Russians Remember the Nord-Ost Hostage Siege, 11 Years Later

The Nord-Ost play banner outside the Dubrovka Theater, during the October 23-26, 2002, hostage crisis. YouTube screenshot.

The Nord-Ost play banner outside the Dubrovka Theater, during the October 23-26, 2002, hostage crisis. YouTube screenshot.

Russians are no strangers to terrorism, but there's always something strange about every passing anniversary of the country's worst terrorist attacks. Late last month, Muscovites observed the eleventh anniversary of the infamous Nord-Ost Siege at the city's Dubrovka Theater, a three-day-long hostage crisis, resolved only after special forces flooded the theater with a secret chemical agent intended to subdue the attackers. Tragically—and, many would argue, unforgivably—the gas also caused the deaths of 130 theater-goers. 

Journalist Sergei Parkhomenko reposted [ru] to his blog on Ekho Moskvy a LiveJournal entry from 2007, which he wrote on Nord-Ost's fifth anniversary, complaining that nothing about the government's mishandling of the hostage crisis has been investigated or led to any punishments. In a particularly poignant moment, Parkhomenko recollects how Russians huddled around televisions during the standoff, waiting desperately for good news:

Сидим мы, сидим, ждем, ждем… Восемь утра уже… По телевидению пошли эти съемки, которые потом весь день крутили.

We sit and sit, wait and wait… It's already eight in the morning… On TV there are these clips that they then repeat all day long.

Eleven years later, many still harbor frustration and confusion about what happened at the Dubrovka Theater. Some see it as a massive failure of the Russian government's policies in Chechnya, while others embrace the conspiracy theory that the authorities staged the entire incident, in order to discredit the Chechen resistance. Still others see the Nord-Ost attack as evidence of an overall lack of regard for human life in hostage and crisis situations.

The RuNet was abuzz with different thoughts about the Nord-Ost attack's anniversary, though most bloggers demonstrate an ongoing search for answers, rather than any consolidated consensus.

Garry Kasparov published [ru] on LiveJournal a mordant reflection on the anniversary, aptly titled, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”: 

Гибель собственных граждан никогда не считалась в нашем Отечестве серьезным преступлением, за которое стоило бы наказывать провинившихся начальников. Но, тайно наградив организаторов штурма на Дубровке, путинский режим пошел еще дальше, выдав бессрочную индульгенцию на выполнение любых преступных приказов.

За прошедшие 10 лет в отсутствие организованного отпора общества режим мягкого авторитаризма постепенно обретал зловещие черты фашистской диктатуры. Сейчас у мало-мальски думающих людей уже не остается сомнений в том, что только энергичными солидарными действиями мы можем не допустить развития самого мрачного сценария, несущего смертельную угрозу как для всей страны, так и для каждого из нас.

Поэтому не спрашивай, по ком звонит колокол…

The death of its citizens has never been considered a serious crime in our Motherland, which would require punishing the guilty men in charge. But, secretly having rewarded the [police] assault's organizers, the Putin regime went even further, indefinitely pardoning anyone executing any criminal orders.

For the past 10 years, in the absence of organized resistance in society, soft authoritarianism has gradually taken on the sinister features of a Fascist dictatorship. Now even halfwits no longer harbor any doubts that only by energetic, united actions can we prevent the development of the darkest scenario, which poses a mortal danger to both the whole country and to each of us.

So do not ask for whom the bell tolls…

Another oppositionist politician, Mikhail Kasyanov, tweeted: 

Nord Ost – Dubrovka, the assault, casualties. I am distressed. The disclosure of the secret gas formula is worth more to Putin than the lives of 130 citizens of the Russian Federation.

Lawyer and activist Karinna Moskalenko wrote in Ekho Moskvy about the wider legal and human rights implications surrounding the Nord-Ost tragedy, including her belief that the case should go before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR):

Это нарушение должно быть незамедлительно восполнено, – власти должны быть призваны к немедленному возбуждению уголовного дела и проведению расследования, что прямо вытекает из решения Европейского Суда.

The damages should be compensated immediately, [and] a criminal case and investigation should be opened against the authorities, following directly from the European Court's decision.

Natalia Pelevina, a British-Russian playwright, political activist, and blogger, published [ru] on LiveJournal an essay of reflections and questions on the Nord-Ost anniversary:

То есть могло быть так, что информация о готовящемся теракте поступила и была использована в своих целях?… Зрители и артисты не шли на мюзикл ” Норд Ост” умирать…

Could the information about the terrorist attack have been received [by Russian authorities] and then used for their own purposes? The audience and the artists didn't go to the musical “Nord-Ost” to die… 

Pelevina also quipped on Twitter:

Nord-Ost showed us that, in this country, we don't give birth to children—just cheap coins. #NordOst

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