Russia: Disagreements Over Beslan Memorial

Founder of Marina Litvinovich (LJ user abstract2001) writes (RUS) about one of the problems that survivors and relatives of those who died in Beslan in September 2004 have to deal with now:

Orthodox Christianity in Beslan

I've always been amazed by how the local authorities in North Ossetia and Beslan can breed problems where there shouldn't be any. Right now the authorities, with active support from the Orthodox Church, are planning to tear down the School and build an Orthodox church where the gym used to be.

Discussions on the School's future have been going on for a long time in Beslan. Many variants have been proposed – the most adequate one, to my mind, is a memorial in place of the gym. Christians, as well as Muslims, as well as atheists, and also just kids, who were not yet consciously considering religion, died in the School. (The number of Muslims who died in the School can be determined by the way the graves are turned at the cemetery: their gravestones are facing another direction.) To my mind, the construction of an Orthodox church on the spot where they died may lead to conflicts.

And the conflicts have already taken place: a few weeks ago we accidentally witnessed the setting in the center of the gym of a wooden Orthodox cross blessed by an impressive delegation of the Orthodox clergy. A couple days later, I learned that one man who'd lost family members in the School took the cross down. After that, they screwed the cross into the gym's floor.

But these are all my views. In this case, they don't matter, and what matters is the opinion of the relatives of those who died. Here's the view of the victims, the Voice of Beslan committee [RUS]. I also know that there is no unanimous opinion on this issue at the Mothers of Beslan committee.

Below are some of the responses from Marina's readers – including one from a representative of the Voice of Beslan (LJ user golosbeslana):

mike67: If they start putting up memorial signs, there should be a Christian and a Muslim one.

cross_xx: Excuse me, but how would it look, if the most appropriate engraving for a cross is “save and hold me safe” and for a crescent “kill an infidel”?

denies: I read not long ago that paganism is popular in Ossetia. Even more popular than [Islam]. And the principal religion is a mix of Christianity, Islam and the faith in the local gods and dzaurs (heroes). So it better to always be very tactful with religion.

mike67: Yes, they do have that. And they also have some cheese cake ritual, I think. One should be careful with religion. It would be best for the relatives to decide. In this situation, the fewer orders from “above,” the better.

signorina_autun: It would be good if they bother to ask the relatives at all.

mike67: Yes, I've a feeling they won't ask. They are afraid to ask because then they can start making other requests and demands – that are highly inconvenient for the regime. It's like in [Sergei] Dovlatov's “The Zone”:

- Have you got questions?
– Tons of questions, – replied voices from the line. – Do you want to hear? Where is [the soap]? Where are the promised warm
portyanki [wrappings for the feet]? Why haven't they brought a movie in three months? Will [those who cut branches] be given gloves?.. Want more?.. When will they build a hut [in the forest where trees are being cut by the prisoners]?..
– Quiet, quiet! – yelled Khuriev. – You should file complaints following the set order, through brigadiers. Disperse now.

mgtverskoy: Yes, the church is advancing. They don't care about the souls, they care about the outer form.

hoholusa: You are absolutely right. The best is a memorial without any religious inclination.

ivansim: Nonsense without borders. It seems as if their heads were amputated when they were kids and now they are wearing artificial copies. :-[

Has there been an initiative yet to put up a bronze bust of [FSB chief] Patrushev or [head of the United Russia Party] Gryzlov? … :-[[

kim00: […] The process of grieving is considered normal if a person is gradually coming out of the state of acute grief and comes to terms with the loss. When this is not happening, qualified help is needed. Some of the techniques used is the secondary experience of the tragedy, which includes visiting the place where it occurred. But these are one-time, short acts, which should not become the key ones in the new value system of the person, damaged by the loss of the loved ones.

However, this is what can be observed in Beslan. Their value system has been slanted toward the search of the guilty ones. In a small group setting – and in Beslan everyone affected knows everyone else – it becomes contagious.


It may sound cynical, but the ruins have acquired all features of a fetish – no practical value, just a giant emotional power, which someone wants to make even stronger by adding a religios component.


golosbeslana [the Voice of Beslan]: Do you mean to say that there's no point looking for the guilty ones after several years? And if you don't catch the criminal right away, then in a couple years it will be impolite to think of him as a criminal? And Beslan victims have to be treated by psychiatrists, so that they were not bothering everyone with their memories?

That's the worldview of a pig that doesn't want to know anything beyond its [food].

alexiy: Among those who died in Beslan were ten children from the Baptist Sunday school and their teacher. In the pastor's family, out of five kids who went to school only one returned. No one remembers about them. When religious leaders were gathered after the tragedy, the Baptist weren't even called.

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