home Europe, Politics, Terrorism Fear, Fatalism and Terrorism: The Minsk and Moscow metro bombings

Fear, Fatalism and Terrorism: The Minsk and Moscow metro bombings

The April 11 metro bombing in Minsk triggered unpleasant memories of the March 29, 2010 bombing for those of us living in Moscow. Though the Minsk bombing was not a suicide attack, and although there is now even less certainty over why this horrific blow was dealt on a bunch of unsuspecting people, there is just something about metro bombs that plays on a certain primal fear.

The news media can sometimes make things worse. Weeks earlier, we heard about how “black widow suicide bombers are on their way to Moscow to blow more stuff up.” Turns out, the women everyone was warning Muscovites about had just moved house. Of course, the information originally came from law enforcement, but both the vagueness and the panic-inducing certainty with which it was being reported was frustrating to no end. “Something awful is abound to happen again! You are not safe! No one can help!” was what the news reports on this issue came to imply.

Around the same time that the black widows were allegedly on their way, terrorist leader Doku Umarov kept getting killed and resurrected, killed and resurrected, by both special forces and journalists. The conflicting reports on this issue reminded me of an old joke about Shamil Basayev, back when he was the hot ticket in town: “In the course of heavy battle with Russian special forces, Shamil Basayev lost a leg! This is already the eighth leg that Russian fighters have managed to shoot off of Basayev during special operations in the North Caucasus!”

Umarov is alive after all, apparently. Alive – and presumably smiling behind the rodent’s nest he cleverly passes off as his beard.

There is a Belorussian woman I used to know from back in the States. She moved back to Minsk a couple of years ago to look after her mother while she was in the final stages of cancer, and has since then stuck around. Although we hadn’t spoken in a long time, I contacted her on Facebook when the Minsk bombing happened.

You just can’t seem to get away from terrorism in Europe,” she wrote back to me. “Did you know I was in London on the day of the 7/7 bombings? And I actually know someone who was injured in the Madrid bombing in 2004.”

She said she was surprised when the Minsk bombing happened – but oddly enough, not scared. Cheerfully, I told her that the fear will probably come later. In the months to come, when things have been quiet on the metro, when you no longer have any second thoughts about going down the escalator and stepping out onto the platform during rush hour, that some latch spring in your mind will suddenly give, and you will become afraid. I told her that it’s important not to fight it. Instead, you let it wash over you like a particularly big wave. You don’t face it headfirst, you duck underneath, relaxing your body as you go. The wave passes. The train comes. People who are not suicide bombers step out onto the platform. You let them pass, then get on in their stead. The train departs.

The seemingly inevitability of terrorism is something that, by contrast, I do want to fight. I don’t want to “be used” to this sort of thing. I want to feel outrage, at the very least – outrage at the nihilism of it all, the stupidity, the horror. Which is why it bothered me to see just how resigned my Minsk acquaintance was already.

I was shocked, but I also had a feeling that something bad was going to happen after December,” she said, referencing the unrest that gripped Belarus following the re-election of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, and the searches and arrests that followed. “I don’t think I’m the only one.”

In the irrational corners of my own mind, I am afraid sometimes that my native Kiev will be next. Before April 11, such bloodshed didn’t seem at all possible, now I have to wonder. Ukraine is a much more chilled out, laid back place than Belarus, but it’s not as if there aren’t major political and social problems and intrigues – or, for that matter, people who are radically inclined and have an axe to grind. A friend of mine works in the prosecutor general’s office in Kiev, we’ve discussed some of the letters his office receives on a regular basis. Granted, a true terrorist mastermind will probably not announce his or her intentions to law enforcement beforehand, but there is something eerie about folks, most of them sounding merely desperate, talking about stockpiling weapons and making Molotov cocktails.

We always drive out to the address and check these guys out, of course,” my friend tells me.

“Do you ever arrest any of them?”

“Rarely. They are to be pitied.”

Pity and mercy – these are the things that are entirely absent on days such as April 11 and March 29. They are like little vortexes of something we often refer to as inhumanity, but that which may be one of the most human qualities after all – irrational destruction. Irrational destruction happens on a small scale, it happens on a big scale, and then it happens on a really vivid scale – which is what such attacks are all about. “There, I’ve punched a hole in the fabric of our collective dimension. Look upon it and despair.”

Well, fuck you buddy. And not in the good sense, either.

Seriously, what else can you say in the face of terror?