NOBODY GIVES A DAMN

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

Dante watching over. Image credit: Clip Tank.

Dante watching over. Image credit: Clip Tank.

On the way back from my riding lesson this afternoon I took a breather in a small field/ playground that’s located at a midpoint between the stables and the metro stop. Slightly dazed from a minor equestrian mishap I was not paying much attention to my surroundings until I heard a woman shouting: “You monsters, how could you do this? Mark my words, one day someone will do this to you!”

I turned around to see two teenage boys – maybe around 15 years old – pelting an injured pigeon with stones. I took out my riding crop – which really cannot do that much damage but might at least, maybe, look menacing to the uninitiated – and walked over to where this was happening. With smirks, the two guys stepped back. At that moment I really wished I knew some krav maga or black ops moves so that I could do to them what they were doing to a helpless animal, but I was not about to engage two psychopaths. Instead I took off my jacket and dropped it over the bird, which was so injured at this point that it could barely crawl on its side.  After a few tries – the bird was obviously scared and trying to get away – I picked it up, turned around and carried to a nearby gated cemetery. I have no idea whether it will survive, but at least it’s a shielded space, and the grounds people might take pity on the creature and feed it, maybe nurturing the poor thing back to health.

When I got to the metro, I told the security officer about the incident, and he promised that he’ll send a patrol over to the playground as soon as possible.

What amazed me the most in this situation was not the fact that it happened; it’s that it was happening in full view of more than a dozen people, mostly adults, a number of grown men, and plenty of young children. And everyone just looked the other way.

***

A couple of months ago my mother and I were riding the subway. Usually it’s very clean and everyone is pretty civilized, even if the grand old Soviet tradition of men or younger people giving up their seat to the elderly, the pregnant, children and women in general is all but extinct (it was UNTHINKABLE not to do so in those quaint old days; I continue to do this all the time because anything else is morally unacceptable to me; when my former-USSR ex-boyfriend gave up his seat to an elderly woman on the Tube in London a few years back, I fell in very deep like/ respect with him).

So there we were, in a crowded train car. On the opposite end a group of guys, tall and big and probably in their mid-20s, was standing around shooting the breeze and eating sunflower seeds. Spitting the shells right onto the floor. I don’t know how long they have been aboard, but at that point you could barely see the floor underneath all the garbage. All the passengers were giving them dirty looks, but nobody dared say a word. Nobody, that is, until my mother (5’2” and in her 50s) got up, walked over, bitched them out and then chased them out at the next stop threatening to step out with them and call the police, which are usually present at every station.

***

Early this spring, late in the evening, I was walking from the metro to my apartment. The whole walk is about seven minutes, most of it through a very lovely park that stretches along the Boulevard Ring.  It was already dark, but there were still plenty of people enjoying an evening stroll on one of the first legitimately warm days of the spring. There were even many families with small children, who playing on the paved pathways, which were just barely illuminated up by the flickering antique-ish street lights.

Suddenly I heard a strange, muffled noise right behind me. I turned around just in time to jump to the side of the walkway as a motorcycle raced past me at a neck-breaking speed. To recap: in this completely pedestrian park some idiot was racing around in the dark, weaving between children and dogs and elderly people, just for shits and giggles. Not even bothering to honk or alert the walkers to his presence in any other way.

I live in a very nice, very safe (by Moscow standards) neighborhood. Because the area is central – my apartment building in particular is right next to the Moscow HQ of the Interior Department – there is a ton of security out on the streets at all times of day and night. On my seven-minute walk from the metro I pass THREE posts, to be precise. So as soon as I got to the end of the park I approached the ever-present patrol car and alerted the officer to the situation. His response: “Yeah I saw him [the guy speeding on the dark pathways on his motorcycle], he’s been doing this for a while. But what am I gonna do, run after him?”

The cop in a country notorious for its arbitrary and egregious use of official force just told me that he’s letting this maniac run wild because he doesn’t want to be bothered to do his job.

Strastnoy Boulevard

Strastnoy Boulevard

***

I know that Russia is not the only place where things like this happen, but I feel that among the more civilized societies, to which I truly believe this country belongs, the indifference and desensitization have reached…if not criminal, then at least toxic and dangerous levels. I also cannot help but compare this to ‘the way things were’ – yes, in the Soviet days, when ordinary people really did care about their country, their ‘comrades’, their neighbors. This isn’t just something I heard from a nostalgic grandma – these are things I am lucky enough to remember first-hand. I tend to stay away from politics on this blog, for a number of reasons; however, on a day like today, I cannot help but empathize with everyone who wants to bring back the old ways.

But this isn’t about changing a political order or wishing for a time machine to go back to the good old days. This is a desperate call to action, however small, so that we do not let the wrongs of this world triumph over the rights. Because the wrongs and the rights – they always start small.

If you see a wrong, please don’t look the other way. If you see something, at least say something.

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9 thoughts on “NOBODY GIVES A DAMN

  1. I’m with you.
    I wish I knew more about group psychology. Being in groups makes people do things and behave in ways they NEVER would if they were alone. That goes for ‘offenders’ as well as onlookers.
    The policeman was probably too busy arresting same-sex couples holding hands. They’re much easier to catch….

    • Refreshingly enough, I had seen a number of same-sex couples in that same boulevard park, holding hands, nobody being bothered, authorities included. I think instead the cops were waiting on an ‘easy prey’ of some traffic misdemeanor whom they could strip of a few thousand rubles. But even if they weren’t…they just. don’t. care.

  2. This is one of the biggest problems I have with Russia. I can’t say that Americans are all wonderful, non-psychotic people, but there isn’t such an intense apathy like Russia.

    Your message is great but sometimes it’s so overwhelming to see all the problems here and try to fix them, especially as a foreigner!

    • Oh I didn’t even mean it as a specifically Russian/’Fix Russia’ call to action, so to speak. As I’ve mentioned, things like that happen all around the world. A couple of weeks ago I read an article on Jezebel about a pre-teen kid standing up to a group of teenagers who were torturing a kitten – in the US. This is universal, so wherever ones get a chance to make a difference, I think one should, even if there are risks. I am by no means an example – I am the biggest scaredy-cat there is, but I just couldn’t stand back. If I am not willing to risk bodily harm to stand up to an evil, big or small, then, God forbid, should something evil happen to me, how could I expect the others to not turn a blind eye?

      My mom, were she there with me, would have beaten those punks down, and then held them down while she called the police. When I was a baby and we were hiking around a forest near our dacha, she came across a crew of men illegally cutting down old trees in a pristine forest, for firewood. She glued herself to the central tree and refused to move until they left. They cursed and threatened her, they could have killed her, raped her, taken the child, but she stood her ground whatever the risks because of something she believed in, however powerful the adversary. And she won. I only wish I could be that brave.

      • Yes, I totally agree that (unfortunately) this is no way confined to Russia. I guess it’s easier for me to see it as a foreigner here — it’s always easier to see the best/worst in cultures other than your own.

        Your mom sounds like a total badass 🙂

  3. Apathy is truly the greatest of all evils.

    Your message rings clear for me, as well, despite living in a different country. Thank you for stopping those teenage boys in their cruel act! They may not be “bad” people but by not being corrected they are basically having their behavior reinforced. And that goes for all circumstances when people turn the other cheek. It’s the easiest way to ensure continued wrongs — simply ignore them in the first place.

    I notice apathy (toward different acts) in Korea. It definitely exists everywhere in the world to different degrees. I’m glad you’re a kindred spirit and that you say something! 🙂

    • Hey Abbey, thanks for reading.
      I do think that the apathy epidemic is really not endemic to Russia; what really worries me – and what makes R different from many other ‘civilized’ nations – is that apathy here is institutionalized. Having spent half my life in the US, I expect law enforcement to give a damn. If they don’t, I know how to go up a chain of command without literally fearing for my life (granted, being white, educated and comfortably middle class affords me certain privileges in the US that affects my thinking). I am not laboring under too many illusions, but I really do believe in ‘the system’ – freedom, justice and the American way, so to speak. And up to mid 1980s Russia/USSR also had a functioning system, which makes me even sadder.

      Anyway, I am curious to know what particular things the Koreans are apathetic about.

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