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Russia: Beslan Play Rocks Moscow Theaters

Many Russians have found the play difficult Muscovites this week flocked to watch “September.doc,” an abrasive play inspired by the Beslan hostage tragedy of September 2004. The play, which featured prominently in this week’s New Drama Festival, is based on messages sampled from Russian Internet chat sites in the wake of the massacre. Its director, Mikhail Ugarov, says his aim is to articulate the unspoken feelings that the war in Chechnya is breeding among ordinary Russians.

Moscow, 30 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- “I think all Chechens should be killed. Of course, there are a few good people among Chechens, but they are so rare!”

So exclaims one actor, to which another one flatly replies: “Might as well kill all Muscovites while you’re at it, they are such nasty people.”

For days after the tragedy, Russian Internet chat rooms were filled with nervous dialogue over what had just happened in Beslan: the death of more than 330 people, mostly kids, after militants had seized a school in North Ossetia, demanding Chechnya’s independence.

“September.doc” brings to the stage some of the scathing abuse exchanged by ethnic Russians and Chechens over the Internet and the bitter arguments over who is to blame for the deaths.

For director Mikhail Ugarov, all these conversations boiled down to an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness immediately after the tragedy -- a feeling he has sought to convey in his play:

“The situation on the Internet was frightful. There was a terrible effect of powerlessness: ‘I can’t do anything here, all I can do is hit the keyboard and express my anger or my pain,’” Ugarov said.

Ugarov says he has sought to represent all the different points of views on the Beslan massacre and, by extension, on the war in Chechnya.

The confusion that arises from the cacophony of opinions, he says, reflects how many Russians feel about the war.
“Everybody in the country pretends that there is no war, that we all live peacefully and the war is only on television."

Ugarov himself admits he has no clear position on the war. He describes himself and his audience as Russians who feel sympathy neither for Chechen rebel separatists nor for the government bent on destroying them.

He says his aim is to convey that the war has long spilled out of Chechnya and is slowly breeding fear and hatred in the hearts of ordinary Russians:

“Everybody in the country pretends that there is no war, that we all live peacefully and the war is only on television. But the war penetrates everywhere, into the family, the relations with children. People become more aggressive. The war starts provoking a kind of social paranoia. We wanted to show this paranoia, when everyone is an enemy: Chinese, Vietnamese, Jews, Caucasians, Muscovites,” Ugarov said.

Spectators left the theater visibly shaken by the performance.

Mikhail, a 32-year-old Russian man working in a publishing house, said he enjoyed the play but admitted being shocked by its violence.

“I perceived the performance from an emotional point of view. In my opinion, such things are necessary despite the extreme brutality of what we saw,” Mikhail said.

Katarina, a 40-year-old Slovenian woman who has been in Moscow for five years, did not mind the crude words. She said she was grateful to the play for giving a voice to both sides of the conflict in Chechnya.

“I’m very glad that such performances are being staged. I think that it is very important and that there should be more performances like this on issues that are topical here. There were many quotes from both sides, and both sides have to be represented. I think they have done this very successfully,” Katarina said.

Ugarov is still stunned by the success of “September.doc.”

Theater sociologists, he says, have always told him the Russian public does not wish to see anything hard or depressing. His play has proven them wrong.

See also:

RFE/RL Special: Remembering Beslan

RFE/RL Special: Terror In Russia

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