събота, 28 януари 2017 г.

Bulgaria Analytica: Violence – the glue that holds together Russia

“Russia holds together as a whole country only thanks to force. Only through the suppression of freedom. Only with violence and the imposition of artificial consensus. The nation has no internal bonds, its own raison d‘étre and desire to live together. In order to hold together it needs external challenges and threats.”
Alfred Koch, Russian politician

The Russian State Duma is discussing an amendment to a law that would decriminalize cases of domestic violence, which allows observers to draw a nearly perfect psychological portrait of the nature of power in Russia. The portrait is not just of Russia’s current rulers, but of the set of values that form the base of Russian despotism – whether it be tsarism, Stalinist repression or even the more refined forms of “soft” violence exerted today on the Russian people, both as individuals and a group.
The right to hold and exert power using violence reflects its rise as the supreme value for the Russian political class and the glue that holds together government and people within the single state with the largest territory.
The new draft legislation would if adopted legitimize violence in the family, this embodying the the cult of violence and contempt for human rights and basic Christian moral values. Violence generates further violence both up and down the causal chain – man over woman, children against children, students against students, soldiers against soldiers, citizens against citizens and so forth upscale in the social hierarchy. According to data of the Ministry of Interior, more than 40% of all crimes in Russia are committed in families.
Finally, violence at home naturally crosses Russia’s national borders and translates into violent acts against other countries and people, against political and business partners, building up a bullying tradition, including denial of established international norms and standards of conduct. Under the proposed changes it would be perfectly legal to use violence at home, which extends the right of the state to use force against its citizens protesting on the street. The use and the threat of use of force and violence are the ubiquitous power standard and the plane at which the political elite rule. It is not only and mostly the use of obvious and harsh physical force, but also any form of psychological violence.
The long-term effect of systematic and widespread violence on people’s minds leaves much more severe and lasting consequences when done contemporaneously via multiple channels of controlled media and aided by mass corruption or administrative arbitrariness.
There is marginal difference between acts of violence at home and invading foreign territory — crossing physical boundaries of weaker neighbors in order to administer the regular dose of national pride to the Russian people, on the one hand, and the virtual borders of private life and virtual space from the TV screen or computer.
The Russia media offer various seemingly credible technical reasons behind the recent draft legislation on family violence. Although to outsiders it may seem strange that it is co-authored and promoted by women – both in the State Duma and the Senate – this is trivial for Russia’s domestic Byzantine political scene. The main motive is “protection of the base social cell – the family”. It is true that Russian courts are overwhelmed with cases of domestic violence, yet more the 97% of all acts of violence in families never reach court. The amendment should help relieve courts of domestic violence cases, which amount to an overwhelming number despite representing just 3 percent of the problem. The ruling United Russia party would then claim to have warded off the problem of domestic violence and declare Russian families safe and sound.
Statistics in this area are quite depressing – more than 2,000 children commit suicide trying to flee from violence at home, with another 26,000 kids being beaten by their parents. And so in one fell swoop, the motion could help solve several problems. There are most likely cases of legal abuse with the provision in the law, as there are in many other countries. In the Russian case, however, there is a further complication when considering family violence and the role of the offender and the weaker sex – for a number of reasons specific to Russia.
What amazes most in this case is the decision of the Kremlin to make full use of its resources and push through such a contentious draft law in the eyes of Western and international public opinion.
This bill marks the widening gap between the European and Russian sets of values (not sure that in this case it is appropriate to use Eurasian) at a critical junction in the relations between the West and Russia. This revelation should serve a sobering shower to Bulgarian sympathizers of the Kremlin in their search for their own identity. It is hard to find a stronger and more vivid example of the rift between the Russian world and European civilization.
The demarcation line as set out in the amendments between sanctioned and unsanctioned violence runs through whether or not the victim ends up in the hospital. Anything short of this seems to be perfectly permissible under the bill, unless one can prove a systemic nature – which is an even higher barrier. Although Russia holds premier positions worldwide in domestic violence cases, the number of unreported and unregistered cases in house violence is even higher  – more than 60% – with victims preferring to keep the matter private for the sake of the family or for fear of retribution and lack of commitment by institutions. A similar bill, if and when enacted, would further discourage reporting and encourage offenders both at home and on the street.
The truth is that violence long ago became the glue of social cohesion under President Putin. Initially he started with “soft” and tacit power, gradually mastering control of the media and the public, pushing dissenters into internal or external emigration. With coffers full with petrorubles he was at liberty to suppress any civil disobedience, discouraging alternatives to his power. When the soft approach did not yield results, he resorted to brutal violence by his proxies resulting in the killings of journalists, politicians, writers and activists who contributed to Russian civil society. Then came the invasions of Georgia and later Ukraine.
This act of the Russian Parliament gives further indisputable proof that Russia is undergoing kadirovization, i.e. the norms and values of Kadyrov’s rule in Chechnya are gradually being adopted by the Kremlin and then spread nationwide. Such an attitude towards family violence and women and children exists only in countries of Islamic fundamentalism – with the textbook example being Saudi Arabia, where husbands have the right to beat and even kill their wives and children. For all its posturing as a beacon of modern humanism, courts in the Third Rome of Christianity would differ little from Sharia courts and law in their treatment of domestic violence?
Violence is almost a religion and a daily routine in Russia. I recall my first May 9 in 2000, as ambassador, standing up at the Red Square, watching the parade formation passing by. I tried to imagine the figure of Russian casualties in the Chechnya wars – which then stood around 10 thousand – translated into those marching lines of soldiers and felt goosebumps. The blocks consist normally of 200 soldiers and that meant that it would have taken the whole parade to make up for the lost souls. Now juxtapose these numbers with 12,000 women who die and more than 36,000 beaten each year in family violence in Russia, and you will get the drama in the level of tolerance and the extremely high threshold of pain of Russian society, which can take almost any violence for granted.
For most EU countries that would have been an unthinkable degree of violence in nominally peaceful times. Yet for Russian – that is almost normal and is taken as the cost of greatness – for keeping the country together. Against this background of a history of extreme violence, an amendment to decriminalize family violence seems trivial. When one compares what the then-Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov was looking for, and the sacred status Chechnya has under Ramzan Kadyrov – with 86 percent of the republic’s budget coming as subsidy from the federal center – one wonders who is laughing last.
The family rules for violence are closely following Putin’s presumably conservative personal value set, which instead of consolidating families often brings chaos and destruction both at the personal and national level. The cult of force is instrumental, and imperial thinking comes as a natural spin off. The first and utmost concern of any new leader coming to the Kremlin is to secure his grip on power through the mechanism of violence. He enjoys almost unrivaled freedom of action when compared to EU leaders who can hardly resort to open and brutal violence to remain in power. While Western politicians have to account for and accommodate public concerns and comply with a basic code of ethics, the Russian public under President Putin will be ready to accept whatever storyline comes along justifying the casualties and the policies. The Russian audience will always be ready to accept more lost souls or agree with Kremlin for the sake of protecting the “family honor” or to punish disrespect for Russia’s interests in the near abroad.
Although in the short span the tactical gains of Putin resorting to violence might seem to overweigh losses, in the long-term there is less welfare and less security. Pyrrhic victories give birth to anger both at the family level and national level and to retribution, sooner or later.
Today it is hard to find a single marker of the rift between Europe and modern Russia more appropriate and more blatant than this bill in the State Duma, which in line with recent acts of denial of international norms and law (worth noting is the decision of the Constitutional court ‘allowing’ Russia’s government to disregard the decisions of the European Court of Human rights).
What is of greater concern is that in some EU countries the Russia-EU values mismatch translates into internal conflicts and dividing lines between parts of society that echo Mr. Putin’s strongarm policies and dependence on violence and the majority of people who stick to human rights at international, national, family and individual levels. While there is some merit in ignoring news on extremes in Russian political and social practices, the bill decriminalizing violence should serve as a red light and an alarm for the acquiescent European public that believes it can insulate itself from the harsh realities in modern Russia.

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