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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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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Ukraine Is Turning Into A "New Israel" — Where Everyone Is A Soldier

From businessmen to farmers, Ukrainian society has been militarizing for the past six months to defend its sovereignty. In the future it may find itself like Israel, permanently armed to protect its sovereignty.

Ukrainian civilians learn how to shoot and other military skills at a shooting range in Lviv on July 30, 2022.

Guillaume Ptak

KYIV — The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point. Vladimir Putin's army has suffered its worst setback since the beginning of the invasion. The Russian army has experienced a counter-offensive that many experts consider masterful, so it must retreat and cede vast territories to its opponent.

The lightning victory that the head of the Kremlin had dreamed of never took place. The losses are considerable — Ukrainian troops on the battlefield now outnumber the Russians.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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On April 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted that at the end of the conflict, Ukraine would become a "big Israel". In an interview with Ukrainian media, he said then, "In all the institutions, supermarkets, cinemas, there will be people with weapons."

The problem of national security will be the country's most important one in the next decade. An "absolutely liberal, and European" society would therefore no longer be on the agenda, according to the Ukrainian president.

Having long since swapped his suit and tie for a jacket or a khaki T-shirt during his public appearances, Zelensky has undeniably become one of the symbols of this growing militarization of Ukrainian society. However, the president claimed that Ukraine would not become an "authoritarian" regime: "An authoritarian state would lose to Russia. Ukrainians know what they are fighting for."

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