What the Tolerance of Abuse Means

October 10, 2013
A. Makhonin/Vedomosti

Russia has had several high-profile human rights cases in recent weeks, highlighted this week by the decision to sentence a protester to a mandatory term in a psychiatric hospital, despite the fact that many high profile mental-health professionals say that he was misdiagnosed for political expediency.

Even before that court decision was announced, the news agency Vedomosti decided to publish the editorial we’ve translated below. Vedomosti is a business-centric newspaper, a joint project between the Russian media and several prominent American financial journals; Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal. As such, it is interesting to see that an editorial, with no specified author, and no economic focus, was considered important enough to place on Vedomosti’s front page. It references several recent human rights cases, including “orphans” affected by the fallout from the Sergei Magnitsky Act. – Ed.

Society is inclined to close its eyes to the abuses in prisons, pushing the information about this into a kind of social unconscious.

The Federal Correction Service has received 500 pages of signatures in defense of Pussy Riot.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the conversations about the topic of the violation of prisoners’ rights, now at the center of attention after the letter from Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, are among the most significant today. The general climate in society is made up of a mathematical average between the situation of the most oppressed and the most prosperous. For good reason, one of the key characteristics of the development of a country, the Gini coefficient, describes the degree of social stratification.

Our attitude towards those who are “invisible,” for various reasons isolated from public life – residents of orphanages or homes for seniors or disabled persons, prisoners – is an illustration of the level of responsibility and consolidation of society. Abuses in these areas are possible because society itself does not wish to perceive these painful areas as a part of themselves, pushing them away to something like a social unconscious. However, like any repressed, painful experience, this experience is capable of acting on the social reality destructively.

The habit of deliberately closing your eyes upon encounter with a painful experience can’t help but spread to other spheres of life, influence the level of tolerance for the violation of the law at all levels — indifference to the arbitrariness of police officers and to the abuses at elections. This habit is a key mechanism for the disintegration of even a very well-functioning society, which inevitably begins to borrow methods from interactions with prisoners, where it’s every man for himself, and a fighter for common interests is perceived as an idiot or a mercenary and is subject to punishment.

According to a survey from Sberbank’s Center for Macroeconomic Research and the Levada Center conducted early in the year, in Russia, interpersonal trust is in no less a crisis than trust in state institutions, and in fact the situation continues to deteriorate.

Only 27% of respondents were inclined to trust other people (according to the ISSP’s international investigations), and in 49 countries this figure was on average equal to 45%, and there were only 5% who completely trusted the government. This research illustrates vividly how Russian trust in the ability to change the reality around them is declining to the extent that the zones of responsibility are expanded: 90% believe they are capable of influencing the situation in their own family; at work – 51% – in their own home – 27%, and in the city or country – 10%.

Discussion of the leadership of the country on modernization and morale, given what is known about the state of affairs in the prison colonies, orphanages and boarding schools produces an impression of schizophrenia. But this schizophrenia turns out to be possible, and even in part predictable, in light of the atomization prevailing in society.

It is exactly for this reason that xenophobic rhetoric is so much in demand today, and national identity is sought not through the cultivation of the community but through the cultivation of differences.