South Ossetians enjoy requiem concert in shattered capital

Against the wrecked backdrop of the parliament building, the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev tonight held a requiem concert in the shattered capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali.

Gergiev - the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra - played Shostakovich's Sixth stirringly patriotic Leningrad Symphony and Tchaikovsky's Seventh Pathetique Symphony.

Gergiev, an ethnic South Ossetian, flew back to the republic from the Edinburgh festival having spoken passionately about compatriots who died in Georgia's attack on the city on August 7 and 8.

The choice of music was no coincidence: Shostakovich performed his symphony in Leningrad at a time when the Nazis were besieging the city during the Second World War. It was clear that this time it was the Georgians who were cast in the role of Nazis following their brief assault on Tskhinvali earlier this month.

Tonight's concert was a surreal event. Ossetian soldiers perched on top of armoured tanks surrounded by reservoirs as the violins warmed up. The steps up to the flame-blackened parliament building had been lit by tiny candles.

The audience waved Russian and Ossetian flags in time to the music, while Russian television screened the event in full live. Earlier Gergiev told the BBC Russian Service that the war in Georgia was "a great tragedy" and accused Georgia's President Mikheil Sakaashvili of wanting to "destroy all of South Ossetia".

Gergiev, who was performing with the orchestra of St Petersburg's legendary Mariinsky theatre said that he had not lost any family members in the conflict but had friends who had died.

Earlier the president of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, compared the suffering of his town under Georgian aggression to Stalingrad.

"This city would have become the Stalingrad of the Caucasus if we hadn't stopped them," he said. Speaking to a crowd in the town's fir tree-lined square, Kokoity said he was now asking Russia to recognise his republic's independence.

"This is the last tragedy of South Ossetia. I have already prepared an appeal to the president of Russia and the Russian government to recognise the independence of South Ossetia.

"The Caucasus is a Russian region. We will never surrender to such adventurers as Sakaashvili and Condoleezza Rice."

Several in the crowd waved banners saying "Recognise union with Russia". South Ossetia is expected rapidly to call for a formal union with Moscow and to become a de facto part of the Russian federation.

Residents said they didn't want anything further to do with Georgia following what they regard as an unprovoked assault on the town during the night of August 7.

"We would like to be part of Russia. Russia always supports us. Russia never hurt us," Frossia Khasaeva said.

The Kremlin escorted a group of journalists on a tightly controlled media trip to see tonight's concert and observe the damage inflicted by the Georgians. Russian officials showed off the blackened remains of the barracks where Russian peacekeeping troops had been stationed during Georgia's brief and disastrous incursion into South Ossetia.

Fifteen Russian soldiers died when Georgian tanks fired directly into their barracks, officials said. They also took reporters to the village of Khetagurovo, pulverised in a Georgian rocket attack. The rockets had smashed the village post office and pockmarked its Soviet war memorial.

On the road up to Tskhinvali numerous burned out houses were visible - set alight by South Ossetian militias when they swept towards the town of Gori, villagers said.

Today, however, Russian officials insisted the Georgians had set their own houses on fire. "This was done by Georgian special commandos," one Russian official declared. He suggested that other houses had burned down because of gas and electricity leaks.

[Source: The Guardian, London, Uk, 21Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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