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Russia: land of the Mob

Russia is deep in reflection about a mass murder that left twelve dead. For Andrei Konchalovsky, the most shocking thing about the Kuschevskaya killings was neither crime nor bungled cover-up, but the sobering thought that Russians are not really citizens. He implores his fellow countrymen to find their collective moral voice.

"We persist with the idea of introducing arbitrary rule into everything...Each of us conducts himself like Batu Khan surrounded by members of the tribe he has conquered ... and the tribe in turn gets used to thinking that things simply could not be any other way..."

Chernyshevksy

 Fellow Russians, countrymen and defenders of Mother Russia, please tell me one thing  – are you really surprised by what is going on, and will continue to go on, in the Cossack village of Kushchevskaya

The horror of Kushchevskaya killings was compounded by the facts that soon emerged: the mobsters that were openly fraternising with the militia and the local authorities that had systematically ignored crimes of rape, grievous assault, murder and enslavement  

Personally, I’m surprised by one thing alone: that the government is granting the press access to so much information. I’m also convinced that the main truth will remain hidden, which is that the governor [Alexander Tkachev] and the presidential representative [Vladimir Ustinov] were well informed about everything that was going on in Kushchevskaya long before the tragedy occurred. Punishing them will be easy, yet accusing them is pointless. They are not to blame. They are flesh and blood of their country. They (and I too) are 100% Russian. Russians who know that in their country, life is arranged not according to the law, but along the lines of  “understandings”.

I’ll repeat what I've been saying for many years. Russia has no citizens, which means there can be no state. Or, more accurately, there is a state, but it exists for itself. It can’t inspire its citizens to participate in building a better society. This is the Kremlin's drama.

The two main facts that the Ministry of the Interior has so far felt obliged to publish will surprise no Russian:

- Mobsters not only openly fraternised with the police, but rather touchingly helped them keep the rules of the Highway Code by exacting fines from those who broke the rules

- The office of the Prosecutor, the investigators, the state and medical institutions covered for the gangsters by closing their eyes and not following up hundreds of criminal cases of rapes, beatings, murders, enslavement and so on. 

I sympathise with every judge and procurator in every region of our vast Russian land. Their lives are worth nothing and hang by a thread. Especially if they go against the organised crime group that is in charge in the region. As the Regional Prosecutor said in a sage response to a question from Komsomolskaya Pravda (this paper was, please note, writing about the Kushchevskaya gang as far back as 2006): “life is our reflection: we get what we deserve. The people get the government they deserve”.

Who is to blame?”  asked Anton Chekhov. Everyone, which means no one

Who can provide legislators with protection from the lawlessness? Where can an elected MP (if he is not a thug himself) turn to to protect from that lawlessness the people who elected him? For a state with real citizens, those same citizens are its main defence: people, townspeople, who can be an immensely strong force when they unite. This is how it has been in Europe since the time of the Renaissance.

We often lament the fact that our regional governors are appointed rather than elected. But what is actually the difference? Whether elected or appointed, anyone with access to the budget falls under the same colossal pressure from the “Mob”  — those same organised criminal groups, soldiers of fortune and mediaeval knights who live off the people like parasites, “protecting” them from the encroachment of others (which is what we call a protection racket).

Let me state this unreservedly: this is precisely where Russia is, in the Middle Ages! 

Of course, had a Moscow TV group not been at the scene of the crime by chance, then this whole affair would have been unlikely to hit the headlines. But this is not what is so horrific.  Nor is it that the people who were so brutally slaughtered were actually the bold ones attempting to stand up to the mob. Nor yet is it that the thugs were well organised, didn’t drink, took care of abandoned youths and were ardent Orthodox believers for whom going to church was mandatory. No – it’s something else. What is so horrific is that Russia has no citizens! Neighbours heard cries for help, but were afraid to come out and intervene. How many brave people are there in Russia — brave enough to stand up to the beasts — and where are they now?

Most of them, of course, have either gone somewhere else or been murdered, with the cause recorded by the militia as “domestic”. What is so horrific is that, in Russia, the everyday, domestic reality is too often murder.

What’s equally horrific is that in Kushchevskaya, people are still afraid to give evidence or name names – “the officials from Moscow will go back home, but ours will still be here”. Those who remain will still be face to face with people who have gone into the shadows, those who are still in power or once more appointed, those who might just try to put things in order, but the pressure of the local customs, which are so resistant to change, will mean that they will actually be almost indistinguishable from their predecessors.  

Who is to blame?”  asked Anton Chekhov. “Everyone, which means no one”. What exactly did he mean by that?

It’s not about getting the right people in the right place, it’s about the places ... the philistine environments that breed a certain kind of relationship, forcing everyone to live by Russian “understandings”....  It’s about Russian mentality and Russian culture, which, without wishing to do so, nourishes the brutish way of life"

A society with no real citizens, no understanding of personal responsibility to one’s country; a society dominated by peasant consciousness, where loyalties are limited to realms of the family and where everything outside the family circle is regarded as in some way inimical, can have no law.  It can only have tacit “understandings”! No amount of fair or free elections could bring to power anyone able to destroy this primitive way of thinking. Why? Because he will not be able to rely on those who voted for him to take to the streets. The people cannot seem to grasp that, united, they are a force to reckoned with. It’s as if they don’t care! “Nothing to do with me, gov”.

The whole vicious circle, the interpenetration and symbiosis of the state and the mediaeval “understandings” will inevitably be confirmed all over again. 

What can be done?

I can imagine the despair felt, but not put into words, by the President and the Prime Minister.  Where can they find the "right people"?  It’s not, after all, about getting the right people in the right places, it’s about the places themselves, the philistine environments that breed a certain kind of relationship, forcing everyone to live by Russian “understandings”. It’s about Russian mentality and Russian culture, which, without wishing to do so, nourishes the brutish way of life.   

I repeat, no modernisation or reform can be successful until those in power realise that serious thought must be given to reforming the Russian mentality. The events at Kushchevskaya are of themselves clearly not enough for this to be understood. Indeed, it is quite possible that by the time we come to watch the inauguration of the next President, we'll see some new faces among the well-known, popular and respectable people. And we'll have to ask ourselves: "Oh god, isn't that another one of the Mob?"

About the author

Andrei Konchalovsky is theatre and film director and scriptwriter. His films are known and loved in Russia and other countries and have received numerous awards from various international film festivals.

Read On

A criminal cancer in Krasnodar, by Anna Arutunyan  , Moscow News, Dec.6, 2010

Insight into the True State of Affairs in Russia: The November Massacre in the Krasnodar Region, Vladimir Shlapentokh blog, Dec.2, 1010

The Russian mafia: private protection in a new market economy, by Federico Varese, Oxford University Press, 2001, 290 pages

Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization, by Nellie Hauke Ohr, Journal of Social History, 1995

Russian society and the Orthodox Church: religion in Russia after communism, Zoe Katrina Knox, RoutledgeCurzon, 2005

More On

Konchalovsky

Theatre and film director and scriptwriter; a National Artist of Russia; a member of Russia’s National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His films are known and loved in Russia and other countries and have received numerous awards from various international film festivals. Films include The First Teacher, The Story of Asya Klyachina,  Siberiada and The Speckled Hen. His most popular Hollywood releases are Maria's Lovers, Runaway Train based on a script by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and Tango & Cash, starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. Andrei Konchalovsky has written 33 film scripts and made 25 films. He has worked as a stage director in Russia, France, Italy and Poland. He is the brother of film director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov and the son of poet Sergei Mikhalkov. He has written over 100 sparkling and trenchant essays and 6 books.  


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