Beslan Anniversary Highlights State of Russia's Media
On the second anniversary of the Beslan school siege, the Russian media says unanswered questions about the tragedy illuminate the gap between the Russian people and their government.
But with the Russian media "in shackles," in the words of Washington Post columnist Masha Lipman, criticism of the government is muted and directed mostly at the security forces, never at President Vladimir Putin.
The Moscow News's Beslan anniversary story, written by a U.S. National Public Radio correspondent, was more pointed than most about the Russian military action that freed hundreds of hostages but at the same time claimed the lives of 331 people, including 186 children.
"Why did authorities use such heavy weaponry while children were still inside the school? Why didn't they try to negotiate a nonviolent end to the siege?" asked writer Kelly McEvers. "Two trials and three investigations later, no high-ranking Russian official has been held responsible for mishandling the siege."
Kommersant, the country's last independent daily, reported that a member of the parliamentary committee investigating the tragedy had issued his own findings critical of the government: "The first explosions were caused by grenades used in an attack by Russian security forces attempting to kill the terrorist who was in charge of the bombs," according to Yury Savelev. "These grenades also could have caused the fire in the building and the deaths of the majority of the hostages."
Novosti Political commentator Andrei Kolesnikov cited a recent poll on Beslan to argue that the Russian public has only a "reserved trust" of its government: "The absolute majority of Russians - 52% - have a negative opinion of the authorities' actions during the hostage rescue operation," he writes. "They are joined by another 8%, who are convinced that the public has been misled deliberately.
Kolesnikov notes that a rally in downtown Moscow commemorating the Beslan tragedy was broken up by authorities on Monday who said it interfered with a municipal celebration. "This is exactly the kind of approach that compels the public to call into doubt the official interpretation of the events," said Kolesnikov.
The "strange stories" of Beslan illuminate a government allergic to accountability, says Moscow Times columnist Yulia Latynina.
One example cited by Latynina: "Hostage accounts spoke of a man named Ali, who they said was a deputy colonel, among the militants. Just after Beslan, prosecutors said that one person involved in the siege was the notorious militant Magas, a.k.a. Magomed Yevloyev, a.k.a. Ali Taziyev. Taziyev-Magas' body was identified at the time. But a year later, the Interior Ministry of Ingushetia accused Ali Taziyev -- apparently resuscitated -- of the murder of regional Deputy Interior Minister Dzhibrail Kostoyev. Investigators refused repeated requests from hostages to see a photograph of Taziyev."
Russia is "a country of unlearned lessons," said commentator Andrey Riskin in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper on Monday: "The authorities have not drawn the necessary conclusions from the events [in Beslan]]," he believes. Riskin reports that the military has established special forces around the country to respond to large-scale terrorist attacks but he adds "no changes have taken place in the political component of the problem."
"The political component of the problem." That's about as harsh and specific as anti-government commentary gets in the mainstream Russian media these days.
Kommersant Changes Hands
The sale of Kommersant "threatens to alter irrevocably the country's media landscape by putting the country's last independent-minded national daily into the hands of a billionaire who is thought to be close to First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev," said the Moscow Times on Monday.
The buyer is Alisher Usmanov, whom Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty describes as "a metals magnate with close ties to the Kremlin." The price, which includes the Kommersant book publishing business, was reported to be $200-$300 million.
Kommersant's Russian-language print edition is known for its political reporting. The English-language Web site, while thin and indifferently translated, provides at least a flavor of independent thinking on topics like Beslan and Ukrainian presidential politics.
In recent years other politically connected businessmen "have picked up the dailies Izvestia and Nezavisimaya Gazeta in recent years, with a corresponding change in the tenor -- and drop in the quantity -- in coverage of the federal government," noted the St. Petersburg Times.
"The operating assumption for the new ownership appears to have been that, when it comes to the government, 'If you can't think of anything good to say, don't say anything at all."
Kommersant editors said they were skeptical of Usmanov's claim that he would not tamper with the newspaper's editorial policy.
"It would be too early to say now whether I believe promises that the editorial policy of Kommersant will be left unchanged," chief editor Vladislav Borodulin told RIA-Novosti, according to the Moscow Times.
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