On the Day of the Brussels Bombing – as Maria Zakharova Saw It

This day, 22 March,  should have been different, not the one we all had. There should have been meetings, documents – a calm day, with time to get ready for a big ‘week of negotiations’.

We received the first news of the terror attacks in Belgium  at 10 a.m.. An hour and a half later we became aware of the scale of the tragedy.  Telephones “exploded”.

“Are there any Russians involved in the Brussels tragedy?” 

“How does Foreign Ministry evaluate what is happening in Brussels?” 

“Is there any plan to counteract the terrorist threat in Europe?”

“What’s next?” 

There were dozens of questions. I must have given ten interviews: Russia-24, Channel One, Dozhd, Ren-TV, Life-news, RSN, agencies, newspapers, online media… I don’t remember them all.

Someone asked: “Why did you work so hard?  It wasn’t us who suffered from the explosions!”

“What do you mean?” I asked startled. 

“I mean how long are you going to sympathize with ‘them’ since they don’t care about ‘us’ when we have terror attacks in our country. Usually they just make fun of us…Aren’t you fed up with that?”

I was shocked, and started to say publicly and with increasing emphasis: “We extend our sincere condolences… Words of encouragement to those…It’s our common tragedy… We need to join  forces… It’s important to understand the root causes…”

Of course, it’s my job to answer questions from the media. But that’s not the point. It was hard for me to accept that people were beginning to sidestep the issue, but also, tired of the world ignoring our Russian tragedies and catastrophes. Waiting for my turn on air, I read various comments, some desperate: “They never sympathize with ‘US’, so why should we sympathize with ‘THEM”.

Although I’ll never forget how Western publications treated Beslan (a terrorist attack on a school in North Ossetia on September 1, 2004 in which 333 people were killed, 186 of them children – ed), blaming Moscow, I said again:

 “It’s our common tragedy… We call upon everyone to join forces… We mustn’t justify terror attacks in one region and criticize them in other… There are no good or bad terrorists… We need to restart the cooperation that was blocked by our partners.”

“Russian officials unequivocally condemned the attacks and sent condolences. They could not have done otherwise.”

By prime-time, tempers had flared beyond the joking point, and we were hearing ugly statements from ‘we all are going to die’ to ‘send the Air Force to Belgium’, spread all over TV and the Internet. People brought flowers to the Belgian Embassy… Others said:  “It serves them right”

And then on air at Russia-24, I I said:

“Please, don’t gloat over the misfortunes of others! We shouldn’t gloat, using words like ‘us’ and “them”. We must not let this happen. Today there is a high terrorist threat level and no region, city or country are fully protected from these attacks – no matter what economy, policies or standard of living they have. What happened today proves this, finally. If there is not just a lone attack but a whole chain of them happening in the center of Europe, in a wealthy city that hosts the EU and NATO headquarters,  it’s time for all of us to wake up and understand that it can’t go on this way. We need to do everything to stop the spread of this catastrophe”.

At 7:00 p.m., I was shown an article published on Radio Liberty. The title almost knocked me down: “State Choral Gloating”. The author (not a journalist), said Russian officials were gloating over the terror attacks in Belgium.

Whose photograph do you think went with the ‘article’? You are correct: it was mine. In the best traditions of agitprop they put  a photo with me wearing a diplomatic uniform and added a link to someone’s tweet that had nothing to do with me, to squelch any argument. 

It wasn’t that damn lie that knocked the wind out of me – at least not the first time, but because it was Radio Liberty’. The media that had been a mouthpiece for the terrorists from the North Caucasus, presenting them as political migrants, refugees and fighters for justice. You can read all about the financing of this news source on their site: the money comes from the same people who denounce the ‘Russian propaganda machine’ every day.

After negotiating with the directors of the Russian-language  service over the facts, they edited both the text and title. But I still feel sullied. 

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