Vienna, October 3 – An ever larger share of those involved in Russian neo-Nazi attacks on ethnic and religious minorities in that country are below the age of 21, a development that Moscow experts say is “acquiring ever more threatening dimensions” and that suggests the number and violence of such attacks is likely to grow.
Two articles in yesterday’s “Novyye izvestiya,” one on the increasing number of extremist crimes committed by young Russians and a second on the rising tide of aggression displayed by Russian school children to their teachers and each other, provide a disturbing picture of a youth culture headed in the wrong direction
In the first article, journalists Yevgeny Zubchenko and Mikhail Zlatkovsky not that last week, several Duma deputies expressed “particular concern about manifestations of extremism among young people” in the Russian Federation when officials said that nationalists between 16 and 20 had committed 17 murders for ethnic and religious reasons in the first half of 2008.
But the problem, the two journalists say, is far more serious than Russian officials acknowledged. And they point to a single case currently being heard in a Moscow court, in which only one of the 13 accused was an adult when they are charged with killing 20 and trying to kill 12 more for ethnic reasons (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-10-02/99004).
Militia officers involved in that case said that the school system had failed to socialize these young people, adding that “not the least role” in the rise of such violence against ethnic groups and religious minorities is no played by television and the Internet,” where violence is often celebrated rather than condemned.
Sergey Komkov, the president of the All-Russian Foundation for Education, agreed. He told the Moscow paper that in his view, schools had almost completely stopped providing the kind of moral instruction that they used to provide, a failing that has been exacerbated by the lack of non-political youth groups.
Unfortunately, he continued, there has been “a spontaneous process of the grouping of young people around political structures: Today, every party worthy of the name has its own young movement: United Russian, LDPR and so on.” Not surprisingly, “extremist and so-called patriotic” groups have done the same, forming youth groups to promote their agendas.
Indeed, Anna Kartashova of the Moscow Psychological Center said, the radical parties view young people as an obvious place to find support. Often, as part of the maturation process, she said, young people engage in “aggressive” actions in order to demonstrate to themselves and their world their independence.
When they are led by responsible adults, most young people find ways to outgrow that need. But when they are encouraged by irresponsible adults, she said, then there is the danger, now seen frequently in the Russian Federation, that young people will engage in violence, especially when they feel they have the support of their elders.
And in today’s Russia, Kartashova pointed out, many adults and media outlets routinely say that “Georgians or Chechens or someone others are bad.” Adults may limit themselves to saying that, but young people often will not and instead act on such messages, especially since “youths divide everything into black and white.”
The second article in yesterday’s “Novyye izvestiya” points to a rising tide of aggressiveness beyond that being directed at ethnic and religious minorities. According to the Russian interior ministry, it says, teachers are now twice as likely to be the victims of violence by pupils than pupils are of violence by teachers (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-10-02/99013/).
In many Russian schools the situation has become so bad, journalist Nina Bazhdayeva said, that “teachers are afraid of their students.” And at the same time, she reports, the number of violence clashes among students has been rising as well, reducing still further the possibility for successful instruction in the schools.
In commenting on this trend, Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, the head of the Moscow Center for Psychology and Social Medicine, said that it is a mistake to blame television or computer games for what is going on. All people are “genetically” disposed to aggression, he said, but there are reasons why Russians need to be especially concerned about these trends.
The amount of aggressiveness varies among societies and over time, he pointed out, but “in times of stormy social and economic transformations” or when “social inequality generates anger and envy” as now in Russia, there is almost no chance that there will not be more aggression wherever young people are concentrated.
But the most widely proposed response – draconian punishments for any engaging in such actions – will not always work with young people, Tatyana Mukha, a psychologist at the Moscow Center for Education in Development, said. Instead, “punishment causes new aggression,” yet another explanation for aggressive extremism among Russian young people.