“War” – that was the word most often used in newspaper articles about the hostage-taking in North Ossetia.
The headlines from various publications: “War has been declared on us” (Gazeta), “The war that has been declared” (Kommersant-Vlast), “If there’s a war on” (Rossiiskaya Gazeta), “This is war!” (Rodnaya Gazeta), “Who has declared war on us?” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta), and finally, simply “War” (Profil magazine).
It’s also worth noting that pictures of blood-covered or dead children were featured not only in the Izvestia newspaper, where chief editor Raf Shakirov has already lost his job for “an overly emotional and poster-like edition.”
The Kommersant newspaper quoted Shakirov’s interview with Radio Liberty straight after his dismissal: “Our actions weren’t based on any kind of research, of course, but on our impression of the significance of this event for our country. And our impression – that this is war – was subsequently confirmed.”
Actually, besides the photos, the edition that got Shakirov into trouble also contained an article by Izvestia observer Irina Petrovskaya about the performance of state-controlled television networks throughout the days of tragedy in Beslan.
Petrovskaya wrote: “If our authorities learned something after the Moscow theater hostage-taking, this is restricting journalists, ousting them as far from the site of events as possible providing scarce official information or not providing at all. Television executives, remembering the Moscow theater hostage-taking, learned not to charge the situation, agreed to play according to the rules imposed by the authorities, to serve interests of the authorities and neglecting the interests of the society that they were simply obliged to inform fully. It is known that who is informed is protected better.”
Petrovskaya also wrote that in the days of the national tragedy, until the mourning was announced officially, not a single manager of television channels had an idea to reduce the number of entertainment programs, to reduce the quantity of “daring commercials” or to somehow to advise the hosts of the morning entertainment shows “to blubber and chatter as little as possible” – to spare the feelings of those who are grieving.
She added, “They have learned to lie, to keep silent about the truth in for the sake of state interests (as they understand these interests)! They have easily forgotten to behave, I would not say professionally, but just would say as human beings, as if they live on some other planet and as if neither grief nor disaster threatens them, the celestial beings.”
Irina Petrovskaya says: “When official versions of the events in Beslan are finally coordinated with diverse agencies and approved on the very top, a lot of various dreg lying will be poured on us” and those who incautiously or proceeding from their own notion of professional honor has said something on television ‘incorrectly’ will be punished.”
However, this time, after televisions channels took into account the experience of the Moscow theater hostage-taking and NTV to this or that extent, it was an editor-in-chief of a print media outlet who suffered for “incorrect” coverage of events.
Newspaper Kommersant wrote that Vladimir Potanin known because of his super loyalty to the Kremlin could make the decision on Shakirov’s dismissal personally (General Director of the Fund for Protection of Publicity Alexei Simonov immediately recalled in Kommersant, “how enthusiastically Potanin applauded to Putin’s appearance at a congress of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs). Companies of Potanin own Prof-media corporation that controls Izvestia.
There is also another version. According to this version, decision on dismissal of Raf Shakirov was made in the Kremlin because its officials were reportedly discontent with coverage of the events in Beslan by one of Russia’s most prominent social and political newspapers. General Director of Publishing House Kommersant Andrei Vasilyev is convinced that Shakirov’s dismissal “is a deliberate signal of the Kremlin to journalists and elites that the time has come for printed media.”
An anonymous “analyst close to the Presidential Administration” confirmed this version to newspaper Vedomosti. The analyst emphasizes that Izvestia along with Komsomolskaya Pravda and Argumenty I Fakty are among the media that the Kremlin considers “national heritage.” This source reported that the authorities took the Saturday’s issue of the newspaper as a “leaflet of the opposition.” Other sources of Vedomosti presumed that Shakirov simply “failed to cope with the task to provide stringently dosed information” because he was “not very close to the Kremlin.”
General Director of Ren TV holding Irena Lesnevskaya told Kommersant that it was quite possible that after Shakirov “other journalists would be punished instead of those who missed the terrorist act.” According to Lesnevskaya, “They have panic there because they have lied for so many days and many newspapers have written truth.”
Not only newspapers published truth. Ren TV that had almost no “picture” of its own and had minimal technological capabilities (in comparison to the state-owned channels) provided objective information about the events due to efforts of its journalists.
In any case, first of all, observers mentioned NTV, which “like in the past times” became one of the main sources of information about the events in Beslan. Reports from the site of events were broadcast unstopping and were not interrupted by commercials or even by old movies.
Editor-in-Chief of Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal Mikhail Berger wrote, “Everything was broadcast that could be broadcast at that moment. This was torturing uncertainty and unedited terror, desperation of relations and witnesses and chaotic actions of people in uniforms and without them but with automatic rifles.” According to Berger, “This was the old NTV, so familiar that we were afraid for its management. They will be dismissed.”
Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal noted that in the past Boris Jordan was dismissed because during the Moscow theater hostage-taking there was “too much information and too much real-time reporting.”
Berger stresses that nobody will condemn incumbent General Director of NTV Vladimir Kulistikov because already in the afternoon news host Ruslan Gusarov “as though apologizing” said that reports were based on unconfirmed data and that they were prepared in circumstances of information deficit and mistakes and incorrectness were possible.
Berger notes, “This looked like an attempt to apologize for the professionally done job.”
President of the Glasnost Defense Foundation Alexei Simonov said in his interview with the Vremya Novostei newspaper that in the last few years Russian journalists have started being afraid of real information: “We have a huge number of correspondents who do not provide information until they receive permission to do so.”
Simonov stresses that majority of executives at central Russian newspapers have signed the Antiterrorist Convention. The convention spoke about cooperation of the media and security agencies in extreme situations. Simonov asks, “But with whom can we cooperate? Unfortunately, in life there is no always an anti-crisis staff and if there is, it is not known who is there and what do they do.”
According to Simonov, there is a significant difference between the demands to restrain freedom of information in circumstances of growth in terrorist danger in the West (primarily in the US) and in Russia. Simonov said that American hawks got used to conditions of free information exchange unlike our hawks. That is why “Hawks there know that in case of inefficient work they will get it in the neck and our hawks know that it is necessary to hide their inefficiency.” Hence, there is a different in approaches of mass media, “The first question of their journalists is: what can we say? Our question is: what do we need to hide?”
Overall, permanent concealment and secrecy in Russia are considered a traditional and commonly accepted style of actions of the authorities. This secrecy is applicable not only to factual information about the essence of the events, not only to comments of various VIPs but also to their presence in the field of vision of a dazed and confused country.
Russian parliament members, usually so noisy when there at least a slightest pretext for loud statements, this time, as wrote Nezavisimaya Gazeta in its article entitled “They have hidden out,” obediently fulfilled the recommendation received from the Kremlin “not to flicker and not to be underfoot of security agencies.”
In the days of Beslan tragedy even Duma speaker and leader of the Duma majority Boris Gryzlov confined his efforts to a written statement, which only three news agencies received from his press service, wrote Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
Vladimir Vasilyev, chair of the security committee of the Duma, whom many people remembered in the days of the Moscow theater hostage-taking because of clear and professional estimates of the situation, this time decided that it was necessary to raise discussion of the problem of terrorism to a global level at a specially organized briefing for journalists “according to advice of the party.”
With regard to the “purely technical” government, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta it ideally played the role assigned to it, “The Russian Prime Minister very technically remained outside of the screen during the entire time of events in Beslan.”
As observer of Ren TV Olga Romanova put this, the Prime Minister “worked with documents on that bloody Friday.” For example, he approved the draft agreement with Turkey “On prevention of incidents in the sea outside of the territorial waters.” He also signed the draft plan for privatization of federal property for 2005.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that ministers of the economic section of the government decided that it was not necessary to interrupt their vacations. Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov and healthcare and education ministers Mikhail Zurabov and Andrei Fursenko visited North Ossetia only this week, already after the outcome of the tragedy.
Observer of Gazeta Andrei Ryabov wrote that the stance of the heads of security agencies looked especially strange in those days. Ryabov added, “Having warned that most likely terrorist acts would continue, eloquent Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov usually fond of communication with press, suddenly disappeared from the screens. Other top-ranking representatives of security agencies did not appear in the information environment at all.”
Moreover, while the taking of the school continued it was impossible to understand who commanded the operation for rescue of hostages, “There was an impression that these were officials of the security agencies of North Ossetia and local military officials.” It remained a mystery where the heads of the Defense Ministry, the FSB and Interior Ministry at that time.
All responsible officials and simply officials of various ranks appeared on television screens only after firing stopped in Beslan and also after the trip of Vladimir Putin to North Ossetia.
Olga Romanova wrote in Vedomosti, “The most impudent ones flew in special airplanes to Beslan as though to see if they could be of help.” Meanwhile, it is not difficult for any sensible person to guess that assistance is needed and what kind of assistance this may be. Romanova continued, “However, now officials of Beslan and North Ossetia instead of saving, finding, healing , soothing down, offering a shoulder for support, finding coffins have to meet and accompany another official from Moscow, who has understood very well what is PR.”
Andrei Ryabov explains in Gazeta, “Such behavior of top-ranking Russian officials that looks strange at first glance seems quite rational in the current situation in Russian politics. The less activeness in a situation dangerous because of negative consequences, the less chances that personal responsibility for these consequences will be laid on them.” This means that traditional wisdom of bureaucracy worked out back in the Soviet times was again useful for Russian bureaucracy.
When the situation is resolved, it is a time to go out of the shadow and nothing daunted reported to the “correctly mined” press about the “measures being taken.”
Ordinary citizens behave in approximately the same manner, writes Olga Romanova in Vedomosti. This was not incidental that even when the President read a message about the events in Beslan on Saturday he complained about some amorphousness of the society. Romanova quotes the President, “Events in other countries show that terrorist receive the most efficient resistance where they encounter not only the power of the state but also organized and solid civil society.”
Where from can such society appear in Russia?
At any rate, Ryabov wrote that there were the times when Russian officials behaved in a different manner.
Ryabov recalls Victor Chernomyrdin with his famous “Shamil Basaev, speak louder!”, as well as dismissal of Sergei Stepashin and Victor Yerin, who were heads of security agencies then, after the tragedy in Budennovsk. Ryabov recalls even Mikhail Barsukov, who was Director of the Federal Security Service in 1996. During storming of Pervomaiskoe village taken by Raduev’s gang Barsukov attacked the village together with special forces explaining “What will I report to Yeltsin afterwards?” Ryabov presumed that the reason is not that the former culprits were better than the present ones but this is the fact that the former culprits had to act in circumstances of public policy. Every step as an obvious failure were in sight and there was no possibility to hide from responsibility, “That is why simple dodging to the shadow and going out into the light (including the light of television cameras) when everything bad is already over was an impossible strategy of behavior for them.”
Now the situation is qualitative different, “There is no public policy and hence responsibility to the society.” Hence, there are quite natural tailspins of VIP persons in the top-ranking authorities.
Yulia Latynina states in Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal that paradox of our life is that it is the Federal Security Service that is actually ruling in Russia, “A representative of special services is the head of the country. A representative of special services is the Defense Minister. A representative of special services is the Interior Minister.”
In general, the share of security agencies representatives in the new Russian establishment amounts to about 77%, as has been recently calculated by Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Elites Studies Center.
Meanwhile, continues Latynina, the special services have only one direct duty, “provision of national security, that is prevention of terrorist attacks.” But special services and their representatives in the government definitely cannot cope with this task.
Latynina adds, “I understand that they are busy. They have more important affairs. They are dividing YUKOS and doing business. They are defending Russia’s interests in South Ossetia.” Latynina asks if it was possible to think a little less about South Ossetia belonging to Georgia and a little more about North Ossetia belonging to Russia, to which a terrible trouble came?
Latynina reminded, “President Putin rose to power by promising to kill the terrorists in the toilets. Against the background of this promise the Moscow theater hostage-taking was already perceived as a defeat. The latest explosions aboard airplanes, the Rizhskaya subway station bombing, and the seizure of the school in Beslan: this is more than a defeat – it’s a disgrace.”
Latynina says that it is necessary to take the terrorist acts, “although this sounds cruel, as counter-PR from Chechen militants in response to the PR of the Kremlin.”
The Kremlin says that a “peace process” is underway in Chechnya – but militants invade Nazran and Grozny afterwards. The Kremlin says that in Chechnya people unanimously vote for Alu Alkhanov – and in response, as Latynina puts it, the Chechens “voted in Beslan.”
The farther the President moves from keeping his promise “to wipe out the terrorists in the toilets,” the “more total” will be information lies about what is really happening in Chechnya and the more terrible will be the measures to blow these lies up, predicts Latynina.
Alexander Minkin quotes Putin’s address to the nation in the Moskovskii Komsomolets newspaper. Minkin lays accent on the bitter confessions contained in the document.
“We have turned to be absolutely unprepared to many things that have changed in our life… we could have been more effective if we acted in good time and professionally… we did not manifest understanding of complexity and danger of the processes going on in our own country… failed to react to them adequately” and so on.
Minkin comments, “According to the meaning, this is a confession or request about resignation.” At least, this is confession of complete bankruptcy of security agencies, “And in the last few years stake has been made on security agencies and on forceful solving of all problems.”
However, the author emphasizes that whereas the meaning of the message is confession its tone is heroism, “The authorities inform that they will keep on ruling.” They have already worked out a plan of actions, “To create a much more efficient security system, to demand actions from our law-enforcement agencies being adequate to the level and scale of the new threats.”
Meanwhile, the observer of Moskovskii Komsomolets reiterates that we should not forget that the incumbent team has been in power for five years. There was more than enough time for the measures “adequate to the level of threats.” What has been done?
The answer is disheartening, “A huge anti-drug ministry was created, which during years of its work defeated only veterinaries.”
Minkin adds, “Defense Minister Ivanov defeated the chief of the General Staff.” The Armed Forces had no other victories in the last four years.
Situation in special services is not better, “Director of the Federal Security Service Patrushev was striving for re-subordination of border guards to him and his Supreme Commander-in-Chief found that we were defenseless from all sides.”
The Duma and the Federation Council are also “defeated, totally crushed and turned into slaves, although they are not enemies. We have elected them.”
Minkin wrote that Russian people once again demonstrated their terrible long patience, “In a democratic country such authorities would not have time even to apologize. Millions would go out into the streets and would dismiss them.” Or, as Olga Romanova wrote in Vedomosti about the recent events in Spain “would send them to historic oblivion.” In Russia people keep tolerating.
Romanova writes, “The society has understood very well that it should not irritate the authorities and should not ask questions about Chechnya because the President would start getting nervous and threatens with circumcision in the area of genitals.”
According to the observer of Ren TV, Russian society “Has understood very well that critique and moreover protest makes no sense and is dangerous. The society understands that everything will be forgiven to state officials and favorite politicians including any meanness and baseness and nothing will be forgiven to others and everything will be remembered.”
Minkin provides another quotation from the presidential address: “We live in conditions of a transition economy and political system that does not correspond to condition and level of society’s development.”
Minkin asks, “What does this mean? The society has not grown up to the perfect political system (that is authorities)? Or the authorities have lagged behind society?”
Minkin comments that judging by harshness of the tone, “they are going to pull us up. They are going to teach us not to be nonchalant.” But will this improve the situation?
Minkin adds, “There are cases in history when power is not within grasp. And it does not matter if it is received legally or not.”
Further author writes about a very risky historic comparison with the fate of Tsar Nicolas II, who was “an absolutely legitimate emperor, who wished for the best – but power turned out to be not in his grasp. Disasters happened because of this.”
Other media said very similar things.
Kompaniya magazine said: “The seizure of the school in Ossetia and subsequent events, inexplicable from the standpoint of common sense, became a sad and tragic finale of not only the Chechen military decade and five years of ‘toilet antiterrorism’ proclaimed by Vladimir Putin.” According to Kompaniya, the tragedy in Beslan “means a failure of project Putin, the attempt to develop Russia under control of security agencies on the basis of stringent semi-totalitarian model of power and limitation of freedoms of citizens.”
According to Kompaniya, what is happening in Russia in the last few years is not the fault but the problem of the President, “He has probably sincerely tried and tries to enforce order and double the GDP but does this by the methods of the last century and totalitarian regime adopted during the years of service for the Soviet KGB.” According to Kompaniya, in the variant proposed by the incumbent authorities the country will be able to exist “relatively for a long time but it will definitely be unable to develop and compete on the international arena.”
Security remains the main problem, “The things for the sake of which many people were ready not to notice re-division of property, destruction of judicial system, profanation of elections and closing of independent television channels turned out to be fruitless.”
Kompaniya emphasizes, “Our brave security agencies are good only against physicists, veterinarians, journalist from Radio Liberty (Andrei Babitsky detained by the police during an attempt to fly to Beslan) and, of course, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.”
On the other hand, “It is absurd to accuse a person for the configuration of the person’s brains.” Kompaniya says that it is easy to believe that those who have power sincerely believed that if NTV was closed and a marionette president was elected in Chechnya there would be peace in Chechnya, “and that if stars of heroes of Russia are given to top-ranking officials of the FSB for the hundred people killed during the storming of the Moscow theater and patrols by hungry and sleepy military cadets are stationed in the halls of subway stations, terrorist attacks will really be stopped.” Probably something like this worked in the 1970s, says Kompaniya, but the world had changed seriously since then.
According to Kompaniya, the current terrorist war may force the Russian society understand pointlessness and inefficiency of “strengthening of the power vertical” and also “perceive themselves as citizens of their country and make the authorities take them into account.”
Or, just the other way round, the authorities may once again force the citizens to take them into account. Articles from the last few days show that not all people would be against this.
Leonid Radzikhovsky says in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “Now people say that it is not the time to gloat over misfortunes of the others and it is not the time to criticize because there is war. I fully agree with this, absolutely, 100%. It is necessary to beat in the face those who gloat over misfortunes of the others.” Yes, the war is underway in Russia and it is necessary to get united around the authorities and around the President, but how it is possible to do this if, as the President admits, there is such deterioration in the very heart of the authorities?
Radzikhovsky asks, “Of course, you are untouchable, nobody dares to criticize you, very well, then become these very strong authorities. No matter if it is not democratic, no matter if it is cruel, but let it be strong. Five years have passed, where is your force? In what it is?”
There is no answer yet. However, the question has obviously appeared in the society and it will be answered, either by authorities or by terrorists.
It is known that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and as long as there is no hope of stopping terrorism, those who advocate harsh measures have a chance to see their hopes come true.
But that hardly change anything – and this duel with human lives will evidently be continued.