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In a minefield
Written by   
, 01 2002
-In a minefield were not only were our colleagues Anna and Zhanna, but all ofus.
Fear has a property of subsiding over time, of departing from us day by day. Nowwe are once again smiling and watching comedies, and buying tickets to shows. TVreports from Chechnya are once again equated in our minds to stories about some volcano on a Pacificisle: scary, but far away. Thelava will not crawl as far as Moscow, and the ashes will not cover ourheads.

But this is in vain. Thewar has again licked its fiery tongue against the heart of Russia, flashing within our homes and families, hitting us directly, cynical and bloody. Thevictims of the tragedy, on which the musical performance at Dubrovka ended, are more than one or two hundred, and will we long feel the report of this explosive disaster. Revenge will fill the hearts of those whose loved ones died on both sides of the theater ramp, which this time separated not just actor from audience, but hostage from captor.
In Tuesday’s edition we already asked a number of questions that were generated by the tragedy. Theyare mostly rhetorical. Toany normal person, it is clear that the leadership of our country has no control over the situation, not just in the North Caucasus, but in other regions as well. Itis clear that state of policing is at the same level of ‘evolution’ as is our current economy, science, and education. Thatis, mercenarily poverty-stricken and yet still as irresponsible as it was in Soviet times. Theresult is obvious, but no one will be punished over it. Someone did not spot the militants. Someone decided not to give orders for an immediate assault, even though it would have been plausible on the first night of drama, before everything had been booby-trapped. Someone decided not to offer the president the only peaceful solution to the problem negotiations on a cessation of hostilities in Chechnya. Why, indeed, would the authorities want to talk about the unpleasant it is far better to report on a brilliant assault, concealing, at least at first, the real price of ‘success’.
Yes, our assault rifles are just as good as ever, and we still have valiant warriors. Yes, we killed the terrorists, though it is not clear why they had to shoot pointblank these ‘shakhidki’ (female holy martyrs) who were knocked out by that secret gas if it could have been at all possible to remove their explosives and drag them out in handcuffs to testify to the fullest extent. Perhaps they might have said too much? Yes, the Kremlin has shown the world that it now controls the major media in the country, quietly adjusting the activities of the federal television and radio stations, as well as most major newspapers. Yes, Putin has shown everyone that he is tougher than even Chernomyrdin and speaks more clearly than Viktor Stepanovich (Chernomyrdin), though with fewer aphorisms. Yes, more than half the hostages are still alive, although, firstly, the true number of casualties of the tragedy is being carefully concealed, and the long-term consequences of their injuries after being knocked out by the gas and their subsequent transportation -“dragged by the arm and leg and tossed in the back of a truck” is still very unclear.
For all fifty-odd hours of the tragedy Iwas in regular communication with the ‘Nord-Ost’ hall, receiving from our employees, who were captured by terrorists, inconsistent, contradictory, and emotional pieces of information about what was going on. Hereare just a few:
“They’re SINGING their prayers, and they say that we’re all going together to Allah.”
“They’ve stretched ropes around us, and they’re hanging explosives on them.”
“They don’t want negotiations. Theydemand peace in Chechnya.”
“They don’t need members of parliament or pop stars. They’re only willing to speak with the President’s official representative.”
“Again they want to blow everything up, because no one is discussing with them their main demand.”
“Nobody is beating up anybody. Someof them even smile, but all the same they just won’t let us go.”
“These women are taking revenge for their lost loved ones, and they want their families back in Chechnya to be able to live like human beings.”
“They don’t mean any harm to us, but they see no other way to make the authorities in Moscow go for peace talks.”
“Do at least something, otherwise they’ll kill themselves and us as well.”
“For an hour already we can’t get stretchers for two wounded people. We’ve had an accident here. These, well, these militants are ready to let any ambulance in, but it hasn’t come.”
And more in the same spirit. Being powerless to help yourself and others always hardens your heart, but the ways of spiritual experience are inscrutable. Ido not think that many of the former hostages, with whom Ihappened to talk in recent days, have that infamous ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, which is characterized by the appearance of a kind of emotional and mental connection, even sympathy, between the captor and the captive during prolonged contact. Andit is not because of some ‘shift’ in their brain that they are now unanimously saying that if the militants had wanted to blow up the building or shoot people during the assault, they had more than enough time and opportunity. Thegas did not ‘knock out’ everyone, and not immediately. Itcould be that these scum who were holding women, children, and sick people hostage could have fallen for this ‘syndrome’, or perhaps they had originally intended merely to blackmail, even in the most infamous of ways, but not mass murder.
We will never know true cause of this unexpectedly humane behavior by the militants during the tragedy’s finale. Least of all, because no real negotiations ever took place: the politicians, pop stars, doctors, and journalists only begged the terrorists for the mercy for the children and the sick, but they had no real authority to ‘bargain’, the result of which could have been the release of every hostage. During the entire bloody drama NOT ONCE DIDTHEY DISCUSS WITH THE TERRORISTS THEIR MAIN AND ONLY DEMAND, so therefore it is meaningless to try to predict any possible scenario in which an assault was not carried out.
We talked a lot with our hostage heroines after their fortunate rescue. Howare they felling today, and what do they remember? There is no bitterness, no anger in their hearts.
“An 18-year-old Chechen girl said that since childhood she’d learned to dig trenches and load a spare magazine for an assault rifle.”
“The feds come to their house and toss a grenade in the oven and leave. Then, once they got the stove fixed, again they come with a grenade.”
“They clearly divide people on the ‘you’ and ‘us’ and, of course, they don’t consider themselves Russian citizens.”
“They said: there is a war on, there is a front and its lines are not just in Chechnya, but also in Moscow. Sodo not be surprised that there is shooting and killing going on here.”
“They have no respect for our politicians or their fellow countrymen living in Moscow, or even a majority of journalists. Theysay there are too many lies and too much dirty money, while the war goes on without end.”
“All of us, all Muscovites, we felt like we were lying in a minefield. While the explosions were far away, somewhere in the Caucasus, we didn’t worry especially much. Butnow it’s here, and without even the militants (asking), we wanted to demand that this war in Chechnya end as soon as possible.”
“The medics tried so hard, which is surprising these days. Imake a low bow to them. Onlyone nurse was crying, because she didn’t know how to deal with the effects of the gas.”
They do not shout, and they make no demands. Theydo not boast of their toughness, nor do they criticize the authorities. Theyare eager to get back to work and enjoy the falling snow. Theyshy away from all the press attention. Willwe all get meaner or will a bitter lesson to teach us goodness? Willwe fall in love with the ‘strong hand’ that spares neither friend nor foe and brings about its order at any price or will we accept the fact that the Federation is not an empire, but a voluntary union of peoples? Themilitants did not blow up the theatrical center on Dubrovka, but they blew up our souls. Theterrorists, as they wished, were killed. Butalso killed were innocent teenagers, men, and women, people who were drawn to the ideals of Kaverin’s ‘Two Captains’ set to music. There, after all, was patriotism, love, and allegiance. Godbless him, and his musical, but when you are in a minefield you need to think about eternity, and how to protect yourself from new explosions. Andchildren.And loved ones.And even an 18-year-old Chechen girl who was not born a terrorist.
By Shod Mulajanov, in ‘Moskovskaya Pravda’
October 30th, 2002

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