The riffraff revolution and the Russian universe


News of the English riots and looting was greeted variously in countries around the world. In Russia, many ordinary Russians were shocked and horrified, but there were also some complacent smiles at the “stupidity” of political correctness and multiculturalism, explains Andrei Ostalsky

Andrei Ostalsky
26 August 2011

The riots in London and other English cities were perhaps the most abhorrent event of British post-war history. But even the blackest cloud has a silver lining. The crisis has forced society at last to address its long-time problems; and the nature of these problems has become clearer. 

The main problem in Britain today is, it appears, not immigration or the so-called collapse of multiculturalism. It is the ghetto in which the riffraff or ‘dregs’ live their own life, isolated from the life of the rest of society. 

I use ‘dregs’ not as abuse, but in its original meaning. The dregs are what inhabit the lower depths of society. 

Utter boredom – a powerful force

The lower depths in Britain are not starving or short of clothes. They have laptops and Blackberries; some have cars. There’s enough money for cigarettes and drugs. What there isn’t is work: sometimes as many as three generations live on benefits. With no goal in life and no point to it, the future holds nothing.

The lower depths are dominated by a dreary monotony and monotonous dreariness. Young people have only one way of giving their lives some kind of sense and self-respect which is to join a street gang. This can only lead straight to prison and professional gangsterism. If doing nothing corrupts, then many years of idleness corrupt absolutely. This is not so much the fault of the 'dregs' themselves, but simply that for decades the government and society have used social benefits to buy their way out of the problem of unemployment and, in so doing, laid a time bomb under their own future.

“Russian politicians and commentators don't want to look more closely at events in Britain. They harp on about problems of uncontrolled immigration and the failings of multi-culturalism. Like an old record that ... repeats endlessly: aren't we so great that we have no intention of going down that rotten liberal path?”

The lower depths are another country, another planet even, which has nothing in common with the rest of Britain. But the 'dregs' have risen up and it's become apparent that something has to be done with them as a matter of urgency. Easier said than done: there aren't any simple instant solutions and this is a problem which is faced by other Western European countries as well.

The record's stuck

In this respect Russia has been lucky. She is at the very beginning of the road and could have learnt from the mistakes of others, always less painful and less dangerous than сontinuing to make the mistakes your European neighbours made a generation before you.

But there doesn't seem to be much learning going on. Russian politicians and commentators don't want to look more closely at events in Britain.  They harp on about problems of uncontrolled immigration and the failings of multiculturalism. Like an old record that's got stuck. Probably something to do with a kind of inertia in their thinking, which is quite common for most people. Russia's special 'record' repeats endlessly: aren't we so great that we have no intention of going down that rotten liberal path? That sort of thing couldn't happen here because the phrase 'human rights' is not part of our vocabulary. The liberal wing of Russian public opinion laughs complacently at the stupid Brits who have fallen into the trap of political correctness. They don't see that political correctness can indeed be stupid and unattractive in its extreme forms, but it is actually the other other side of civil society's amazing achievements, which for people in Russia at the moment are the stuff dreams are made of. Or, as it's more commonly expressed in Russia these days: everything in life has to be paid for.


Many Russian commentators were unwilling to move
beyond cliches of multiculturalism and political correctness
in their analysis of the London riots
Photo (c) Demotix/John Ball

Actually, the words 'human rights' aren't very fashionable in today's Britain either. But this is the after-effect of shock.  Public opinion has been scared and outraged and is baying for the blood of the riffraff – figuratively speaking, though at the same time quite brutally too.  But as the state of shock wears off and society recovers, the arguments sound all the louder – a real sign that life goes on.  Many people think that depriving the rioters of their benefits and evicting them from their council houses may seem fair, but it won't solve the problems and will, indeed, only create more. You really can't force people to go hungry, or increase the number of homeless people sleeping rough. In the end it's more trouble than it's worth.

I was particularly struck by one particularly talented and lively Russian commentator. I won't give his name. I have found his comments interesting and sympathetic for a long time, although there's often no way I can agree with what he says. This time he took me aback by suggesting that the British government had actually organised the riots so as to deflect attention from the acute economic problems.

If I understood him correctly, his statement was full of something akin to delight: how very clever and cunning of the English…we could really learn a thing or two from them.

So this is the kind of lesson we need…you couldn't make it up!

I don't even know if he was being serious or just sounding off with a witty remark. It's not important, but the fact that many people believed him is indeed sad. He speaks so lucidly after all!

This isn't the most absurd statement on the subject of the appalling August events in English cities. Russia's right, left and those in the centre all want to believe in what's easiest and corresponds to the life they know.  Sometimes it seems as though it's not just another planet, but a far-off galaxy at the other end of the universe.

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