WILL THE DUMA INVESTIGATE THE CONDUCT OF JOURNALISTS?

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WILL THE DUMA INVESTIGATE THE CONDUCT OF JOURNALISTS?

Moskovskii Komsomolets, October 31, 2002, p. 2

The centrist majority in the Duma has opposed a call from the right to form a parliamentary commission to investigate the hostage-taking in Moscow. Instead, the centrist deputies made a “loyal-subject” statement yesterday.

The Duma security committee proposed a statment reading: “brave people and responsible professionals work in Russian special agencies” – as demonstrated by the operation to rescue the hostages. The “coordinated actions” of the special agencies prevented the deaths of hundreds of Russian and foreign citizens. The terrorists and their sponsors are declared to be entirely responsible for the deaths.

As for investigating the details of the terrorist act, the Duma “appeals to Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov to ensure a comprehensive investigation”.

However, the Duma members are going to handle the conduct of journalists for themselves. Creating a commission for this matter is all right, according to Konstantin Vetrov, chairman of the Duma committee for information policy. “It is known for certain that some TV channels are currently preparing programs aimed at provoking anti-state attitudes in society,” Vetrov claimed. He said that during the hostage-taking, the media permitted some serious violations of the law – even broadcasting the storming of the theater.

Well, certainly, journalists are much easier for the government to handle than guerrillas…

SHADOW ETHNICITY

Izvestia, October 31, 2002, p. 4 EV

The concept of Russia’s ethnic policy may be altered due to the results of the national census, says Ethnic Policy Minister Vladimir Zorin. Speaking at a national conference on “The state’s ethnic policy in the 20th and 21st centuries: the regional aspect” which opened in Perm, Mr. Zorin discussed the common interests of ethnic groups. Some participants in the forum disagreed with him.

“There have been no conferences on the state’s ethnic policy for the last few dozens of years in Russia,” the director of the Perm Region Social and Political Archive, Mr. Mikhail Nechayev, pointed out. Political scientists paid special attention to speeches of federal government representatives, describing them as “reasonable and competent”. The ethnic policy minister acknowledged the need to adjust the concept of the state’s ethnic policy, in which the main provisions were formulated as far back as 1996. Zorin reported that according to preliminary census data, the Chechens are among the ten largest ethnic groups in the Russian Federation. The Chechen population, thought to be some 700,000 people, is actually likely to exceed one million. Needless to say, this number refers not only to Chechnya but to the whole Russian Federation. In Zorin’s words, the census is expected to substantially change the list of Russia’s ten largest ethnic groups: Germans (a great number of them have emigrated) may no longer be on the list. Cossacks may be recognized as a separate ethnic group of considerable numbers in future. At the moment, they are an ethnic subgroup.

The state’s ethnic policy strategy actually has no strategy, as one political scientist put it. Emphasis ought to be shifted from the rights of ethnic groups, toward human rights. This thesis was not called into question, however.

It might have been expected that the events of October 23-26 in Moscow would create a particular atmosphere at the conference and predetermine the mode of discussion. But this has not happened so far, which is quite reasonable, according to political scientists: terrorism is a consequence of incorrect policies, but the conference was called to discuss better policies.

Round tables which will be held within the framework of the conference ought to show how well academics and politicians are prepared to discuss and solve ethnic problems in present-day conditions.

TRUTH ARITHMETIC

Izvestia, October 31, 2002, p. 1 EV

Another two former Moscow theater hostages died yesterday. One died in hospital No. 13, the other in hospital No. 7, according to the chairman of the Public Health Care Committee of Moscow, Andrei Seltsovsky. Thus, the death-toll from the theater hostage-taking has risen to 119 people. But there are no official figures. The more time passes since the terrorist act itself and the heroic liberation of hostages, the more one is inclined to think that the government is again fearing to tell people the truth, for some reason. Even though the public has completely approved of the hostage-release operation and the president’s decisions. A great number of hostages’ relatives claim say that nothing is known about dozens pf hostages for the time being. Besides, there has been a persistent rumor in the corridors of power about 65-80 people missing. Where could they have gone, from a closed hall and five or six hospitals? Why haven’t any officials revealed the truth yet? How many people were actually held hostage? How many were released? How many were hospitalized? How many died? Without truthful answers to these simple questions, even the bitterest one, any victory over terrorists may once again be negated, owing to the lies and half-truths of officials.

Concealment of the actual scale of the incident was imputed to authorities right after the launch of the release operation. The data on casualties varied greatly: from 67 reported by deputy foreign minister Vladimir Vasilyev from the theatre entrance after the assault began, to 200 on little-known websites.

According to our estimates, 810 people (audience and actors) were taken hostage. During the following 56 hours terrorists released 58 people. Thus, by the time commandos stormed the theater, there were over 752 hostages there.

On the evening of October 27, the chairman of the Moscow Committee on Public Health Care reported that at that moment 646 hostages were in hospital. In his words, 117 people had died, and 60 people had been released from hospital. According to this information, by the time commandos stormed the theater there were around 823 hostages in the theater.

The vazhno.ru site, created solely for seeking out ex-hostages, lists names of 1,002 hostages, of whom 287 are marked as missing. The site’s administrators says that the list is made up going by “information published in catalogue, letters and general data”. It is not ruled out that names of a number of missing people appeared on the site on Saturday-Sunday when no information proceeded from doctors and people were trying to find their relatives by all possible means.

But the fact remains a fact, and a shameful one: more than five days have passed, but no one knows the exact number of victims or freed hostages. The total number of hostages is also unknown. Such inaccuracy and unwillingness of authorities to unveil the true number of casualties may cause a suspicion that together with hostages the government was saving its reputation. Some may claim that it was the reputation that mattered more.

WINNER’S SYNDROME

Izvestia, October 31, 2002, p.1 EV

The latest public opinion poll conducted by the Russian Center for Public Opinion and Market Research (VTsIOM) on October 25-28 has highlighted a sharp change in people’s attitude to the Chechen problem. It was for the first time over the last two years that the number of people supporting the resolution of conflict by force exceeded the number of those standing for peace negotiations.

The amount of pacifists considerably diminished after the terrorist act in Moscow. In September, one third of respondents supported continuation of military operations, whereas now nearly half do. The number of peace talks supports has shrunk from 57% to 44%.

“It has been obvious since the hostage-taking that the public opinion with regard to Chechnya will perceptibly toughen,” the President of Politika Fund, Vyacheslav Nikonov told Izvestia. “Another prediction has also come true: the terrorist act did not cause harm to the Russian authorities”. During the crisis 85% of respondents approved of the president’s actions. 82% assessed performance of secret agencies favorably. 76% highly appraised operation of the mass media. The government’s actions were approved by 72% of respondents (it is worth while to note that the governments of the United States and some European states whose role was also appraised obtained the same number of votes of approval).

This is how Nikonov explains the difference in assessments. “During the whole operation, the government was staying in the background, the secret service taking the lead. Unlike in the situation with the Kursk submarine, the president reacted promptly, he said the right words and met with people he had to meet with (defense and security officials). The hostage-release operation itself was conducted on a very high level. Unfortunately, there was a dramatic flaw in rescuing the hostages. But it was after the operation and the president is hardly responsible for that”.

“One should not mix up the president’s rating and assessment of his actions in that particular case,” a leading research fellow with VTsIOM, Leonid Sedov, warns. “In ordinary polls Putin’s rating would reach a maximum of 77%. The usual negative assessment would stay around 20%, but in this case it was as low as 10%, which means that half of those disapproving Putin’s actions changed their opinion this time”.

The majority of respondents (84%) approved of the hostage-release operation. 54% came out in support of massive attacks on Chechen military bases. It should be observed that the idea of resolving the conflict by force has obtained more supporters. But a question arises: how long will this turn in the public opinion last?

The course of events in future directly depends on the development of the situation in Chechnya. The federal forces are sure to intensify their activities in the region. Public opinion will be conditioned by future successes or failures of the federal forces,” Leonid Sedov suggests warily.

Vyacheslav Nikonov is more flat: “One always feels tired of war. The number of people supporting hostilities is always higher at the start of a military campaign than at the end. This is a general tendency. On the other hand, terrorist acts like the recent one can change public opinion for a long while. The September 11 events in the United States had consequences that will be apparent for a number of years to come. But the aftermath of the terrorist act in Moscow will be less devastating, to my mind. It’s a peculiarity of our thinking: unable to concentrate on a single specific thing for a long time, even on a tragedy like this.”

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