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Khalay represented Russian victims at Holland conference
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, 16 2008
I met Irina Khalay during a memorial ceremony on Dubrovka a few years ago. Sheis one of those people who will not make peace with the existing order. Withinexhaustible energy, Irina was seeking to legitimize in Russia the legal status of ‘victim of a terrorist attack’, including social security, care and treatment for victims, fair trials, passes for affected children to see the Moscow Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and much more.

In Moscow in October of last year she greeted me with these words: “There will be a conference in Tilburg this March on international standards for victim assistance. Wemade the proposal in Vienna that they adopt standards of care for victims of terrorist attacks, so we have got to go there!” Due to circumstances beyond my control Iwas unable to participate, and Irina made it there as the only Russian representative. Below is her story about how the conference went.
- Irina, first Iwant to know about something. OnJanuary 22nd of this year the Russian Public Chamber held the National Civic Congress. Whydid you not participate?

Isent my application over the Internet on January 1st. Onreturning from Moscow on January 11th (at the invitation of the Moscow city government we took affected children to the tree lighting ceremony, ‘Mayor’s Tree 2008’), Iwasted the whole day trying to sign up, and the long-distance bills added up to a pretty penny. Iwas, of course, not invited. Offthe record Iwas told that only those loyal to the government were invited. Icalled Ella Pamfilova’s assistant with regards to this relationship towards the victims, and he told me that the Public Chamber had removed all social problems concerning victims from consideration, even though we had written letters and never got a response.

So this seems to be case of ‘the drowning person can only be saved by himself’. Thesolution may lay in the development and adoption of international standards. Thefirst time we were able to discuss our problems at the international level was when we were at a high-level meeting of the OSCE in Vienna. Bythe way, during the Vienna meeting there was simultaneous translation. InTilburg communication was in English. Howdifficult was this foryou?

On the conference website Iread that they would not provide interpreters. SoI had to take some English courses. Forthe last two months Istudied English intensively: in the morning Iwould put in a disc with English and listen for 5or 6hours. Thatsaved me! Butwhat struck me was how evenly everyone responded to my terrible English. Athome Isort of would say the right thing, but my pronunciation was terrible. During the conference opening Icould not understand a thing, but then Icalmed down and started to understand, at least when it was not a British or American talking. TheBritish and Americans speak very quickly, so it is difficult to understandthem.
- What other difficulties did you encounter?

Ihad problems in Amsterdam when Iarrived. Itturns out that vending machines selling tickets for the train to Tilburg only accept credit cards. After some difficulty Ifound two machines that accepted coins, but Ihad only paper money and there was no change machine. Ispent nearly two hours at the airport until Icould buy a ticket. First Iate a bunch of ice cream, which was the only way Icould get change, and then Ihad to figure out which train to ride and in what direction. Anddo everything in broken English. Itwas not like Vienna with only one train in one direction. InAmsterdam trains leave the airport to every part of Holland.

Who participated in the conference? Whodid you meet?

In the morning Ifinally met Keflin, the conference manager whom Itormented for 3months with questions. AsI understood it, many of the people there already knew each other. Everyone was very friendly and was always smiling.

During the break, Lina Kolesnikova, an employee of International Risk and Management in Belgium, found me out due to my pronunciation. Shewas very helpful. Linaintroduced me to Professor Alex Schmidt, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in England. Thiscenter is involved in developing standards, and Alex Schmidt is one of the luminaries of the global study of terrorism.

What was discussed on the first day?

Opening the conference was the director of Tilburg University, Professor Jan van Dijk. ThenProfessor Alex Schmidt spoke. Heis a corresponding member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, and a member of the Expert Group of the European Commission, which says a lot about his understanding of the problems of terrorism and its consequences. Irealized that many were waiting for his address, since Alex Schmidt has long been involved with this problem, and he has a wealth of experience.

Kenneth Feinberg, the director of the 9/11 Compensation Fund, spoke very emotionally. InAmerica their problems are not all as smooth as Ihad thought.

After dinner there were four subsections. Earlier Ihad signed up for three of them: ‘Access to justice’, ‘Compensation’, and ‘Socio-psychological assistance’, but it was physically impossible to do them all. SoI followed Alex Schmidt into ‘Compensation’ and ‘Socio-psychological assistance’.

At the subsections there was practically only one theory, but it has only just started to be put into practice. Butstill, the most important thing at the conference was being there and making new acquaintances. LinaKolesnikova was very helpful to me in this. Shetold me about many of the participants, and introduced me to Ivo Aertsen, Professor of the Catholic Institute of Criminology in Belgium. Representatives of the Council of Europe also took part in the work, since the Council of Europe was one of the partners of the conference.

What were the results of the first day for you?

Ibegan to understand spoken English and understand what they were saying, and made many acquaintances, and, even though Inever expected this, Iset the stage for the reception of my report. Themost important thing, however, was that no one there, not once, ever acted as if Iwere beneath them. Eventhough the participants were very high-level persons, they were all very easy to talk to, and benevolent.

The second day, March 11th, was the anniversary of the terrorist attack in Madrid. Howdid this day go?

This day was declared to be the European Day of Victims of Terrorism. At10:00 am Professor Leticia Paoli from the Leuven University of Criminology in Belgium announced a minute of silence. There was a very eloquent presentation, by Uri Yanay from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on the role of strengthening the justice system. Imet him later. Heis a very nice man. Iliked a speech by Franco Frattini, vice-president of the European Commission. Forme it was a complete surprise to hear a Russian name Albina Ovcharenko. Later, after we had met, she said that she had only just gotten there late in the evening on March 10th. Sheis a very pleasant young woman from the Counter-Terrorism Task Force (DLAPIL) of the Council of Europe, and she was glad that there was a Russian representative there, but surprised that Iwas alone.

After lunch three terror victims spoke. Thefirst was the daughter of a British MP, who was killed by the Irish Republican Army in 1984. Thesecond was the son of a German attorney general, who was killed 1977, and the third was a victim of the 2005terror attack on the London Underground.

Iremember when my ‘hamstrings were quivering’ in anticipation of my speech in Vienna. Istill feel bad about being so crumpled up and messing up my speech. Howwas your performance, since you had to give it in English?

Ihad signed up to speak in the morning, even though Keflin was very surprised that Iwould even talk at all. Ishowed her my remarks on paper and said that Iwas going to read it. Iwas given 5minutes.

But while listening to the speakers, Iwanted to withdraw my candidacy. Iwas terribly afraid. ThenI remembered what you said: “I said ‘A’ so Ihave to say ‘B’.” And it spurred me on. Never count on the Russians to fold! Iread our proposals with a trembling voice, but what to my surprise did Imeet with? Applause, even though Imade mistakes in two spots. Everyone whom Imanaged to meet by that time said that they understood everything and congratulated me on a good presentation.

Did we get anything useful out of this conference?

At the international level they found out that there are also organizations of terror victims in Russia, and we managed to voice our suggestions. Theyeven asked me to send them a copy of my speech. Butthe main thing was making contacts. AlexSchmidt, for example, said that he and his colleagues have created an international database of terror victims, and Ioffered him our help. NowI can turn to professionals whom Imet at the conference with our problems. International cooperation begins, so to speak.

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