Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Revenge There, Revenge Here

State television discovered a new national hero last week. First there was Valery Yarantsev, captain of the trawler Elektron, which eluded the Norwegian coast guard and escaped into Russian waters with its hold full of illegal fish. Now we have Vitaly Kaloyev, the North Ossetian man sentenced to eight years in a Swiss prison for killing an air traffic controller whom he held responsible for the deaths of his wife and two children. Kaloyev's family died when a cargo plane collided with their Bashkirian Airlines jet in Swiss-controlled airspace over Germany on July 1, 2002.

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?

Then please write to us.

All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Kaloyev killed the air traffic controller, Peter Nielsen, because he read in the Russian press that Nielsen was to blame for the mid-air collision.

A German investigation subsequently concluded that Nielsen was partly to blame. Yet any disaster of this nature involves a chain of fatal coincidences. Nielsen, the sole air traffic controller on duty at the time of the accident, was no more responsible for it than the pilot of the Russian jet who carried out Nielsen's command rather than heeding the data provided by his own onboard computer.

Mid-air collisions are not as simple as murder in a mountain village. Blood feuds are poorly suited to the jet age. But that's not the point.

As the authorities were singing Kaloyev's praises, I was meeting with an elderly woman named Fatima Shikabakhova on the steps of the prosecutor's office in Nalchik -- a simple Kabardin woman with a simple story.

Fatima had a son named Mukhadin. One day he went to a neighbor's house for drinks. During a drunken argument, Mukhadin was killed. His body was dragged out and tossed into the river, where it was found two weeks later. A local cop who was friends with the killer concluded that Mukhadin drowned. Neither the statements of a dozen people who had witnessed the drunken brawl nor the blood-soaked rags that Mukhadin's brothers took from the killer's house changed his mind. Case closed.

Another of Fatima's sons, Mukharbi, responded by killing the killer. This time around the facts of the case were clear, and Mukharbi was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Fatima began a letter-writing campaign to convince the courts to consider the fact that Mukharbi had killed a blood enemy who had gone unpunished thanks to his chummy relations with the cops. To keep Fatima from writing any more, Mukharbi was murdered in prison.

For some strange reason the Russian authorities got terribly upset at the foot-dragging of their Swiss colleagues, which drove Kaloyev to become a killer. But they're not at all concerned about the excesses of law enforcement here at home.

On Oct. 13, Muslim believers attacked police, security and military installations in Nalchik. The attacks were retaliation for insults intolerable to any Muslim and Caucasus native. Mosques had been closed, beards singed, crosses shaved into their hair. People were dragged from mosques, beaten up in police stations and verbally abused.

One of the terrorists killed on the streets of Nalchik suffered from cerebral palsy. He was 17. He took up arms to avenge the death of his pregnant sister, shot to death by police last January.

Yes, the fighters in Nalchik were terrorists and Islamist extremists who dreamed of establishing a caliphate in the Caucasus. But they were driven to terrorism by the local authorities, no less than foot-dragging in Switzerland drove Kaloyev to kill.

State television justifies Kaloyev going abroad and taking revenge on a Swiss air traffic controller. But would anyone be willing to justify the members of the once-peaceful Kabardino-Balkarian jaamat who took revenge on the corrupt butchers from the Interior Ministry?

It appears that to go from bloodthirsty bandit to noble avenger, all you have to do is stab someone to death in another country. But a resident of the North Caucasus who does the same thing is labeled an international terrorist.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.