The forgotten victims of 'Russia's 9/11'
Those injured or who lost loved ones in a wave of Sept. 1999 bombings in Russia feel that they have been abandoned by the Russian public, media, and government.
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Within days, a string of early morning explosions hit apartment blocks in the Caucasus town of Buynaksk, two Moscow locations, and the southern city of Volgodonsk. A sixth bomb was uncovered in the central city of Ryazan, but the evidence was removed by Russia's FSB security service which later described the event as an "exercise" to spur public vigilance.Skip to next paragraph
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"These tragedies helped to install the regime that's still in power, reshaped Russian politics and re-started the Chechen war," says Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the independent Institute for the Study of Globalization and Social Movements in Moscow. "It was absolutely pivotal in making today's Russia."
But Russia's government, state-led media, and public have failed to engage with the people who endured those attacks for a variety of reasons, he adds.
"This is not a society that cares much about its members," says Mr. Kagarlitsky. "Politicians have little incentive to get involved, because voters don't matter in our political system. The outcome of elections is basically predetermined, so why should a politician get up in the morning to go out and meet people?"
Doubts about the state's role
The 1999 bombings remain essentially unsolved, and suspicions persist that the state, or some official faction, may have had something to do with it.
A 2002 poll by the independent Levada Center in Moscow found that 43 percent of Russians believed the bombings had been carried out by, or with the participation of, Russian special services. Thirty-eight percent said they "excluded" that possibility.
"Two people were eventually caught and imprisoned for those bombings, but they were simple accomplices," says Igor Trunov, a lawyer who does pro bono work for victims of terrorist acts. "Not a single organizer or financier of these terrorist attacks has ever been named. In general, the state appears to have excused itself of all responsibility."
Another problem for Kremlin authorities is that "Russia's 9/11" was not a unique event, but one that inaugurated an era of terror attacks against Russia's heartland that has since killed over 1,000 people. Most notably, in 2002 Chechen insurgents seized a crowded theater in central Moscow, leaving 130 dead after security forces stormed the building. Two years later terrorists took over 1,000 hostages at a school in Beslan. More than 300 people – half of them children – died.
A survey released last month by the Levada Center found that 73 percent of Russians fear falling victim to a terrorist act, against just 9 percent who thought nothing like that could happen to them.
"So it's no wonder that neither he, nor anyone in authority wants to draw attention to the victims of these acts. What would the message be? People already know that they are vulnerable and do not trust the authorities to protect them," she says.
• Olga Podolskaya contributed to this report.