Friday, August 22, 2008

Celebrating aggression

Throughout the Georgian crisis, the Russian government's disinformation campaign has been so inefficient that it hasn't even managed to spread much disinformation. With few exceptions, the vast majority pf the international media have accepted the precise, credible and often deeply disturbing daily reports and updates by Georgia's official sources, including the country's multi-lingual President Saakashvili. Perhaps the saddest and most pathetic stage of Russia's attempt to distort the facts of its invasion of a sovereign state came yesterday, with the staging of a classical orchestral concert in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, to celebrate the Russian "victory" in Georgia.

Even as it becomes increasingly clear that most of the destruction and loss of life in Tskhinvali on August 8 was caused, not by Georgian forces, but by Russian aerial attacks, the musical event, with its sombre programme of Shostakovich's "Leningrad" Symphony and Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique", was intended among other things to mourn a massacre of innocents - not Georgian innocents, it was stressed by officials, but South Ossetian ones.The figures of dead reported by Russia were initially put at over 2,000. Yet most recent estimates put the number at below 100, and some even below 50. While any loss of life at all is tragic and deplorable, the exaggeration that is being practiced by Moscow and the South Ossetian authorities is really an insult to those who did die or were injured.

That the principal conductor of one of Britain's most renowned symphony orchestras should have lent his name and talents to this celebration of Russia's aggression is also regrettable. The Telegraph, whose  correspondent was present at the concert, probably best sums up the atmosphere:

Russian soldiers perched on the top of armoured personnel carriers, straining for a better view, as Orthodox priests, Jewish rabbis and even an imam passed through the audience granting benedictions to a self-proclaimed nation united in victory.

As the strains of Shostakovich filled the air, fresh smoke and sheets of flame from burning Georgian villages in South Ossetia rose from the hills - the latest sign that while the war may be over, the plight of civilians is not.

Yet Russian officers refused to acknowledge what was going on before their eyes. "What fire?", one snapped before striding off.

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