20 years under Putin: a timeline

May 22, 2011

On May 20, 2011 a new play I Plead Guilty premiered in New York’s Gene Frankel Theatre. The script is based on the terrorist siege of Moscow Theater showing a popular musical Nord-Ost in October 2002. The controversial takeover by the Russian special services resulted in 130 civilians dead according to official information. The performance was supported by the Institute of Modern Russia.

The play is an hour-long two women dialogue. One is a terrorist (Evgenia Radilova), the other is a hostage (Dana Pelevine). The dialogue is intense, swinging from jokes to tears, from mutual accusations to a sudden accordance of minds. The audience is provided with numerous references to the most acute problems of Russian society and political system – continuous Chechen war, controversial acts of special services, government disregard towards the human dignity and life and many more.

The siege took place on October 23rd in Moscow theatre on Dubrovka street while the popular musical Nord-Ost was in full play. 916 people were taken hostages by a group of 30 terrorist identifying themselves as Chechen rebels. They spent almost three days in the siege while the government and different opinion leaders tried to succeed in the negotiations. The terrorist demanded full withdraw of Russian troops from Chechnya which was refused by the government officials. On the third day of the siege Russian special services leaked a gas of unknown nature inside the building and after it took effect broke inside killing all the terrorists. The controversy of this act was revealed soon, as 130 civilians were claimed dead due to gas poisoning. Still, Russian government recognized the operation as a “huge success”, and the civilian deaths were explained by dehydration and exhaustion.

As the scriptwriter and the mind behind the whole performance Natalia Pelevine pointed out, large portions of the dialogue that takes place between two heroines were recited to her by the hostages and their family members. In many ways the hostage figure was created under the influence of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian investigative journalist who was murdered in 2006.