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GAZETA WYBORCZA

A Polish Reporter's Notes On A Rude And Brutal Russia

Russia's own Academy of Sciences has declared the country the European leader in aggressive and loathsome behavior. And if you doubt it, just consider the grim statistics.

"Brutality spreads across all areas of life,” the Russian Academy of Sciences claims in its survey
"Brutality spreads across all areas of life,” the Russian Academy of Sciences claims in its survey
Waclaw Radziwinowicz

MOSCOW — The Russian Academy of Sciences recently dropped a bombshell: “Comparative studies show that in terms of aggression, roughness and hatefulness, we are the leading nation, at least in Europe,” it announced.

The survey made the headlines after being published by the pro-government Russkaja Gazeta. In fact, my two-hour-long interview with the vice director of the Academy was interrupted by phone calls from more than 20 different media outlets.

Ironically, the report’s publication coincided with President Vladimir Putin’s annual end-of-the-year message. He said that Russia wanted to be the leader for those who may be anxious about the demoralization of the Western world and want to be faithful to “conservative values, including religious ones.”

Russians like to brag about the unparalleled kindness of the locals, repeating Dostoyevsky’s words that Russians are a “God-carrying nation,” meaning a nation that carries God in its heart. Actor and director Nikita Mikhalkov is another famous advocate of this theory.

But when a frail young leftist threw an egg at the famous director 14 years ago, he ordered the bodyguards to throw the boy on the ground. Once the offender was incapacitated, Mikhalkov kicked him in the face.

“Brutality spreads across all areas of life,” the Russian Academy of Sciences claims in its survey, “from relations between married people who hire hitmen, through to the ways of committing suicide. About half of our countrymen admit to insulting others on an everyday basis, considering it normal behavior. The roughest are the young and rich.”

Rough talk, rough behavior

Next to my Moscow house there is a school considered to be particularly good. Every day I see and hear Russian mothers walk their children there. Women are stressed and in a hurry, like everybody in this city (and yet somehow nobody arrives on time). Their nerves and their language are often outlandish. I remember one young woman shouting at her 6-year-old daughter: “What the f%*@, I told you to not put this damn thing into your bag, and yet you did!”

Russia’s everyday language welcomes not only a great variety of profanity but also prison slang. Everybody knows it and at least half of the youth use it daily.

Moreover, the new order in schools is akin to prison. Just like criminals, students are divided into “lads” and “goats.” In a school in Samara, Russia’s sixth-largest city in the southwest of the country, a few “lads” not only beat up one “goat,” but they also raped her with a broom stick.

They could have learned this practice from police, if not from criminals. In March of 2012, a 52-year-old man died in a Kazan hospital, in western Russia, after being questioned at the local police station. Before his death, the victim managed to reveal to doctors that policemen were pressing a champagne bottle into his anus during the interrogation. An autopsy revealed that the rupture of his lower intestine was the cause of death.

The rise of aggression in Russia is also reflected in some tragic statistics. According to official figures, there are 10 times more murders in Russia than in Poland and four times more than in United States, making Russia the Eurasian leader.

More than 30,000 people die each year in car accidents. Here again, Russia leads Eurasia. Wild brawls between drivers occur daily. One extreme example happened when an officer of the Federal Security Agency became furious after a snow plow scratched his car on a tiny Moscow street. The officer pulled his gun and shot the other driver.

In another incident, a student of a prestigious Moscow school for diplomats crossed the street on a green light for drivers, forcing the sports car that was approaching at full speed to stop. The infuriated driver, also a student, jumped out of the car and beat the pedestrian to death.

A similar situation happened to a Polish correspondent who managed to avoid a rushing car after crossing on a green light for pedestrians. When he shouted at the driver, the car stopped and two robust men emerged. The journalist ended up with a broken jaw.

Official propaganda sings Putin’s praises, characterizing his governance as leading to “times of stability” and increasing prosperity. But since 2000, when Putin took office, Russians have only become more negative and violent.

“In Moscow, when you smile at a shop assistant, she will take you for a fool,” says Viera Kiczalowa, a student at Moscow State University. “I like September when we come back to the university after holidays in Europe because everybody is nice to each other. But once you hear the news agent responding ‘What do you want?’ to your ‘Good morning’, you quickly understand that you are not in Europe anymore.”

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Geopolitics

The Trumpian Virus Undermining Democracy Is Now Spreading Through South America

Taking inspiration from events in the United States over the past four years, rejection of election results and established state institutions is on the rise in Latin America.

Two supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dressed in Brazilian flags during a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Bolsonaro supporters dressed in national colours with flags in a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on November 4, 2022.

Ivan Abreu / ZUMA
Carlos Ruckauf*

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — South Africa's Nelson Mandela used to say it was "so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build."

Intolerance toward those who think differently, even inside the same political space, is corroding the bases of representative democracy, which is the only system we know that allows us to live and grow in freedom, in spite of its flaws.

Recent events in South America and elsewhere are precisely alerting us to that danger. The most explosive example was in Brazil, where a crowd of thousands managed to storm key institutional premises like the presidential palace, parliament and the Supreme Court.

In Peru, the country's Marxist (now former) president, Pedro Castillo, sought to use the armed and security forces to shut down parliament and halt the Supreme Court and state prosecutors from investigating corruption allegations against him.

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