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Analysis & Opinion
11.07.11 Escalating Aggression
By Svetlana Kononova

Gloomy, cheerless faces, harsh words and rudeness – foreigners who visit Russia for the first time often notice a somewhat tense atmosphere, and local residents’ peculiar communication style. And recent research may lend credence to these stereotypes. A survey entitled “20 years of reforms through Russians’ eyes,” conducted by the Russian Academy of Science’s Sociological Institute in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, identified a growth in aggressive and xenophobic attitudes in the country.

Thirty four percent of those who took part in the poll agreed with the statement “it is necessary to shoot all corrupt officials and speculators,” up two-fold since 2008. In Moscow, sixty percent of respondents agreed with this statement.

Surveys demonstrating a high level of tension in Russian society come as no surprise to Russian psychologists. “When a person lives in a potentially dangerous world, with no guarantees for their own security, where anything can happen to anybody at any point, they have to protect themselves,” said Svetlana Solovyeva, a psychologist at Pro Bono Alliance.

“The Institute of Sociology data does not mark a high level of aggression, but a high level of hostility. Aggression is defined as a demonstration of superiority, and the use of power to commit an injustice. In comparison hostility is a state of readiness for aggression and aggressive patterns within society; it is a response to potential danger,” Solovyeva continued.

“In Russia, the state doesn’t guarantee individuals’ safety and this is leading to a growth in hostility,” said Solovyeva, “In theory, living in an atmosphere of menace and potential danger for a long period of time could lead to an escalation of tension and hostility. Eventually it might lead to an aggressive response to some state initiatives like implementing new laws as well as economic defaults, price increases and poverty.”

The Academy of Science’s report also featured some bad news for Russia’s non-Russian population: almost one in three of those surveyed believed that ethnic Russians should have more rights than other people living in Russia. Forty percent of respondents who identified themselves as Russian said they would back the deportation of other ethnicities from Russian towns and cities. Paradoxically, almost one in three people of other nationalities would support the expulsion of non-Russians.

The “Society at a Glance 2011” report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) correlates with the data from the Russian Academy of Sciences and Solovyeva’s professional experience. According to the OECD research, Russia scored just 31 points on the Tolerance of Diversity Index, languishing at the bottom of the list of fifty countries surveyed along with China, India and Indonesia. In comparison, Canada and Australia scored 84 points and most West European countries and the United States scored between 61 and 78 points.

So how is this increasing tension impacting society? Above all it is compromising Russians’ personal safety. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 42,000 people died and 55,400 were injured as a result of violent crimes committed last year. 2009 statistics were similar and in the first five months of this year 15,700 people died and 20,500 were injured in violent crimes.

Many of these crimes are committed at home, with women and children in particular suffering from domestic violence. Russians are also exposed to abuse in the workplace – a poll conducted by the recruitment portal Superjob.ru found that 84 percent of respondents have experienced verbal abuse at work.

But combating aggressive behavior in Russian society is a difficult task, with sociologists pointing to various social and historical factors as the source of rising tension. From a lack of sufficient living space and the monotony of modern life to the legacy of wide-scale imprisonment in the 1930s through to the 1950s and the rise of criminal elements in dominant positions in society, Russians are fighting a losing battle against aggression.

“Only in Russia is the cult of power and criminal subculture not marginalized, but forms behavioral rules and the main principles of successful socializing. This culture is represented by deputies, government officials, businessmen, sportsmen, artists, policemen and criminals,” wrote journalist Arkady Smolin in a recent article.

And there is evidence that this violent culture is as much a part of children’s as well as adults’ lives. “It is deemed absolutely normal when teachers scream at pupils at school and offend them. But later teenagers give them a similar response. I would say girls are become even more aggressive than boys when they grow up,” said young Muscovite Julia Kokorina.
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