MOSCOW, February 3 (Alexey Eremenko, RIA Novosti) – The school shooting, a nightmare scenario most commonly associated with the United States, was visited upon Russia on Monday in an attack that left two people dead.
There was little about the suspected perpetrator – a retiring, 15-year-old straight-A pupil – that aroused suspicion.
Some education experts fear, however, that the boy may be just one of a swell of forgotten youths in Russia whose solitude has driven them to an ultimate act of despair.
“Our children are insanely lonely,” said Irina Abankina, director of the Institute for Educational Studies at the respected Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
The boy detained Monday is said by police to have made his way into his school in the northeastern Moscow district of Otradnoye carrying a Saiga hunting rifle apparently belonging to his father.
Upon reaching his classroom, he shot dead a geography teacher, who media reports suggested may have incurred the boy’s ire by denying him the top mark he would have needed to receive the gold medal awarded to pupils for top academic performance. Police officers arriving at the scene were also shot at, one of them fatally.
The standoff, during which around 20 students were taken hostage, was brought to an end after the boy’s father persuaded his son to surrender to police.
Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said he believed the teen had suffered a nervous breakdown.
Education specialists are voicing concern the shootout was not an isolated incident, but an indicator of the isolation endured by modern Russian youths deprived of the fragile socialization mechanisms that existed in Soviet times.
Children’s rights activist Boris Altshuler points out that many young people in modern Russia do their socializing online, which makes a poor replacement for real human interaction.
“They’ve got nowhere to go once the classes are over,” Altshuler said.
Altshuler suggested the causes for this particular tragedy could be rooted in personal history, but that there are larger issues at play.
The Soviet school system came complete with a wide range of semi-mandatory extracurricular activities, including sports teams, study groups and various clubs, where children received adult guidance and psychological support from coaches and supervisors. That system became largely defunct after the Soviet Union’s demise, with clubs and groups either disbanded or starting to charge money for admission.
Abankina expressed concern that Russian parents are taking ever less interest in their children’s lives as they struggle to cope with the challenge of remaining above water in an aggressive employment market.
Psychological support services for children also remain underdeveloped, and the overworked teachers see children as just “exam-passing machines,” she said.
Responding to news of Monday’s incident, President Vladimir Putin appeared to be grasping at something along those lines by blaming the shootout on a “lack of artistic taste” among the young and calling for more extracurricular activities for children.
Despite the proliferation of guns in Russia – around 6 million privately owned guns, mainly hunting firearms, are in circulation in the country, according to one senator – the weapons are generally hard to obtain for teenagers, Altshuler said.
The malaise affecting Russian youths generally appears to manifest itself in lower-level crime. Teenagers aged between 14 and 17 committed 60,000 crimes in 2012, according to official data.
Blood-curdling reports of abuse, rape and even murder hit the headlines on a regular basis.
In September, public outrage was provoked when a disabled 22-year-old woman in the Moscow Region was hospitalized in a coma with broken fingers and a ruptured spleen sustained in an unmotivated beating – including with beer bottles smashed over her head – carried out by eight schoolgirls aged 14 to 17.
No separate statistics for school-related violence are available, and most children rights advocates allege authorities contrive to downplay the problem.
The broader picture painted by childhood specialists is of a forgotten and neglected generation.
Abankina and Altshuler, who were interviewed separately for this article, struck an identically disconsolate note in prescribing a solution for the problems that lead to acts like those seen in the Otradnoye shooting: “We need to take care of children.”