this most-bloody incident the satisfaction that he has remained true to himself and to his iron-clad anti-terrorist policy, namely that “with separatists and terrorists no negotiations are conducted, they are annihilated, wherever they may be.” Seen another way, he has remained true to his electoral mandate as Russian president – for, after all, as Quiring points out, he was elected as the right strongman in the right place at the right time, namely in the year 2000 during that year’s wave of Chechen separatist violence which coincided with what is termed the Second Chechen War.

(Of course, there are caveats here. One is that some of that Chechen separatist violence in 2000, namely the blowing up of some apartment buildings in Russia proper, might very well have rather been the work of government security agents, working precisely to heighten Chechen fear among the voting population to make Putin all the more attractive. And then there are the real doubts as to the extent to which the true desires of the Russian electorate can be accurately expressed via the ballot, given the level of electoral manipulation there.)


The thing is, that was the year 2000’s wave of Chechen violence – at least some of it for real – and now there’s another, even more terrible wave in 2004: subway bombings, airliners blown out of the sky almost simultaneously, and now the wholesale massacre of children, their parents, and their teachers. The Russian government claims “international” involvement in the Beslan attack, including al-Qaeda operatives, but you ask survivors and all they ever saw and heard among the hostage-takers were Chechens. How long must this go on? Does this rigid policy of the “hard hand” really seem to be doing anything effective to stop it, to address the root-causes of the problem, which must lie in Chechenya?

It seems not, but don’t expect any change of course in the Kremlin. Like his counterpart in the White House, Vladimir Putin prides himself in his steadfastness, in his alleged ability to make a decision and then stick to it. According to the Russisan political scientist Quiring quotes, a certain Lidia Shevzov, “The system and the regime can’t heal a sickness that they themselves have caused.” In her opinion, any long-lasting solution to the Chechen conflict, and so to the terrorist campaigns against Russian territory it inspires, will have to await a change of leadership on both sides.

No, in the end that government reassurance to the people of Beslan of the “absolute priority” being given to the safety of their loved ones held hostage has to be written off as yet another lie put forward to keep anyone from getting too upset, just like the claim the attackers were “international,” just like the assertion that it was only just over 400 people trapped there in the school (in reality there seem to have been nearly 1,000 there). Come to think of it, perhaps such misleading statements from government spokesmen were the sheerest PR directed at the rest of the world to try to maintain the Kremlin’s image, rather than necessarily directed at the Beslan townspeople. For many among the latter would have had a rather better idea of how many had been in attendance at the “Holiday of the First Bell” ceremonies marking the start of the school year. And you have to think that many of those same people were also fully aware of their government’s rigid attitude towards dealing with terrorism, and the terrible implications of that for what was likely to happen at the school.

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