Baltics offer to help Beslan victims, Latvia questions loss of life

  • 2004-09-09
  • By TBT staff
RIGA - The images of horror from the Beslan school siege, which ended in a chaotic bloodbath, had a profound impact on the Baltic states as they did throughout the world. Baltic leaders in unison condemned the senseless brutality aimed at children, and government officials offered to finance convalescence programs for groups of Beslan schoolchildren.

The Russian flag stood half-mast at all three embassies across the Baltics, and in Riga the front gate of the Russian Embassy was flooded with flowers, stuffed animals and lighted candles.
In Narva, the predominantly ethnic Russian border city, members of the local Center Party chapter called for a day of mourning on Sept. 6.
In an interview with Lithuania's National Radio, President Valdas Adamkus, currently on a visit to Barcelona, said it was particularly shocking how terrorists had targeted children.
"In my opinion, the events in Beslan only confirm that the international community must be more united and strike a decisive blow to such actions. We have no other choice. I believe that the use of force to free the hostages was the last measure. It is very sad that the drama claimed hundreds of lives. I offer sincere condolence to relatives of the victims," Adamkus said.
Estonian President Arnold Ruutel sent a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, offering his deepest condolences on behalf of the Estonian people.
"The Estonian people were profoundly shocked by the hostage crisis in Beslan," he was quoted as saying. "There is nothing that could relieve the pain of the victims' families, relatives and friends. The Estonian people stand in mourning for the innocent people who lost their lives at the brutal hands of terrorists."
The Latvian government on Sept. 7 allocated 32,000 lats (48,300 euros) to the victims of the tragedy, with all the funds to be used to accommodate a group of 20 Beslan students in Jurmala convalescent centers for 15 days.
Welfare Minister Dagnija Stake said the funds also included travel expenses for the victims.
A donation account at the Estonian Red Cross had accrued some 83,806 kroons (5,355 euros) as of Sept. 7. Riina Kabi, secretary general of the organization, told the Baltic News Service that the donations came from 230 persons, including individuals and legal entities.
Adamkus said that Lithuanians shouldn't ignore those who survived the hostage tragedy and suggested the country host a large group of Beslan School 1 pupils in sanatoriums and rehabilitation centers.
"We all understand that the people who were held hostage need help. I think foreign states could lend a helping hand to the victims," Adamkus said.
What started as a day of celebration on Sept. 1 's traditionally the first day of school in Russia 's turned into more than two days of terror as approximately 1,180 people were held hostage. Throughout the siege the hostage takers denied their victims both water and food, and many children stripped down to their underwear due to the stifling heat. It was reported that some hostages even drank their own urine to quench their thirst. According to preliminary data, at least 335 hostages - half of them children - were killed in the terrorist operation in Beslan. According to the latest data, as many as 377 injured people were still in hospitals throughout the region.
The extreme loss of life and Russia's poor track record in saving lives 's most notably during the 2002 Nord-Ost theater-hostage crisis 's gave rise to questions as to whether the number of casualties had to be so high. Bernard Bot, the Netherlands' foreign minister and current EU chairman, on Sept. 3 seemed to question the transparency in Russia's handling of the event and whether the extent of the tragedy could have been avoided.
This led to an unprecedented lashing-out by Russian officials, who used words such as "insolent" and "sacrilegious" to describe Bot's comments. The Dutch foreign minister was immediately forced to backtrack, suggesting his words had been taken out of context.
While expressing condolences, Latvia also gave pause, as its foreign minister, Artis Pabriks, suggested that the EU should work with Russia so as to prevent the tremendous loss of life. This was immediately taken up by the Russian language press as an insult, though any umbrage on Russia's part seemed to be forgotten after Pabriks and Prime Minister Indulis Emsis visited the Russian Embassy on Sept. 7 and extended an offer to help the Beslan children.
Emma Udwin, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, was one of several individuals who tried to put a spin on Bot's comments, claiming that a "genuine misunderstanding" had occurred.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, she said blame for what happened in Beslan should rest solely with the hostage-takers and that this was not the time to question Russia.
"This is a day when Russia is in mourning, when there's been an outrageous act of terrorism. I think this is not the moment to go into those kinds of details when we don't have all of the details at our disposal," Udwin said.