To the Crew of the K-141 Kursk

14 years ago today, The Kursk Disaster hit the media outlets. In memory of 118 brave souls that were lost with their ship, I would like to share Sasha Janowicz’ afterword for The Kursk #1.

In August 2000 The News of The Kursk disaster exploded on the network channels around the world and I, like many, watched the events unfold in
silent horror in what became the first submarine incident in the history of all Navies, transmitted almost literally live on Television. Like many, I hoped for a successful
rescue of the sailors for those long eight days.

The news blamed the Russians for not asking for international help soon enough and thus jeopardizing the chances for the rescue; they commented on the ailing state of the
country and its fleet; they speculated about alleged attempts on behalf of the Russian Government and military authorities to cover up some mystery concerning the submarine and its mission, and about their inability to rescue the seamen and suggested that only the American and British Naval rescuers could do the job if called upon in time. Then, at the end, along with the world, I saw how Norwegian divers finally tore The Kursk’s escape hatch open with a powerful robotic arm which released a small air pocket from the already flooded submarine, taking away with it the last hope for survivors. I felt that something broke inside me.

Powerless fury – that is what Albina Konolova, the Liason Officer of the 7th Submarine Division (where The Kursk belonged), called that feeling.

I refused to believe some of the media reports, particularly those which alleged the delay of the rescue operation. I also wanted to learn the reason for the tragedy. For the next few years I collected information and talked to specialists in the field. In my studies, I found the rescue operation was record-breaking in many aspects: the submarine was found very quickly, the rescue submersibles were delivered and dived only around 14 hours after the submarine was discovered – the rescuers showed true heroism working against the bad weather above the Arctic Circle, risking like and limb around the clock for ten days trying to save their comrades, fighting until it was obvious that there were no chances and beyond. Nevertheless, the negative coverage continued to reappear in the Western Media.

I felt I needed to speak about it. the form of a stage play seemed, to me, the most appropriate. Quite a few books on the subject were published by journalists. The english language print, however, followed the ideological default: when speaking about Russia, speak negatively. The interesting, well-grounded materials appeared in Russia and were unavailable for the English speaking reader. Besides such books are released in limited numbers of copies and relatively few people get to read them. Making a film was out of the question, not only because of the lack of resources, but also because a film is a passive experience on the part of the viewer. Only a live theatrical experience, as opposed to a simple delivery of facts and images, seemed appropriate for sharing my knowledge and feelings with the audiences.

For those who lost their relatives on board The Kursk, this tragedy will never lose its relevance. But as the sinking of the boat becomes an increasingly distant historical event, the uneasy questions about what actually happened to the 118 men, or what could have been the consequences of it, are slipping out of the public focus.

It is not, however, in the headlines anymore; there are new stories of grief and distraction around.

The powerful images are shown on screens every day and become almost a part of the household furniture – something common. It takes the human experience away from the tragedy and turns it into statistics. Also common is the ever-renewing nature of the news broadcast, which bombards the viewer with new information every day, replacing the previous sensations. Today’s sensation is tomorrow’s stale gossip.

Those who control the media know this all too well and manage stories accordingly. The French government, for example, decided that the documents concerning the loss of one of their submarines in the distant 1970 would not be made public until 2078 – long after that entire generation is gone!

By then it will become just a piece of trivia. Thus the questions that are so painful and important in the present (like what gives the authorities of any country in the world the right to push humankind to the brink of a global catastrophe?) will become a mere anecdote of history in the future. Truth can be buried, forgotten, and reality changed so that the lessons of the past remain unlearnt. We have developed an alarmingly short historical memory as a civilization. This means we are sailing without a compass. We must become aware of the course before we get where we do not want to be.

In the words of the leading character from Vladimir Gubarev’s play Sarcophagus: “According to Socrates, all our troubles stem from ignorance.” [London: Penguin, 1987]. To avoid it we must question, because knowledge allows understanding, understanding invokes compassion, and compassion denies confrontation.

With this story, I want to share my grief of the loss of life and truth because I believe that by sharing grief we remind ourselves that we are human.

Sasha Janowicz, December 2008

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