Russia: The horror of Beslan and Chechnya

The horrific massacre of children, parents and teachers at High School No1 in Beslan, North Ossetia, reached a new level of barbarity.

The hostage-takers crossed the line between humanity and inhumanity. They deliberately targeted children on their first day back at school, traditionally a festival.

They refused to give them water, food or medicine. Children and adults were forced to drink urine and eat flowers. Outside, waiting relatives and friends were distraught.

When some of the children managed to get out of the building, they were shot in the back. When shooting and explosions broke out, hundreds of dead and wounded were buried under the collapsing roof.

No cause can justify such cold-blooded, barbarous actions. The hostage-takers belonged to an Islamic nationalist group from Chechnya. For over ten years the Chechens, a majority of whom are Muslim, have fought a bitter, bloody struggle for independence. The ruthlessness of their tactics in Beslan and elsewhere, including the use of suicide bombers, reflects the brutality of the Russian state’s military repression in Chechnya.

But such savage tactics, aimed against ‘soft targets’ – young children, their relatives and teachers – will not advance the cause of the Chechen people. Beslan will only reinforce the spiral of atrocity and counter-atrocity. The resistance is in the hands of a small handful of guerrillas, dominated by notorious warlords such as Shamil Basayev, almost certainly the architect of the Beslan siege. The majority of Chechen people are not mobilised or organised, and have no democratic control over the resistance movement.

Putin is seizing on the Beslan siege and other terrorist attacks to strengthen his military-security machine. This will mean intensified repression in Chechnya, and an even greater threat to democratic rights throughout Russia.

Don’t outrages like the Beslan siege (some will ask) demand strong measures? But it is the strong, military-police measures taken by Putin which produced the wave of terrorism in the first place. Massive death and destruction in Chechnya, the flattening of the capital, Grozny, systematic pillage and rape by poorly paid, brutalised Russian troops have acted as a recruiting sergeant for the terrorist organisations.

In the west, Bush, Blair and other leaders also bear heavy responsibility for the growth of terrorism. Their invasion of Afghanistan, occupation of Iraq and support for Israel’s brutal repression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories have helped recruit many more to terrorist organisations.

The appearance of a ‘crusade’ by western imperialism against Islam has led to a growth of right-wing Islamic groups which use terrorist tactics. Behind the military aggression of the US, Britain and other powers is the drive to control oil and gas, and strengthen their global military and economic domination.

Like Putin, Bush and Blair blame terrorism on ‘evil’. They wilfully ignore the conditions which feed terrorism.

As Al Gore (who opposed Bush in the 2000 presidential election) said, there is "another axis of evil in the world: poverty and ignorance; disease and environmental disorder; corruption and political oppression" – all of which lead to terrorism.

The only answer of Bush, Blair and Putin is repression, repression and more repression. They are aggravating the cycle of war and terror. They defend capitalism, the system which produces inequality, poverty, despair and war.

We need strong measures against capitalism, we need a new and better system, a socialist society which could provide prosperity and security for everyone. Then it would be possible to resolve national conflicts in a peaceful, democratic way.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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September 2004