Mothers of Beslan Become Political Force

The Southern Russian community of Beslan was left with an enormous loss after the attack by insurgents on a school that left hundreds of people dead, most of them children. But a group called The Mothers Committee of Beslan rose out of the tragedy as a political force to be reckoned with.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In the small southern Russian town of Beslan, people are still trying to recover from last year's terrorist attack on a school. That attack left 330 people dead, half of them children. Since the tragedy, the town's mothers have become a political force. NPR's Martha Wexler has this story of one mother.

(Soundbite of people speaking in foreign language)

MARTHA WEXLER reporting:

The Mothers Committee of Beslan has rented out a room on the first floor of a building on October Street. The women leave the door open, welcoming anyone who wants to drop by. Some grief-stricken parents come every day to chat and drink tea. Others may stop in once a week. Rita Sadakava(ph) is one of the stalwarts of The Mothers Committee.

Ms. RITA SADAKAVA (The Mothers Committee of Beslan): (Foreign language spoken)

WEXLER: She says the women provide psychological help no physician can give, but the committee is more than a support group.

Ms. SADAKAVA: (Through Translator) We have to shout out to all the world, so that this horror doesn't repeat itself. If the mothers and fathers of the children who died in the Moscow theater had shouted out, maybe there wouldn't have been a Beslan.

WEXLER: The Beslan mothers are shouting out. They blocked a road, petitioned Russian President Vladimir Putin and staged a hunger strike. The government has already paid $40,000 for each family member lost, but The Mothers Committee has other demands. First, it was the resignation of Aleksander Dzasokhov, who was president of Ossetia when the terrorists seized the school.

Ms. SADAKAVA: (Through Translator) We realize he betrayed the republic. But that's why he should have just stepped down.

WEXLER: Dzasokhov finally did resign in May after The Mothers threatened to march to Moscow. Now the committee is demanding to know what exactly happened in Beslan's School No. 1 on the first three days of September last year. Rita Sadakava says officials aren't interested in those answers.

Ms. SADAKAVA: (Foreign language spoken)

WEXLER: She points to the fact that on September 4th, the ruins of the school were hosed down to clean off the blood and human tissue. Much of the refuse was taken to the dump. That's where she found a white blouse belonging to her nine-year-old daughter Alechka(ph). The girl must have taken it off in the stifling heat because she was burned alive when the school gym caught fire.

Ms. SADAKAVA: (Through Translator) I found my daughter. It wasn't as if pieces of burning plastic or wood fell on her. She was completely engulfed in the flames and burned in equal measure all over. What was it that caused her to burn this way?

WEXLER: Sadakava is convinced it was the incendiary weapons Russian forces used when they stormed the building. This is a matter of dispute at the current trial of a Chechen who Russian authorities say is the sole surviving terrorist. Sadakava rejects criticism that The Mothers are too political. Some here say true grief is silent. Rita Sadakava's grief is profound. Her gaunt face, like a saint's on an icon, is framed by a scarf. Sadakava's husband died when Alechka was just three, and she was raising the child alone.

Ms. SADAKAVA: (Through Translator) I wanted her to see the beauty in life. I wanted her to have more of a childhood. I didn't burden her with music lessons or language classes. She was an active kid who liked to play outside, so I let her be a kid. I let her feel freedom and independence. I let her just enjoy riding her bike and roller-skating.

WEXLER: Rita Sadakava was a bookkeeper, but she says her life revolved around her child. She says Ossetians make a cult of their children and Alechka was her idol.

Ms. SADAKAVA: (Through Translator) The only politics we knew was to raise our children to be worthy, healthy and beautiful. You know, one of the other women was asked in an interview, `Why are you so political?' She answered with this phrase: `We entered politics to the extent that politics entered us.'

WEXLER: Sadakava says that as she and the other mothers pursue their political goals, `It's probably those children who are no longer with us who are telling us what to do.' Martha Wexler, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: Updating our top story, police in London shot and killed a man at a London subway station this morning. According to witnesses, the man was wearing a heavy overcoat and was seen running in the station. Police chased him and shot him. Today's incident comes one day after the second wave of bombings in the city's transit system in two weeks. No link has been made between yesterday's attack and today's shooting. NPR News will continue to follow events in the story throughout the day.

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