Public Expressions of Grief in Russia

In today’s New York Times, Steven Lee Myers examines (and in a certain way, issues a moral judgment of) the public reactions to Russia’s week of tragedies, which saw 180 people killed in a mine accident, a nursing home fire, and a plane crash. Even though Myers makes a strong point about silence equaling complicity in many regards, the last thing we need is for American newspapers to think they can tell Russians how to properly handle tragedies: 25myers.600.jpg Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky/European Pressphoto Agency

Russians grieve, but they do so privately. They rarely demand public action — through the media, elected representatives or, in the extreme, street protests. A result is a lack of accountability, even impunity, that lets corruption fester, otherwise solvable problems mount and disasters repeat. … History might explain part of the country’s indifference. Russia has endured revolution and war on a scale that can be difficult to comprehend. A former commandant of the Army War College in the United States, Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, once recalled giving a Russian general a tour of Gettysburg. The Russian asked the American how many casualties the battle produced. Told that 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing, the Russian swept his hand dismissively. “Skirmish,” he said. But Mr. Ganapolsky, the radio host, said history alone did not explain today’s Russia. Russians care, he said in an interview, but they stay home and express their anger or sorrow in private. “Why do Italians come out into the streets?” he said. “Because they know they can change their government. Why don’t Russians come out in the street? Because they know they will meet the riot police.”