The deliberate targeting of children attending the ﬁrst day of the new school year was a desecration of core values and traditions. In Russia children, especially pre-adolescence, have a near-iconic status that goes well beyond usual western conceptions. The ﬁrst school day is one of the most signiﬁcant in the calendar, as important as New Year’s day and Victory Day and much more so than Christmas. First-timers are dressed in their ﬁnest clothes and given ﬂowers and chocolates to present to their teachers. The occasion is one of great ceremony and attended by large numbers of parents, which explains why the number of hostages at Beslan – nearly 1200 – was so high.
Russia: A People's Trauma
It may seem dubious to compare the Beslan hostage crisis with September 11. Most obviously, the death toll that day in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania was far higher than at Beslan. Such a primitive quantitative perspective, however, underestimates the psychological impact, not only on the families of the dead and injured, but on Russia as a nation, people and society. When President Vladimir Putin declared the outrage to be ‘unprecedented in its inhumanity and cruelty’, he spoke for the vast majority of his compatriots.