Russia has sacrificed just as much blood, sweat and tears as any country in the fight against terrorism, yet when an apparent terrorist attack kills and maims dozens, this time in St. Petersburg, something seemed missing in the global response.
On my first visit to New York City 10 years ago, I was instantly struck by the number of Russians I encountered. The taxi driver who met me at JFK Airport was a Russian immigrant, and the radio station playing in his Yellow Cab was broadcasting in the Russian language. When I exited the taxi near Central Park, the first conversation I heard in this bustling city of 12 million people was between a Russian woman and a little girl as they were waiting for the light to change at an intersection. And this Russian presence goes far beyond New York City.
From Miami to Manhattan, Russian immigrants are heavily represented in American communities, universities and companies. I would guess that in the United States, as well as across Europe, most people know at least one person from Russia. So following Monday’s terrorist attack on Russia’s second largest city, which killed 11 people and injured dozens, one would expect there to have been an outpouring of solemn, heart-felt tributes to the victims of the blast, right?
Well, yes and no.
While users of social media around the world buzzed with individual declarations of sympathy and solidarity with the victims and families of the attack, similar displays of humanity went conspicuously missing from arguably the two most popular and influential forms of ‘social media’ in the world: the Empire State building in New York City and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Up until this week, these and several other famous architectural structures, like Germany’s Brandenburg Gate, have been illuminated with the national colors of any people that had just experienced the deep trauma of terrorism. On other occasions, the lights were extinguished from the structures altogether.
Here are just a few examples:
In January 2015, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris that killed 17 people, the Empire State Building provided an unforgettable tribute to the memory of those victims. The entire iconic structure, the very symbol of American might and ingenuity, was dimmed except for the upper crown section, which was illuminated in red, white and blue, the tricolor of the French flag.
Russia also participated, illuminating in Moscow the 540.1 metres (1,772 ft) tall Ostankino Tower, the tallest freestanding structure in Europe with the French tricolor.
In June 2016, following a mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub that killed 50, the Empire State building turned off its lights for a weekend, while the World Trade Center complex was awash in the multi-colors of the gay pride flag.
Following last year’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union, which left more than 30 people dead from a series of coordinated bomb blasts at the airport and subway station, the lights on the Empire State building were turned off.
Finally, last month, three people in London were killed and some 50 injured when an attacker used his car to run over people on Westminster Bridge before abandoning the vehicle and entering New Palace Yard where he killed an unarmed police officer with a knife. Paris showed solidarity with London by extinguishing the lights on the Eiffel Tower.
In Germany, Berlin also showed its solidarity with the British people by bathing the Brandenburg Gate with the Union Jack, the national flag of the United Kingdom.
However, no Western country offered this very simple gesture to Russia, which has been actively fighting against the scourge of terrorism in Syria, following the barbaric attacks in St. Petersburg. No Russian flag draped across the Brandenburg Gate, no dimming of the lights on the Eiffel Tower, nor on the Empire State building in New York City, home to tens of thousands of native Russian immigrants.
Personally, I find that snub almost as distressing and disturbing as the terrorist attacks themselves. It is almost as if these Western countries believe they belong to some ‘members only’ club that is required to express condolences and solidarity only to those who pay their dues and know the secret handshake. Acts of terrorism are screened through a relativism filter where senseless deaths at the hands of terrorists are judged as to which ones deserve our sympathies and which ones do not. Could that club by any chance be NATO?
Whatever the case may be, the world got a whiff of stuffy Western exclusivity as Berlin offered an outrageous explanation as to why it opted not to drape the Russian tricolor over the Brandenburg Gate. A spokesman of the Senate was quoted as saying St. Petersburg is not a partner city of Berlin, and “exceptions should only be made in exceptional cases,” as if the slaughter of 11 innocent commuters in a subway bomb blast was not exceptional enough.
And as far as being a “partner city” of Berlin, how does the German capital justify its decision for illuminating the structure for non-partner cities, like Orlando following the attack on the gay nightclub? Or for Jerusalem, after a man rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers in January, killing four?
It should be mentioned that at least one country, Israel, did express its condolences and solidarity with the victims of the St. Petersburg attack by lighting up city hall in Tel Aviv with the Russian tricolor.
However, I think there is a much simpler explanation for this snub of sympathy and solidarity by the Western elite following the worst terrorist attack on Russian territory in years. It all comes down to Russia’s decision – following a formal invitation from Damascus – to carry out a military intervention in Syria to destroy Islamic State. This decision was greeted with disdain across the Western hemisphere. Instead of welcoming Russia’s vast military expertise to battle the ultimate scourge of mankind, the West welcomed the news with an attitude bordering on hostility, even refusing to share any logistics or information to help the Russian military. At one point, Russia had to warn the United States not to attack Syrian government forces.
Nevertheless, the Syrian forces, with Russian support, have gone on to enjoy previously untold successes, liberating former terrorist strongholds of Palmyra and Aleppo, while halting oil shipments out of the country.
Now we have to ask ourselves, is it just a coincidence that following Russia’s successful intervention in Syria, Moscow has been hounded by economic sanctions, as well as one ridiculous accusation after another – from being accused of hacking the 2016 US Presidential Elections, to hacking the US power grid, to spreading “fake news?” Not one of these things, incidentally, has been proven with solid evidence.
So what happened – or did not happen – on April 3rd, aside from the terrorist attacks, was just more of the same anti-Russia Western antics. The deliberate decision to snub Russia following a terrorist attack is yet another attempt to punish Russia for daring to take a stand against the forces of terrorism, and what appears to have been a calculated and inexorable push toward regime change in Damascus (a project that won’t go away any time soon if the neocons in the US have any say in the matter).
However, the proud people of St. Petersburg, who have experienced and survived some of the most horrific and challenging moments in world history, didn’t need the bright lights of New York, Paris or Berlin when tragedy struck home, although it would have been welcomed.
They provided the world with their own brilliant light by once again uniting together against the forces of evil, displaying a spirit that is indeed inextinguishable.
Note: At the time of this writing, following an outpouring of criticism, it was announced that the lights of the Eiffel Tower will go down at midnight on Tuesday to commemorate the victims of the St. Petersburg bombings, the French capital’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said on Twitter.
Still no word about the Empire State Building or Brandenburg Gate.
About the author
Robert Bridge, an American writer and journalist based in Moscow, Russia, is the author of the book on corporate power, Midnight in the American Empire, released in 2013.