The storming of the school in North Ossetia, by Russian forces to ‘free’ hostages taken by suspected Chechen rebels, is exceptionally tragic. Hundreds of hostages – school children, their teachers and other school staff – have been killed or wounded.
Of course, the unimaginable grief of that community will turn to incomprehensible anger and calls for even more violence against the Chechens.
Sensing the mood, Vladimir Putin’s address to the Russian people was full of promises of tightening security because ‘ We (Russia) showed weakness, and weak people are beaten‘. Vowing to defeat the ‘hostage-takers’ and ‘terrorists’, all that can be expected now from Mr Putin is an even harsher repression of the Chechens.
By targeting the unquestionably innocent – the children, Chechnya’s freedom fighters have converted most of the international community’s sympathy for their cause to angry disbelief. Conscientious observers of the Chechen struggle cannot help but be repulsed by the taking of child hostages, nor of the ensuing terror caused to them. By the same token, Russian forces do not have a track record of negotiation – so despite their claims that no storming of the school was planned, it is possible that they provided a devastating catalyst to bloody conclusion.
What propels a human being to carry out a suicide bombing, the terrorism of children and such desperate acts is often depicted variously as fanaticism, intensive brainwashing of the impressionable youth etc . These seem to me to be simple but unsatisfactory answers, however well they read as headlines. Very rarely does one find reference to historical injustices that have condemned entire generations of a group to subservience and oppression, nor of blame of those that wield power.
Condemned to abject poverty and devoid of an identity, how are the youth of such oppressed groups such as the Chechens and the Palestinians expected to be anything but fanatical to a cause of liberation or any means thereof that may deliver liberation of their kin.
In any conflict, it serves little purpose to split hairs on the damage of battles. Sure, the way a battle is fought must be observed and recorded to ensure that ,even in conflict, human rights are upheld. But in terms of non-violent conflict resolution, which is what negates the need for war in the first place, honest and open discussions must be allowed. Injustice and oppression must be brought to light, acknowledged and resolved before any lasting peace can be achieved. This is as true in Chechnya as it is in Palestine and as it has been seen to work (see various international tribunals) in South Africa (in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission). The past must be exorcised for the promise of the future.
The Russian government, unfortunately, does not have the maturity to make the bold moves required to end the hostilities and atrocities in Chechnya. Vladimir Putin, as other premiers before him, is lost in the red haze of battle. He can see no other way to resolve the issue in Chechnya except through ever increasing repression of the Chechens independence struggle.
What troubles me the most in my ongoing analysis of international affairs is this- if I and other activists for global justice – not particularly qualified in international diplomacy and politics but simply fueled by a sense of fairness, justice and humanity; can reach sound conclusions about non-violent means of promoting peaceful resolutions to conflict, what stops those actually tasked with delivering counse to the powerful from arriving at the same conclusion and if well advised, what stops the powerful from acting on such advice?
Perhaps it is the same age-old problem of not letting the snake guard the eggs – what interest would those persons, whose very livelihood is conflict resolution, have in resolving conflict and reducing fear? I think none. What interest would a government, whose budget is significantly funded by the arms industry have in removing markets for weapons? I think very little.
Finally, what incentive is there for a company capable of destabilizing an entire nation and plunging it into civil war – so that it can plunder its resources when a cooperative junta is in power? Very little indeed.
It takes strength of character to be a leader, to make the tough decisions; to be able to recognise when one has taken the wrong path and to say sorry ,to amend injustice. That is why there are so few truly inspirational leaders in the world today. It seems that the qualities required to lead a country of varying social needs – formed from many strands of many cultures have been substituted with the qualities required to be a hard nosed successful CEO of a global corporation – concerned only with the accumulation of profit and the creation of wealth for a select few at the cost of everyone else.
A different approach is long overdue. The longer the old systems persist, the more school sieges will grace our television screens and the greater the fear we all will live under. One that will recognise the futility of repressing a peoples’ inalienable right to self determination; that promotes the establishment of fair laws and their equal enforcement of such laws.