Beslan Gripped by Grief and Anxiety

North Ossetian town in deep shock three days after the tragic end to the hostage siege.

Beslan Gripped by Grief and Anxiety

North Ossetian town in deep shock three days after the tragic end to the hostage siege.

Beslan's streets are full to the brim and the centre of the town has turned into one big funeral procession. On some streets wailing and crying come nearly from each house.

The town is overcome with grief, but the bloody end to the hostage taking has also heightened anxieties amongst everybody and raised a host of questions people are still waiting for answers to.

The steadily rising death toll from Friday's tragedy officially stood at 338 on Monday, with 435 wounded, but three days after the end of the siege 200 people are still unaccounted for. A woman weeping at the entrance of the school gym, said loudly, "Down with our government, president, parliament! What do we need them for?" Another woman next to her added, "They can only steal money."

On Oktyabrskaya Street, which runs near the school, three or four funeral processions went by in a space of twenty minutes. Some of the coffins were unusually small. Many more people were in the streets than during the siege, with the whole of Beslan turning into a centre of pilgrimage for both local Ossetians and journalists from all over the world. Ossetians have extensive family links and many had come to each funeral.

The school building is now open for the general public to visit and it is crowded with visitors. The fateful gym is adjacent to the building. It is not very big at first glance. The metal carcass of the roof has remained but the timbers are burned out. The floor, strewn with black ash, is planted with candles, the windows covered in flowers. Inside the gym the crowd is especially thick, with most people, especially the women, crying quietly.

There is widespread distrust towards the authorities. "They were lying from the very beginning, about the number of people inside, about terrorists' identity, everything," said Sergei, standing at beside a funeral procession

North Ossetian interior minister Kazbek Dzantiev has offered his resignation, saying that "as an officer and as a man" he could not continue in his job. But so far it has not been accepted. Rumours of his resignation, on health grounds, have already circulated for two years.

Until Saturday there were troops on the eastern side of Beslan on the border with Ingushetia, but there has been no evidence of them for the past two days. The whole of North Ossetia feels a sense of insecurity.

"I'm really in a panic, I don't know how to live now," said a teacher called Albina. "This shows, that we are totally defenseless. We were attending a funeral here today and are coming back to another one tomorrow."

The photos of missing children hang outside the entrance of Beslan's House of Culture. In particular, the photo of one 11-year-old girl hangs on many houses nearby with four telephone numbers to call.

A middle-aged man Viktor stood by the school and invited passers-by in, saying, "Don't go, leave your comments in our book for the generations to come." Viktor said that only someone who experienced terror can understand what someone who has lost a relative in Beslan feels. He lost his son during the assault on the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk in 1995, led by Shamil Basayev widely believed to have masterminded the Beslan raid.

"This school shouldn't be pulled down," said a university professor. "We must keep it as a terrible lesson to our people. The walls of this gym must become for us what the Wailing Wall for the Jews. Of course our people have seen other troubles as well, but this stands out from all the others."

Many people in Beslan tend to blame the war in Chechnya and Chechens for the attack. Aida, a young girl from a neighbouring town, said however, "I studied in Grozny in the 1980s and found the Chechens very friendly people. My roommate was an Ingush girl and we were like sisters to each other. I don't believe that Chechens did these horrors." Lolita, her friend, said, "We came down to Beslan from another town, we heard one kind of report on the television but here it looks totally different!"

Most of the state schools and educational institutions in the republic are still not functioning - they should have started working on September 1. A man from the nearby village of Olginskoe said, "After watching television and hearing about Beslan hostage taking, my little boy said to me 'Daddy, I won't go to school anymore.' And you know, I can't send him myself now."

Valery Dzutsev is IWPR's North Caucasus coordinator.

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