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Who benefited from starting a panic?
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, 08 2011

‘Noviy Vestnik’ gathers the views of some of the city’s leading citizens on the nature of rumors that were going around Karaganda.

On November 4th, Karaganda experienced a mass hysteria. Townspeople terrified each other with horror stories of about human sacrifices, bombings, and murders. Oncepassions subsided, ‘NV’ asks what wenton.

Anatoly Kim, lawyer for the Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law:

         -Many people benefited, including officials who found it beneficial to escalate this situation of fear. Recently a new law on religion was adopted, and they are using it to tighten the screws on extremism and terrorism. Thefact that there were explosions in Atyrau there it was some fool, excuse me, but it was no terrorist. Their theory, that it was a terrorist attack, it just does not stick. Thiswas the act of a madman, or someone who had been deceived or put up to it. Whatkind of a terrorist goes and blows himself up out on the outskirts, in a trash dumpster? Whatis the point? Personally, Ithink that panic was necessary in order to prove that there are certain extremist movements that must be dealt with, and citizens need to prepare for it otherwise they will be blowing up buses, trolleys, trams, and so on. Itwas necessary so that the security services felt they had a free hand, so they can say: “Guys, we got to do this, we got to stop these rogues, look what they’re up to!” But was it really rogues who did this? Thatis the big question, and that is my personal opinion.

Ruslan Telegin, press secretary for the Ecomuseum:

-   -I think there is such a thing as a collective unconscious. Thiswas a sort of mass hysteria, and here it did not matter from whom you heard it. Itturned into an avalanche. Ialso ran into this when Iheard it from sane and intelligent people, some with more than one degree, and Isaw their panicked conditions. Itwas beneficial to those who wish to intimidate the public. Whenthey commit a terrorist attack, they usually do it on a subway, airport, bus, or concert hall, somewhere where there are lot of people. Buthere our terrorists are somewhat more humane. Allof them have blown up things very carefully, and without casualties. Onlythe bomber died. Terror is always the message, and it reaches the public very quickly when it involves a large number of casualties. Ithink that all of this was dreamt up within our country and does not come from elsewhere, from Wahhabi terrorists or some non-existent organization. Itis all being done right here. Thisis what happened in Russia in the late 1990s and early 2000. Theywere also blowing things up, as if on a schedule. Ithink it was according to some principle of political science, however much this may sound cynical, but Ithink it is all the work of our own specialists.

Yuri Krivodanov, director of the ‘Blago’ public organization:

    - Rumors about a terrorist attack? Whatdo you mean! Thisis the first Ihave heard about it. Herein Karaganda? Italked to a lot of people, even sat down in mixed company, and no one heard anything about it. Butmy personal theory is that only the authorities benefit from it. Elections are coming, and they need consolidation and all that. Itis the same old, same old. Everyone does it the Americans, the Russians. Itmay not be as strongly developed here, Isuppose, but the Americans and the Russians cannot think of anything else, just as soon as someone gets blown up, they courageously go after Bin Laden, who may or may not be alive. Iwill tell you this, though: organizing a major event like this is very difficult, even if it was legal and not a matter of somebody’s neck. Andorganizing such as thing is only within the means of organizations with multimillion-dollar budgets and world-class management. Ievaluate the importance of Kazakhstan as very high, but not so high that organizations engaged in terrorism would pay any attention tous.

Igor Nesterenko, director of ‘Cinema Lenin’:

    -It would be beneficial to those who want to destabilize our society. Butfor what purpose? Thatwould be anyone’s guess. Itis a pity that people here are so prone to panic. Fortunately, we have government and law enforcement agencies that know how to cope with their tasks. Apparently, the more incredible the tale, the more people are willing to believe it. Itis clear that we all have been pumped up by media reports about events in the near and far abroad. Thesituation in Kazakhstan, even with all the political and social ambiguity, does not suggest a reason for such panic. Ido not know who spread these rumors. Itwas according to the ‘I heard it from a friend’ principle. Byword of mouth, from cell phone to cell phone. Onthe Internet a kind of hysterical orgy started. Onecan understand why officials and educators wanted to stay safe and ruined the holidays for the children here a fifth grade class from one school cancelled their plans to see ‘Puss in Boots’. Theyhad even bought tickets already. Nowthey want to postpone it for an indefinite time. OnFriday and Saturday they called up and warned us. Today is Monday, and it does not look much like a holiday. There is practically nobodyhere.

Aigul Dementieva, deputy director of ‘Shakhtyor’ KGKP:

     -Any sane person, especially someone who often goes on the Internet, knows that there is always somebody who has filmed some accident and uploaded the video onto the Internet. Andwe all go and look at what just happened three minutes ago. Butin this case there were no photos, no video. Strange, especially since they said the explosions took place in the city center, where many people go. Yes, this is ridiculous! Howis it even possible to believe this? There is a type of person who likes to sow panic and discord. Theyhad to delay a visit by the President to our social facilities. Somebody just decided to destabilize the situation. Iwill not say that this was the work of the Wahhabis. Iread that recently the Interior Ministry decided to get stricter in the jails, and in particular they do not allow prisoners to read their prayers. Perhaps by spreading rumors, this was one of the ways they are saying something about it. Maybe they are trying to get someone to pay attention. Thatis my opinion.

Natalia Usachev, chairman of the Gender Information and Analysis Center:

  -   -The schools fueled the rumors. Someclasses were canceled that day. Anold friend called me up, she teaches at the College of Arts, and they sent the students home. Later her child was supposed to go to swim lessons, they also called up and said not to come because they feared a terrorist attack. OnFriday we had just gone to the labor bureau, and there was the deputy chief, and with her was her 10-year-old daughter, because they would not let her go to school, and they said to keep off the streets. Idid not believe it from the very start. Noneof it was very believable. Apparently someone needs to get people worked up and in a panic. Ithink that it was somebody close to the Wahhabis doing a test. Thisspreading of rumors was done so that they could figure out what people might do, whether they might get frightened or not. Morethan likely it was certain radical opposition groups that are putting forward some kinds of demands. People do not always know this, but they give warnings that if you do not give in to them perhaps elect someone or change some law then you only have yourself to blame. Itwas the extremists sending a warning.


NV: Why did people believe these rumors?

Psychologist Alexander Pak: Rumors about explosions and murders were spread in order to sow fear in people, to provoke anxiety and panic. Inprinciple, it worked. Perhaps the rumors had an ideological subtext, especially when considering the fact that they were spread on the eve of Eid. Thisis a Muslim festival associated with sacrifice. There is a special religious ceremony, which involves the sacrifice of an animal, but the word sacrifice could be distorted and given another, more sinister meaning. Information is distorted and rumors start. Inspreading rumors, special importance is given to understatement and mystery, and that is why they are anonymous. Events that have an effect on basic human values are incorporated into the subject of the rumor, and in this case it was the children, and their lives and health. Typically, a person is afraid for themselves and their loved ones. Itis no wonder that people, when the rumors started flying, ran to the schools and kindergartens to get their children. Themechanism of action for rumors is rather simple: one can ignore something in the paper or on TV, but if a relative or close friend tells me about some terrible event, of course Iwill believe them, and this is what they were counting on. Iften friends all tell you the same thing, you are likely to accept it as truth. Arumor is possible under only one condition: that it summons an emotional response from people. Ifthe transmitter of this information is a friend or relative, then this can more rapidly cause a reaction.

NV: To what end can terrible rumors provoke people?

Psychologist Alexander Pak: When there is panic, people think, “What will happen next?” It is easy to think up a lot of horror stories while remembering the script from some disaster film. People give in to the excitement and rush to buy salt, sugar, flour, and stock up on essential commodities. Ifthe person is at that moment a member of some destructive cult, he can do anything, up to the most extreme. People with an unstable mentality, when led by sectarian leaders, can commit suicide. Theythink: “It’s all over, there’s no reason to live. Theend of the world is here.”

NV: How should one cope with psychological pressure?

Psychologist Alexander Pak: We must receive rumors with a bit of humor, and laugh at them. Healthy irony and sarcasm are in this case the best helpers. Nomatter what the terrible story, it ceases to be scary once a person starts tolaugh.

In ‘Noviy Vestnik’, Karaganda, Kazakhstan

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