Indifference and Cruelty in Russia, from the Street to the Duma

September 17, 2013
A Russian woman hits her child on a Youtube video.

There are things you cannot eliminate by changing the regime, boycotting the Winter Olympics in Sochi, or imposing international sanctions. These are human cruelty, indifference to others, and ignorance. In Russia, cruelty, indifference and ignorance are commonplace. Some people get used to them, others end up tolerating them. You will always come across someone who will find pleasure in humiliating, offending or hurting you physically or morally—be it in school, kindergarten, police station, or the State Duma.

Last week, Russian media reported that a criminal case was opened against a woman who had beaten her child. It started with the uploading of a video on the internet: a passerby made a cell phone video of the mother hitting her four-year-old boy violently on the head as she was telling him that if he did not obey her, she would sell him for organs.

If you could bear to watch the video, you would probably at first be relieved, like me, that the woman will have to pay a price for her abusive behavior. But your second thought, like mine, would probably be for the little boy: what would happen to him? He has an older brother, their mother is divorced and raising them by herself. Now, a judge could decide that the Russian state will have custody of the two boys.

Which of the two evils would you prefer—let the children stay with a mother who is treating them in this way, or let a Russian orphanage take care of them? I don’t know where these boys would face more humiliation, beatings, abuse and indifference.   Russian orphans are forbidden from being adopted by citizens of a long list of countries. We have Members of the Russian Parliament to thank for that.

But this is only one in a long list of decisions and actions by the Duma. Last week, for example, Irina Rodnina, a lawmaker from Putin’s United Russia party and a three-time Olympic figure skating champion, tweeted a photo collage of U.S. President Barack Obama with his wife Michelle and a man’s hand holding a banana to them.


Rodnina is supposed to be a respectable Member of Parliament, adopting laws in my country. In France, her career would be over with this one tweet, and after that French justice would be following her—and not only online.

The U.S. Embassy responded, also on Twitter:


Rodnina has already removed her controversial tweet, but she did not apologize, citing freedom of speech. The Duma Ethics Commission also did not find anything wrong with Irina Rodnina’s tweet.

It is worth recalling that Rodnina has lived and worked in the United States for a long time, first in California in the Ice Castle International Training Center. She even coached an American figure skating couple. Her daughter, Alyona Minkovski, grew up in the U.S., graduated from the University of California and has a degree in political science. Minkovski has worked as a Washington correspondent for the pro-Kremlin Russia Today television channel. When Irina Rodnina was criticized by Russian bloggers for her tweet, she responded that they were operating on instructions from Alexei Navalny, a leading opponent to Putin. Rodnina also emphasized that the photo of Obama with the banana was sent to her from the United States.

I remember that several years ago, when Rodnina was returning from the U.S. to Russia, she said that returning was not difficult, but she did feel drop in civilization. Now I am the one who feels a sharp civilization drop while reading Rodnina’s twitter.  Irina Rodnina and the woman who threatened her child are one and the same to me—racist, cruel, indifferent and ignorant. Even if tomorrow Vladimir Putin were to say (it is not forbidden to dream) that he is leaving power, we would be very far from being cured from this scourge.