Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Continues to Exploit Russians’ Fears, Real and Media Induced

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 16 – Like its Soviet and tsarist predecessors, the current Russian government exploits the fears – both real and imaginary – that many Russians have in order to manipulate and mobilize them to do what the Kremlin wants, according to a prominent Moscow psychologist.
In an article posted on today, Natalya Savitskaya said that urban Russians, like people living in major cities in other countries, are increasingly fearful of the environment around them not only for entirely good reasons but also for entirely imaginary ones (
Urban Russians, she said, have to confront a variety of very real problems, including possible attacks by criminal elements in the metro and other tensions arising from living in such close proximity to so many people. But she suggested that many of them fear things without any basis in reality at all.
Thus, “many residents of Moscow are frightened of natural catastrophes” like earthquakes, floods, and similar cataclysms, “which rarely if ever occur there, a situation that compounds the fears and suspiciousness they have developed because of real threats but one that the Russian government is only too happy to exploit.
Such phobias, the psychologist continued, are the result of the way in which the country’s mass media – and especially its government-controlled electronic media – selectively and sensationally report particular events, a pattern that leads many Russians to conclude that their situation is even more dire than in fact it is.
“The thing is,” Savitskaya said, “that fear is a powerful instrument of administration and manipulation of people.” And Moscow invariably views it as a means of controlling the population by keeping it in a condition of “permanent mobilization” against the West in the Cold War and against international terrorism now.
But urban residentsare not the only residents of the Russian Federation to suffer from the effects of mental problems brought on by fear. According to a report by today, Irkutsk oblast in the Transbaikal region is the place where “people most often go out of their minds” (
In that Siberian region, “psychological disturbances,” many of them arising out of a state of fear are 2.3 times more common that the figures for the Russian Federation as a whole, a situation, the news service said, the local authorities have almost completely failed to address.
A recent inspection of mental health facilities there, found that the four psycho-neurological institutions there “lack the government certification for providing medical services,” an intolerable situation and one that oblast officials, at Moscow’s behest, supposedly are now hurrying to rectify.
Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg last week, members of the legislative assembly there held a hearing on the state of psycho-neurological facilities there. One deputy commented that conditions there were in “a catastrophic situation, one that requires immediate interference” by the authorities (
These facilities are so overcrowded that there is insufficient space for all those who need treatment for psychoses let alone neuroses and where even those admitted are given only three or even 2.5 square meters of space, far less than the six square meters that the law requires.
Given these problems with the Russian government’s support system for those who are driven to mental illness by their often-irrational fears and indeed with that government’s interest in keeping the population in a state of fear, it is perhaps no surprise that many Russians continue to engage in self-medication via alcohol.
A study by the RBK marketing agency reported today that Russians in the Central Federal District now spend 2.1 percent of their family budgets on alcohol. While an increasing share of that goes to cognac and beer rather than vodka, this level of expenditure often means that Russians do not eat properly.
And that in turn means, those who conducted the survey imply, that the fears that drive many citizens of the Russian Federation to drink are compounded by the health problems that such “self-medication” by means of alcohol produces on its own (

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