By Paul Goble
It has long been a commonplace that new members of any religious faith and especially those who have converted from another are more radical in the expression of their beliefs than those who have been members of this or that faith for a long period of time.
But now Sergey Yenikolopov, a psychologist at Moscow State University, says that in Russia today, there is another fundamental distinction between those who have been followers of the Russian Orthodox Church or Islam for a long time and those who have joined only recently (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/08/30/73646-cila-samyy-veskiy-argument).
His research shows that the impact of the expansion of the numbers of believers has been “exaggerated” and that those who have been Orthodox or Islamic for a longtime tend to be more “democratic, tolerant and non-aggressive” while “neophytes [in these faiths] are [more] authoritarian and aggressive.”
In an interview with Natalya Chernova of Novaya gazeta concerning the rise of violence in Russian society, Yenikolopov says that serious violent crime appears to have fallen but that although “there are no statistics about crimes at the edge of petty hooliganism,” one has the clear sense that these have become more numerous.
Aggression “at the individual level,” the psychologist says, “is one of the best forms of the defense of one’s own ‘I’ in the broadest sense of this word” and that it is encouraged by both what appears on television and what is taking place around an individual. When there is a lot of violence in both, people tend to become more violent whatever their starting point is.
“However paradoxical it may seem,” he continues, the fact that contemporary Russian society is “a society of free people” makes this situation worse. Russians don’t know how to cope with freedom and so they rapidly move toward anarchy whenever they feel anger or distress and have the chance.
For many, Yenikolopov continues, “the socialization of young people passes through an understanding that force is the most weighty argument,” a feeling that has intensified as people feel frustration that the social lifts they are promised will help them advance no longer work for most people.
They acquire the sense that “there are no established rules of the fame or that the rules are different in different circumstances,” something amplified by the sense of a break between what people are told and what is “the real situation.” They want to strike out, and in everyday language, the rule becomes “If there is no policeman about, then one can do anything.”
The government has devoted very little attention to this because society has devoted very little attention to it either. The regime focuses only on those things that it thinks society is worried about. Thus, the murder of a journalist which gets a lot of media attention gets the regime’s. The murder of someone else is typically ignored by both.
This trend began at the end of the 1980s, the Moscow psychologist says, “In Soviet times, however one relates to them, all the same, a militiaman was a militiaman. The cop on the beat had to work in his area. But how long has it been since you have seen one do that? In Soviet times, the policemen knew when people went on vacation.” No more.
That only encourages people to think they can act however they like. But what may be most fundamental is the attitudes parents pass to their children. In many cases, Yenikolopov concludes, parents communicate the idea that “justice is something ephemeral, but force is a good thing.” Their children are acting on that now.