Russia was rated 153rd out of 158 countries in the Global Peace Index 2012, above only the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia in the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace’s attempt to measure national and regional peacefulness.
The most peaceful country in the world, according to the report, was Iceland, followed by Denmark, New Zealand, Canada and Japan.
Countries were judged on a wide range of criteria, ranging from military expenditure to violent crime statistics, from internal conflicts to potential for terrorist acts. The report has been endorsed by a wide range of respected figures, among them UN head Kofi Annan and the Dalai Lama.
What with an ongoing Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus and a murder rate among the world’s highest, I guess there isn’t really much point arguing with the findings as far as Russia is concerned, although some of the ratings certainly seem a touch odd.
Is violence-stricken Syria, for example, with its high-profile massacres, really seven places worth of peace higher than Russia? And what about Norway, home to Anders Breivik, as the world’s 14th most peaceful country?
But there’s no doubting that while Russians have a great capacity for hospitality, the country feels aggressive on a day-to-day basis. As a fellow columnist pointed out last week, you don’t get too many smiles in Russia.
Russia’s lack of a service culture has been well-documented over the years, and while things are rapidly improving – especially in the big cities – it remains pure fact that you are still hundreds of times more likely to be shouted at in a shop here by some irate sales assistant than you are in, say, London.
It’s not just shops though. Russia is, for example, the only place where I’ve ever been yelled at by medical staff in a hospital. And the only place where I’ve ever seen medical staff shout at patients. State maternity wards are said to be particularly bad on this score, with stories of midwives screaming at in-pain delivering mothers to “shut up!” commonplace and the reason why anyone with money to spare goes private for births.
The notoriously violent police and the rudeness, approaching levels of high art, displayed by minor officials are just two more examples of the everyday rage at the heart of Russia.
So why is Russia so angry?
I put this question not so long ago to a few friends and acquaintances, and the general opinion seemed to be that things hadn’t always been this way, that folk here were a lot more tolerant and, well, polite in the Soviet Union. It was, they said, to boil the argument down to its essence, the sudden collapse of the socialist system and the introduction of raw, bandit capitalism that made people lose their trust in one another and gave rise to the aggression that is so common today.
I’m not really in a position to judge, as I only paid my first visit to Russia six years after the implosion of the Soviet Union. But as far as getting yelled at in shops goes, the argument doesn’t really hold tight. Capitalism tends to improve service, not worsen it – there’s more reason to fear the sack for a word out of place. The customer is always right, and all that.
And, while I’m willing to believe there was a certain level of stability in the Soviet Union lacking in today’s Russia, a host of Soviet writers documented the rudeness of officials in the world’s first socialist state. (I’ve also heard just as many maternity ward horror stories from women who gave birth in the Soviet era.).
Oddly enough, given all this anger, the ongoing anti-Putin protests, have been generally peaceful enough affairs. In fact, given the protesters’ intention to build a new Russia, it would be tempting to suggest they are demonstrating against anger itself, against the rage at the heart of the nation. Even if they haven’t realized that themselves yet.
I’m typing this in Dubrovnik, on Croatia’s Adriatic coast. It’s a pretty chilled out place, and it seems strange as it always does when out of the country to think of Russia. Writing about the rage among the sunshine and the smiles of the locals, it’s also hard to imagine that I’ll soon be returning to Russia’s rage. I guess the prospect should make me sad. But, somehow, it doesn’t. There’s something addictive about Russia’s anger. I’m not sure what exactly. And I guess when I do eventually figure it out, it’ll be time to leave. Until then, I’ll keep getting my daily fix of rage.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
From lurid tales of oligarch excess to scare stories about Moscow’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy supplies, the land that gave us Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin is very rarely out of the news. But there is much more to modern Russia than billionaire tycoons and political conspiracy. Marc Bennetts’ weekly column, Deeper Than Oil, goes beyond the headlines to explore the hidden sides of the world’s largest, and often strangest, country.
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