LSO conductor Valery Gergiev leads pro-Russia concert in Ossetia
The principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra led a pro-Russian classical concert in the ruins of the capital of South Ossetia to celebrate a crushing battlefield victory over Georgia on Thursday evening.
In front of the blackened shell that once acted as the breakaway region's rebel headquarters, Gergiev, who was born in Moscow but is an ethnic Ossetian, raised his baton to cheers and applause.
From a specially constructed gantry an audience of 300-odd Ossetians enthusiastically waved Russian flags as Gergiev led St Petersburg's Marinsky Orchestra in concert.
The program was specially designed to combine pomp, grandeur and defiance with pathos and grief.
Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, written on the orders of Stalin to rouse Russians against the Nazi invasions, was followed by the delicate strains of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique symphony.
Russian soldiers perched on the top of armoured personnel carriers, straining for a better view, as Orthodox priests, Jewish rabbis and even an imam passed through the audience granting benedictions to a self-proclaimed nation united in victory.
As the strains of Shostakovich filled the air, fresh smoke and sheets of flame from burning Georgian villages in South Ossetia rose from the hills - the latest sign that while the war may be over, the plight of civilians is not.
Yet Russian officers refused to acknowledge what was going on before their eyes. "What fire?", one snapped before striding off.
Gergiev, who is godfather to Vladimir Putin's daughter, said before the concert that Georgia's assault on South Ossetia that sparked the Russian invasion was comparable to the September 11 attacks on the United States. "The world doesn't know the truth about what happened in Tskhinvali, there is a huge manipulation of public opinion happening now," he said.
"I am a musician and I am also an Ossetian and what makes me tense is I have friends in Georgia ... but the Georgians do not know the truth."
The LSO stood by Gergiev's participation in the event, despite the British Government's condemnation of Russian aggression in the region.
"We understand that Valery Gergiev feels passionately about the current situation in South Ossetia and Georgia and are aware that he has in the past created music as an ambassador for peace; we send our good wishes to him for a significant and successful concert," said Kathryn McDowell, the orchestra's managing director.
Gergiev conducted with his usual gusto, occasionally emitting a traditional grunt as the sense of occasion overwhelms him.
With an atmosphere of jingoism heavy in the air, additional spice was given to the proceedings by the presence of rebel leader Eduard Kokoity who formerly appealed to Moscow for recognition of his tiny state's independence. That recognition could come as early as next week, a move that would inevitably strain tensions between the West and Russia as well as further undermining an already fragile ceasefire with Georgia.
Mr Kokoity, dressed in a black t-shirt and blue pinstripe suit, beamed proprietarily from the sidelines of the concert, which he declared was a sign of Russian support for the sovereignty of South Ossetia, a region slightly larger than Norfolk. This was, he said, a concert of liberation.
In the town of Gori, 15 miles into undisputed territory from the Ossetian frontier, Russian military trucks dumped weeping Georgian civilians forcibly removed from their devastated homes onto the tarmac.
Finland's foreign minister, Alexander Stubb, who witnessed the scenes was visibly angry, but he stopped short of calling Russia's actions ethnic cleansing.
"I've seen old people weeping," he said. "It's against all principles of international law."
Georgia claims that Russian troops and Ossetian irregulars have carried out numerous human rights abuses against civilians in villages both in South Ossetia and in occupied areas of undisputed Georgian territory.
Between the town of Gori and the Ossetian border there was evidence of widespread destruction of property. Buildings gutted by fire and shops and petrol stations with windows smashed in by looting lined the road.
The destruction was not as systematic as the Georgian government had claimed - the majority of buildings seemed to be in tact - yet it was clear that reprisals against the civilian population had been carried out on a substantial and vindictive scale.
A true examination of the situation behind the Russian lines proved impossible, however. The Daily Telegraph travelled through the region as part of a press tour organised by the Kremlin, and the minders accompanying us were clearly reluctant for reporters to stop and talk to civilians in Georgian areas.
Once in Tskhinvali, the Russian chaperones eased their restrictions, allowing reporters access to Ossetian civilians along a 200-yard stretch of road in the town's former Jewish quarter.
While the Russians tried to pass off some old damage as new - the area was badly affected by South Ossetia's first war in the early 1990s - scorch marks on the sides of ruined buildings proved that much of the devastation had happened in recent days.
The Kremlin had claimed that Georgia's military assault on the town was so brutal Tskhinvali had taken on the appearance of Stalingrad during the Second World War. It also claimed 1,600 civilians were killed in what it called genocide.
Both allegations were clearly exaggerated. Much of Tskhinvali remains in tact, whilst human rights organisations put the death toll at under 100.
Yet in this quarter of Tskhinvali the rubble-strewn streets and utterly gutted buildings testified to a serious bombardment. What caused it though was less clear. Local civilians and Russian soldiers blamed Grad rockets fired by the Georgians. Yet the nature of the devastation suggested that much of the damage had been inflicted by aerial bombardment, though whether Georgian or Russian planes were responsible is difficult to know.
"Our houses are in ruins," said Zaleria Kutseveya, an Ossetian woman who says she spent the five-day war in a neighbour's basement. "People are saying it was Russian bombing but I know it was the Georgians because I was here."
The civilian death toll in Tskhinvali's Jewish quarter is also difficult to establish. When The Daily Telegraph visited the area last year the quarter seemed mostly uninhabited. But twisted bed frames in the ruins of at least two houses suggested they were occupied when they were destroyed.
Yet whoever levelled the Jewish quarter, and however many people died there, is in some ways beside the point. The South Ossetians here believe Georgia was responsible and vow that reconciliation with their neighbours to the south is now impossible.
"How can we live with them," said Fatima Butseyeva. "They killed our neighbours, they killed our children. We hate them more than ever."
There was no sign of a meaningful withdrawal by Russian troops from Georgian territory. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, had promised that a withdrawal of all but 500 troops would be completed by Friday night. Russian soldiers yesterday also detained France's ambassador to Georgia and held him for three hours.
[Fuente: By Adrian Blomfield in Tskhinvali, Daily Telegraph, London, UK, 21Aug08]
The Question of South Ossetia
|This document has been published on 24Aug08 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|