Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Fear of Terrorism

At Prague Watchdog, Dr. Dmitry Shlapentokh writes about The Chechen War and the Russian Public. Excerpt:
The continuous war has affected not only the news—despite the desire of the authorities to present the conflict as solved—but also the mentality of the general public, mostly manifest in the fear of terrorism. A woman I met in a Moscow hotel remembered the terrorist acts in the Metro and the planes that were blown up in the air by groups of suicide terrorists. I reminded her that all these events took place several years ago and there have been no terrorist attacks in Moscow for some time. She said the fact that terrorist acts took place many years ago does not matter–she is still afraid while riding the Metro. This fear seems to exist even in the Urals, in the heartland, thousands of miles from the Caucasus. One of my acquaintances asserted that people are indeed afraid of terrorism. Her son denied this. Still, the fear clearly exists.

While for some Russians the terrorists were not clearly defined individuals, for others they were directly connected with Chechens. In fact, Chechens are primarily associated in the minds of many Russians with terrorists, and those who are too interested in Chechnya are objects of suspicion. One interlocutor who discussed with me practically all subjects—including Putin—became visibly apprehensive when I mentioned that I read Kavkaz-Center, the major Internet site of the Chechen resistance. Staring at me with obvious suspicion, he asked why I read this stuff. I said I did so just for curiosity. He did not believe me and still pressed me on why I was interested in Kavkaz-Center and in Chechnya in general. It seems that at that time he started to question my image as an ordinary Russian he met on the train.

Chechens are not the only source of terrorism, but their image invariably blends with those of other ethnic groups from the Caucasus. One acquaintance conveyed to me the view of the majority that “It was the people of ‘Caucasian nationality’ who brought crime.” This is one major reason landlords prefer to rent apartments to ethnic Russians. This is well understood by potential renters, who emphasize their ethnicity when looking for an apartment. In Ekaterinburg I saw an advertisement that an ethnic Russian—ethnicity underlined––would like to rent an apartment.

While analyzing the fear of terrorism among the Russian populace, one should remember that here—as in other parts of the world, the USA included—the fear of terrorism has sublimated many fears and a general sense of instability that often have no direct relationship to terrorism.

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