The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Barbarism in Ossetia and Chechnya

Sep 13, 2004

At least 400 people, and maybe as many as 600, were killed in a frightful massacre in Ossetia, in southern Russia. The carnage at the school in Ossetia surpasses the number killed in all preceding hostage taking, whether in Russia or elsewhere. Most of the victims were children, taken hostage with their parents and teachers on the first day back in school. The pictures of disfigured, charred and mutilated bodies brings the horror home.

It's difficult to say who played the rottenest role in this tragedy – the hostage takers or the Russian military forces. The band of terrorists who took the hostages are certainly vile. They are like all those people who use terrorist methods, no matter what pretext they give. The fact that those killed were mostly children on their first day in school only shows how despicable the terrorists are.

But the Russian army commandos who intervened pretending they were going to save the hostages are worse. The Russian authorities may cover the details of what happened with a veil of silence and lies. But it's obvious the Russian soldiers wanted to make their Chechen adversaries pay dearly, without worrying a bit about the school kids who were locked up. Trained troops had to know there would be a real massacre when they used tanks and cannon against a building.

The forces of order didn't use half measures. Once "the affair" was settled in a pile of cadavers, Putin made only a half hour visit to a Beslan hospital, at night, without warning the local authorities. He was afraid, not so much of possible terrorists who might have escaped, but of the reactions of the victims' families. The press, including the part of the Russian press which is closely controlled, said that the families accused the authorities and special forces of being in part responsible for the killings.

In his television speech after the massacre, Putin lambasted "international terrorism," without saying a word about his dirty war in Chechnya. Kommersant, a Russian daily owned by a man close to the Kremlin, said indignantly, "As if the Russian children weren't dead because of the war in Chechnya, which has lasted ten years." It concluded, "Blaming ... international terrorism from now on permits all the governments of the world to avoid taking responsibility for the death of their citizens."

The Russian leaders say there were foreigners among the hostage-takers – Arabs and Turks. Maybe. But it wasn't Al Qaeda that produced armed terrorist bands in Chechnya. The terrorists exist because of the indignation aroused by Russian repression. In fact, these gangs have been able to impose themselves as leaders over their own people because of the Russian repression.

Russia's war in Chechnya is a filthy war – carried out with the complicity of the so-called civilized imperialist world. We shouldn't be surprised that George Bush supports what Vladimir Putin does in Chechnya, since Bush leads an equally dirty war in Iraq.

Several hundred Russian children have paid with their lives for the action of the armed terrorist Chechen bands, but also for the policy of the Russian leaders. The men and women we see on television, their faces streaked with tears – Russians, Ossetians and Chechens mixed together – will continue to pay for the policy of their leaders. And the Chechen people will pay for what the Chechen terrorists did at Beslan; Ossetia will serve as a pretext for the Russian authorities to intensify repression whose main victims are not the armed bands but rather the civilian population. But the Russian population will pay also, because its children don't die only when they are taken hostages by terrorists, but also as soldiers in the war itself. It will pay further because the "war on terrorism" will inevitably serve as a pretext for the regime to repress the whole population.

Russian repression and Chechen terrorist attacks both dig a deeper and deeper ditch of blood between peoples who have long lived together in the same region and all of whose lives are stuck in the same poverty. Just as the war in Iraq digs a deeper ditch of blood between the people of the U.S. and the people in all the rest of the world.