5,102 miles away from our quiet hamlet of Orange City sits the booming metropolis of Moscow, capital of the largest country in the world.
Despite different cultures, languages and time zones, twelve days ago Americans could understand the feelings of terror and confusion of countless Russians in a very real way.
Families who waited with expectation in the ornate International Arrivals Hall recall the sound vividly. A loud boom, followed by a billowing plume of orange and black smoke. A sound of holy terror that has become commonplace in our nation’s imagination as Americans remember the tragedy of 9/11. But for many Russians it’s a sound that has become ingrained in all to recent memory as it becomes common as the subway, buses and as of last Monday, Domodedovo Airport, have become the targets of suicide bombers.
“To me, it’s horrific how many people were hurt,” said Dr. Heather Josselyn-Cranson, a former member of the Peace Corps stationed in Russia.
As the faculty advisor for the Summer Study Abroad trip to Russia’s Pacific coast, opposite the country of the capital, Moscow, Josselyn-Cranson remarked, “I’ve found it to be an incredibly warm and hospitable culture. People you don’t even know will insist you come for dinner. It doesn’t even matter what time you show up, you’ll always get a full meal.”
This hospitality is remarkable considering a long and painful history of communism and forced homogeneity on the Russian people. Having long defied the orthodox geographic bounds, Russia spreads over two continents, nine time zones and eight main ethnic groups.
“Russia was very homogenous under the Soviet Union. Communism does homogeneity very well, which is why some of these non-Russian countries are reveling in having their own language and culture. It’s understandable that at the root of the bombing are these people groups, who have their own religious background, wanting to establish their independence,” said Josselyn-Cranson. “And now they want to hit Russia where it hurts.”
Following Monday’s bombings, which killed 35 and injured hundreds more, Russian officials disclosed that the publicly unnamed but identified 20-year-old suicide bomber was in fact a member of one such ethnic minority, the largely radically Islamic Chechen people of southwestern Russia.
“For me, it feels a little bit like New York after 9/11,” said Josselyn-Cranson. “But for me, my concerns for the SSA are still the same, like someone not looking when you cross the street. It’s the little inattentions that cause trouble when you’re traveling. You don’t let terrorists win by changing your plans.”