Weekly column by Marc Bennetts
Russia was rated 153rd out of 158 countries in the Global Peace Index 2012, above only the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia in the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace’s attempt to measure national and regional peacefulness.
The most peaceful country in the world, according to the report, was Iceland, followed by Denmark, New Zealand, Canada and Japan.
Countries were judged on a wide range of criteria, ranging from military expenditure to violent crime statistics, from internal conflicts to potential for terrorist acts. The report has been endorsed by a wide range of respected figures, among them UN head Kofi Annan and the Dalai Lama.
What with an ongoing Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus and a murder rate among the world’s highest, I guess there isn’t really much point arguing with the findings as far as Russia is concerned, although some of the ratings certainly seem a touch odd.
Is violence-stricken Syria, for example, with its high-profile massacres, really seven places worth of peace higher than Russia? And what about Norway, home to Anders Breivik, as the world’s 14th most peaceful country?
But there’s no doubting that while Russians have a great capacity for hospitality, the country feels aggressive on a day-to-day basis. As a fellow columnist pointed out last week, you don’t get too many smiles in Russia.
Russia’s lack of a service culture has been well-documented over the years, and while things are rapidly improving – especially in the big cities – it remains pure fact that you are still hundreds of times more likely to be shouted at in a shop here by some irate sales assistant than you are in, say, London.
It’s not just shops though. Russia is, for example, the only place where I’ve ever been yelled at by medical staff in a hospital. And the only place where I’ve ever seen medical staff shout at patients. State maternity wards are said to be particularly bad on this score, with stories of midwives screaming at in-pain delivering mothers to “shut up!” commonplace and the reason why anyone with money to spare goes private for births.
The notoriously violent police and the rudeness, approaching levels of high art, displayed by minor officials are just two more examples of the everyday rage at the heart of Russia.
So why is Russia so angry?
I put this question not so long ago to a few friends and acquaintances, and the general opinion seemed to be that things hadn’t always been this way, that folk here were a lot more tolerant and, well, polite in the Soviet Union. It was, they said, to boil the argument down to its essence, the sudden collapse of the socialist system and the introduction of raw, bandit capitalism that made people lose their trust in one another and gave rise to the aggression that is so common today.
I’m not really in a position to judge, as I only paid my first visit to Russia six years after the implosion of the Soviet Union. But as far as getting yelled at in shops goes, the argument doesn’t really hold tight. Capitalism tends to improve service, not worsen it – there’s more reason to fear the sack for a word out of place. The customer is always right, and all that.
And, while I’m willing to believe there was a certain level of stability in the Soviet Union lacking in today’s Russia, a host of Soviet writers documented the rudeness of officials in the world’s first socialist state. (I’ve also heard just as many maternity ward horror stories from women who gave birth in the Soviet era.).
Oddly enough, given all this anger, the ongoing anti-Putin protests, have been generally peaceful enough affairs. In fact, given the protesters’ intention to build a new Russia, it would be tempting to suggest they are demonstrating against anger itself, against the rage at the heart of the nation. Even if they haven’t realized that themselves yet.
I’m typing this in Dubrovnik, on Croatia’s Adriatic coast. It’s a pretty chilled out place, and it seems strange as it always does when out of the country to think of Russia. Writing about the rage among the sunshine and the smiles of the locals, it’s also hard to imagine that I’ll soon be returning to Russia’s rage. I guess the prospect should make me sad. But, somehow, it doesn’t. There’s something addictive about Russia’s anger. I’m not sure what exactly. And I guess when I do eventually figure it out, it’ll be time to leave. Until then, I’ll keep getting my daily fix of rage.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
From lurid tales of oligarch excess to scare stories about Moscow’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy supplies, the land that gave us Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin is very rarely out of the news. But there is much more to modern Russia than billionaire tycoons and political conspiracy. Marc Bennetts’ weekly column, Deeper Than Oil, goes beyond the headlines to explore the hidden sides of the world’s largest, and often strangest, country.
Marc Bennetts is a journalist who has written about Russian spies, Chechen football and Soviet psychics for a number of UK newspapers, including The Guardian and The Times. He is also the author of Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game (Virgin Books).
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- kylesvetPlease leave!13:48, 25/06/2012I have left you 20 comments over time and everyone of them has never been printed. I know that you have seen at least one of them! I will say again, you need to leave Russia and quit writing lies about her, it is obvious that you hate Russia. Please do leave and never come back and please take the rest of the trash with you. A Western journalist is worthless in Russia. I have lived here 6 years and am an America. I very rarely see what you try to pass off as normal in Russia and that is why you do not like my comments because they are against your thoughts. So please leave and write about another country that deserves it like America where most of what you say about Russia is true to form in America...
So please do leave and take your hate with you...
Russia is a fantasy=tic country and needs people who care not hate...
- metchi(no title)00:38, 26/06/2012and you can return to Russia with no problems...then why me!? what is wrong with Alexi saying no word to me!? nor do I have my Turkish or Jordanian passport!?
is it ask "Jeef"!????? Munia
- SirkoHumbug08:15, 26/06/2012Sydney based Institute for Economics and Peace.
The name says it all and its credibility is "Bah! Humbug!"
"...introduction of raw, bandit capitalism that made people lose their trust in one another and gave rise to the aggression that is so common today."
Is there any other kind?
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Some people are trying to make the reality in Russia at least a bit more humane. The amnesty should apply not only to persons involved in high-profile cases, but also to individuals who are not as well-known. It is better to set free at least some of the individuals who deserve to be released than no one at all.