Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

North Ossetian Opposition Bolstered by Beslan Activists

Relatives of school tragedy victims rally behind opposition after government blocks their demonstration.

The Committee of Beslan Mothers, CBM, has joined forces with North Ossetia’s main opposition movement to demand the resignation of President Alexander Dzasokhov.

The move came after the authorities took the decision – unprecedented in the North Caucasus - to block a peaceful demonstration called “Women Against Terror”, organised by the CBM, and scheduled for March 8 in the centre of Vladikavkaz.

Initially, the government reacted with a media campaign urging the public to stay away from the protest because of concerns over a possible attack by Islamic extremists. When this failed to dissuade the organisers, it moved to block the city’s main square to traffic and pedestrians.

Vladikavkaz resident Eduard Daurov, who had tried to take part in the protest, said, “Frightening people before a demonstration is also a terrorist act and it happens every day here. In this sense, terrorism comes from the authorities themselves.”

As a result of the official interference – which led to the cancellation of the demonstration - the influential CBM has now thrown its weight behind North Ossetia’s main opposition movement, United Ossetia, and its demands for the resignation of the president.

The CBM was formed last year shortly after 1,200 people were taken hostage in Beslan’s School No.1, resulting in the deaths of 334 people – around 200 of which were children – and campaigns for an independent investigation into the tragedy.

Urging Dzasokhov to step down, United Ossetia leader Alikhan Khugaev said, “He treats North Ossetia not as his homeland, but as a place to make money.”

However, the authorities dismissed the actions of the opposition at a press conference held after the cancellation of the demonstration.

Finance Minister Konstantin Urtaev described the movement as people “who used to work in government and now want to get their positions back using these tactics”. He also announced that a group had been set up in the public prosecutor’s office to assess the opposition’s activities.

In turn, the government accuses the opposition of “destabilising the situation at a difficult time for the republic”.

The republic’s media – which is largely controlled by the authorities - singled out the CBM for its “political activity” and accused it of acting against Ossetian custom.

But one CBM member - former hostage Anneta Gadieva, whose nine-year-old daughter was killed in the Beslan siege – denied the allegations.

“Clearly the authorities feel guilty, which is why they are trying to create such a negative picture of us,” she said. “But there is nobody behind us – only the memories of our children.”

Murat Kaboev, a journalist for the Voice of Beslan newspaper, told IWPR that “all the official media in North Ossetia have opted to defend the authorities and Dzasokhov”.

“Lies flow from both the republic’s broadcasters and its newspapers,” he said.

Taimuraz Chedzhemov, former chairman of the area’s Central Election Commission and now a member of the opposition, agreed. “Our authorities are not used to criticism,” he said.

“The press in the republic is controlled by the president personally. Whole print runs of newspapers are withdrawn from circulation so people don’t read reporting which does not work in the president’s favour.”

Chedzhemov cited a recent incident where an issue of the Vladikavkaz Screen newspaper was completely withdrawn and its copies pulped after it was found to contain an article critical of the president. The paper stopped publishing not long after.

Ruslan Makaev, chairman of the non-governmental organisation Law Above the Authorities, said that the actions of the top officials were driven by a desire to “defend their perks”.

“We have inherited these people from communist times, and that ideology dates from the century before last.”

Aleksander Dzandziev of the Centre for Social and Humanitarian Research said, “Normal leaders are supposed to take notice of the opposition, whether it is critical or powerless. “But our authorities don’t do this – they are simply not capable of it.”

However, he does not hold Dzasokhov solely responsible for the Beslan tragedy, “It is Russia’s policies in the Caucasus which are to blame - in particular its policy on Chechnya. And we are all guilty – we [in the Russian Federation] all helped to create this system.”

Alan Tskhurbaev is a correspondent for the information service YUFO.RU in Vladikavkaz.