Post by Stephen Harding
Having spent years aboard Soviet fishing vessels fishing the US EEZ back
in the late 70's and early 80's, the one thing that most impressed me
about Russians was their ability to suffer!
They can tolerate conditions (physical and mental) that would have us
Americans and I think Western Europeans as well, crying like babies in
I think Russia could be quite a nation if they let loose the creative
drive that exists in its people. Just always seems suppressed by either
some authoritarian or ubiquitous corruption, and usually it seems, both.
But it's true; the Russians do seem to admire powerful leadership even if
it turns brutal on them.
That's the way it's been since the days of Rurik.
Russkies look back on the times of Ivan IV, Peter
the Great, and Joe Stalin as "the good old days"...
Russians remain fatalistic and resigned to disasters
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
MOSCOW — There was something sadly predictable about the reaction to
Russia's latest convulsion of disasters: a plane crash, a mine blast and a
nursing home fire. In the span of four days, 180 Russians died and the
country, more or less, shrugged.
"They thought about this between the borscht and the cutlet," Matvei
Ganapolsky, a radio host, said on Ekho Moskvy, comparing Russia's collective
reaction to tragedy, unfavorably, to that of other countries. Outrage or
grief or sympathy lasts about as long as a pause between the courses.
It would be wrong to stereotype, to say that Russians are fatalistic or
heartless. They are, however, not only resigned to tragedy but inured to it
in a way that to many raises alarms about the country's future. They are not
just helpless in the face of disaster; they could be called complicit, ever
beckoning the next one by their actions or lack of action.
Disasters, natural and man-made, occur everywhere, but unnatural death
occurs in Russia with unnatural frequency and in unnatural quantity.
In a report in 2005 called "Dying Too Young," the World Bank warned that
accidents, which affect men of working age the most, were contributing to a
decline in the Russian population. The country is a world leader in
industrial accidents, like the explosion at a Siberian mine Monday that
killed 110, in traffic accidents, in fires, in murders and in suicides.
Russians grieve, but they do so privately. They rarely demand public action
through the media, elected representatives or street protests. A result is a
lack of accountability, even impunity, that lets corruption fester,
otherwise solvable problems mount.
A fire early Tuesday engulfed a government home for the elderly and disabled
in a small town on the Sea of Azov, killing 63 at last count. It quickly
became apparent that the building had been declared unsafe, inadequately
equipped to suppress fire and built with toxic materials that almost
certainly increased the death toll. And yet, somehow, it remained open.
If it seemed shockingly familiar, that is because it was. A fire in December
killed 46 at a drug-treatment hospital in Moscow. The doors and windows were
locked. Inspectors had spotted violations that had apparently never been
fixed. A day later 10 patients died in a fire at a home for the mentally ill
Igor Trunov, a prominent lawyer in Moscow, argued that a lack of legal - or
political - accountability allowed private companies and public agencies to
flout rules and regulations and escape punishment for wrongdoing. He cited
the airline industry, saying that aging equipment, shoddy maintenance and
poor training contributed to a number of crashes.
The latest came on March 17 when a Soviet-era airliner missed a runway in
Samara and overturned, killing 7 of 57 people aboard in an accident
preliminarily attributed to mechanical problems and pilot error. That crash
followed two major disasters last year - a crash landing in Irkutsk, in
Siberia, which killed 125, and a flight to St. Petersburg that crashed in a
storm over eastern Ukraine, killing 170.
Trunov's answer is still a novelty here: the lawsuit. He has campaigned to
win more compensation for victims of some prominent tragedies: an avalanche
in the Northern Caucasus in 2002 (125 dead); the botched rescue of hostages
in a Moscow theater in 2002 (128); the collapse of a water park in Moscow in
2004 (28); and both of the air disasters last year (295). He has so far lost
Russia, he said, suffers from a mentality in which human life is not valued.
In a recent article he computed the value of a person based on various
countries' laws for compensating injuries or death. Life in Russia is, in
fact, cheap. According to his calculation a Russian is worth $118,000; an
American, $3.2 million.
It has become a sorry routine: the promise of action and the failure to
deliver. After the disaster at the indoor water park, the emergencies
minister, Sergei Shoigu, appeared before TV cameras and demanded an end to
shoddy building and maintenance. No one has been held to account. In
February 2006 the roof of a market built by the same architect collapsed; 56
History might explain part of the country's indifference. Russia has endured
revolution and war on a scale that can be difficult to comprehend. A former
commandant of the Army War College in the United States, Major General
Robert Scales, once recalled giving a Russian general a tour of Gettysburg.
The Russian asked the American how many casualties the battle had produced.
Told that 51,000 soldiers had been killed, wounded or left missing, the
Russian swept his hand dismissively.
"Skirmish," he said.
But Ganapolsky, the radio host, said history alone did not explain Russia of
today. Russians care, he said in an interview, but they stay home and
express their anger or sorrow in private.
"Why do Italians come out into the streets?" he said. "Because they know
they can change their government. Why don't Russians come out in the street?
Because they know they will meet the riot police."