'Ours is the politics of grief'

Some of the women sat at a wooden table littered with documents. Others hovered near a computer learning how to write a press release, or traded gossip over weak tea and chocolates.

It could almost be a PTA meeting or a ladies’ social circle—but for the tragedy that haunts this room.

The women are part of a group of residents who lost children and grandchildren in last September’s Beslan school massacre, and are demanding answers of the government as they provide support and solace to one another.

Founded as School Number One still smouldered, the Beslan Mothers’ Committee has evolved into a political action group taking aim at endemic corruption and lack of government transparency.

It provides a structure for women who might otherwise be cooking meals, doing laundry, or cleaning their apartments. And it gives purpose to those who would give anything to be walking their children to and from school.

“Without this, I don’t know how we could go on,” says Rita Sydakova (44) who lost her daughter.
“This is the best therapy.” About 330 people, more than half of them children, were killed during the September 1 - 3 hostage-taking crisis which ended in a storm of explosions and bullets and bloodied children fleeing the school’s sweltering gymnasium.

The committee has sought answers to lingering questions: Why were the militants so easily able to seize to school? Who in the government or law enforcement knew about the attack beforehand? Why did the standoff end in explosions and gunfire?

In December, the group organised a days-long blockade of the main Beslan highway. In February, women from the group travelled to Moscow, where they held a news conference calling for the resignation of North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov.

Critics say Dzasokhov turned a blind eye to rampant corruption—which many believe allowed militants to drive into Beslan without notice to seize the school, located just steps away from a police station.

On May 31, Dzasokhov announced he was stepping down early. He made no mention of Beslan, but Susanna Dudiyeva (44) whose son died in the school, believes the mothers’ unrelenting criticism brought about the resignation.

The protests have continued, with mothers carrying placards and going on hunger strikes outside the government headquarters in the regional capital Vladikavkaz to criticise Dzasokhov’s Kremlin-appointed successor, Taimuraz Mamsurov, whom they say has failed to meet with survivors.

On a recent warm spring night, in the room within sight of the school’s charred timbers, several women discuss a political demonstration scheduled for the next day. Others talk about ways to get government assistance.

Nearby, on a desk, there is a photo album containing hundreds of photographs of children, some wounded, most killed.

Sitting before a donated computer, next to a donated fax machine and donated printer, Ella Kisayeva (41) said many of the women had no experience in anything but housekeeping and child-rearing.

“How could I sit at home alone after all this? Cooking? Cleaning? All by myself?” she says. “How could I stay silent?”

The wallpapered walls are bare except for three white pieces of paper—the group’s political slogans. One reads: “Remember for whose sake we are here! Remember our children together! Remember they are our conscience!” The committee started from a small group of mothers who turned to each other for consolation. Gatherings became regular and larger as their outrage focused on corruption and government incompetence.

The committee now numbers more than 100, and includes fathers, grandfathers, and even sons of the victims, said Dudiyeva.

“There is a class of people here who are not indifferent, who will remind the authorities that without action, without someone taking responsibility, this type of [terrorist attack] could happen again,” Dudiyeva said.

Dudiyeva said the committee has uncovered important details of the raid, such as the fact the truck that carried the militants to the school had a police officer as an escort and that weapons had been stored in the school ahead of time—a claim that authorities have not publicly confirmed.

In the adjacent kitchen, no bigger than a cupboard, a discussion begins with theories about the hostage seizure’s violent end, then moves to memories of children—Sydakova’s daughter playing basketball, Zalina Tybloyeva’s six-year-old nephew playing word games. Sobbing interrupts the conversation.

“Ours is the politics of grief. The politicians have done nothing for us,” says Tybloyeva, whose sister and niece also died.

“From this grief comes our politics. Rita’s daughter, she wasn’t a politician. And now she’s dead.”—Sapa-AP

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