09/11/2004, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Venting emotion and asking questions after Beslan

by Victor Khroul*

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Russians reacted with sorrow, tears and solidarity to the Beslan massacre. They reacted with a great desire to help the victims. Many joined the lines of blood donors at Red Cross Clinics. Others raised funds. Many more donated toys for the injured children.

People are still asking themselves angst-filled questions. A colleague turned to me and said: "How are you dealing with it? How is your family coping?"  I tried to describe my reaction but understood there and then that the best answer was silence.

I am married with three children: Anastasia, 7; Stanislaus, 5; and Michael, 4. All three were at school on September 1 for the start of the school year. Had Anastasia's school been stormed they would all have been taken hostage, here in Moscow.

After the first emotional reaction people are asking the same questions whether at work, in the street, in the stores. 'How could such a thing happen?' Or, 'How can we prevent it from happening again?'

Beslan's tragedy has been filed away under the rubric of "Islamic terrorism" because the militants who took over the school said they were Muslim. This explains why many Russians are tempted to condemn Islam as a religion of aggression. However, Muslim leaders themselves have removed any doubts: "The actions by the terrorists, these so-called martyrs, have nothing to do with Islam," North Caucasus Muslim leaders wrote. Beslan is located in the North Caucasus.

Just imagine that the Beslan terrorists had claimed to be Catholic, would Catholicism and the Catholic Church be responsible for this brutal deed?

Beslan has drawn a line across Chechen society which hitherto supported Grozny separatists. With the Ossetia affair, Chechens unequivocally condemn the separatists.

Many in Russia and abroad wonder when the Chechen conflict will end. Put plainly and simply, the Chechen war like any other war benefits economically those with power. It profits bosses in Moscow and in Grozny. As long as both sides can cash in on it the war will go on. Government officials will always come up with reasons to fight inventing new political or social explanations as to why it should not stop.

Beslan has once again revealed the type of freedom and democracy we have in Russia. It is clear that President Putin does not admit any alternative version of the tragic events in Ossetia other than the official one. Some cases in point: two journalists critical of Putin –Andrei Babitsky and Anna Politkovskaya– were not allowed to go to Beslan during the siege;  Kremlin-controlled TV network admitted that it deliberately withheld the true number of hostages in the school; Izvestia's director, Raf Shakirov, who first reported escapees' evidence –"We are 1500 hostages, not 300 according to official figures"–, was fired on Tuesday after the order came down from the Kremlin.

After the slaughter in Ossetia my first reaction as a Christian was to pray for the children and women killed and for the injured. I also prayed for the captured terrorists. May God enlighten and convert them so that they may fully understand what they have done.

* Director of Svet Evanghelia, Moscow.

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