January 08, 2014
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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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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