More Russians Now Say FSB Knew about Beslan in Advance and Didn’t or Couldn’t Stop It

September 1, 2015
Memorial to the victims of the terrorist attack in Beslan. Photo by Novaya Gazeta.

Staunton, September 1 – The share of Russians who say they believe that the Russian security services were involved in organizing terrorist acts at Beslan and elsewhere has remained unchanged over the last year at four percent, according to Levada Center polls; but the number of those who think these services knew in advance and could not or did not do something has risen.

Last year, 24 percent of Russians surveyed by the center said that the special services knew about the preparation of the terrorist acts; this year, 33 percent say that. And last year, six percent said that the special services failed to act; this year 11 percent say the services failed to do so.

And on this the 11th anniversary of Beslan, fewer Russians blame terrorists for the tragedy and more blame the government. A year ago, 39 percent blamed the terrorists; this year, 29 percent. In 2014, 17 percent blamed the federal government and 15 percent the local authorities; this year, those figures have increased to 22 percent and 13 percent respectively.

This trend can hardly be a welcome one in the Kremlin because it suggests ever more Russians are taking a more critical position on what is after all the founding myth of Putinism, the claim that Russia was under attack by terrorists and that only his harsh response to the bombings in 1999 and subsequently saved the situation.

Three things make this trend likely to continue. First, as the Levada Center poll found, the share of Russians who say they have been given all the information that is available and that they need to make an accurate assessment of the situation remains high and over 50 percent despite more than a decade of state propaganda seeking to define the situation.

Second, as Radio Liberty’s Leonid Velekhov points out in a commentary September 1, the fact that these terrorist acts remain “crimes without punishments” inevitably raises questions about the ever changing official narratives about these events, narratives and changes that inevitably open more questions than they answer.

And third, very soon the European Human Rights Court will take up the appeal of Beslan residents, an event that Olga Bobrova of Novaya Gazeta suggests will attract more attention to these horrific events of the past, especially since, as she puts it, “the truth [about what happened] may be unpatriotic” as far as the authorities are concerned.

As Bobrova points out, the Court is being asked to respond to “several questions which are extremely awkward for the Russian Federation: Did the state do everything it could to prevent the terrorist act? Did the state do everything to minimize losses among the hostages? Did the state do everything for an objective investigation of the causes of the tragedy and, most important, the death of people?”

There is a slight chance, she continues, “that the European Human Rights Court will answer ‘no’ to all of these questions.”

“Will this change something in Russia?” she asks rhetorically. “Hardly. If you doubt it,turn on the television today on the 11th anniversary of the tragedy, and you will see how the TV news will talk about the Beslan tragedy. Forgetting is a very good medicine for the state machine. And a very dangerous thing for the country.”

Indeed, she suggests, Russia may be approaching a time when those who want to investigate Beslan and other terrorist actions will be declared “unpatriotic” since they have now involved a foreign court. “What could be simpler?” And what could be more disastrous for the future.