Crossing The Line

Uncle Volodya says, “Shake your head: if it falls off, kick it”

Usually, I view La Russophobe’s nonsensical ramblings with the indulgent good-humour normally accorded the other half of a parasitic relationship – after all, if she didn’t churn out hysterical nuttery on a regular basis, my blogging days would be done, so soon after they began (coming up to the end of week one, folks).

This, however, is offensive. “Russians pay no more attention to the election of their leaders than they do to the care of their children; instead, they pay attention to the best way of laying hands on vodka….” I won’t bore you with the rest, you can read it for yourself – suffice it to say that much of it is unsupported attempts to work in favourite chestnuts about statistical violence and underachievement in Russia.

The horror of what happened on the Sea of Azov should not be trivialized – stupid neglect which leads to children being harmed or killed should be held up to condemnation wherever it occurs. It should not, however, be used as a springboard to draw sweeping conclusions or prop up cherished hatreds.

The gauntlet is thrown down with the headline, “A Nation of Drunken Murderers”, and I gladly take it up. This is another favoured editorial quirk of La Russophobe – attribution of a particular behavior or deviation to all Russians if she can find an example of it in a few. All right, let’s take a closer look at it.

Are Russians really the biggest drunks in the world? Not even close. According to the World Health Organization, that dubious honour goes to…Luxembourg, with a recorded (averaged) annual alcohol consumption of 15.6 litres of alcohol per person over 15 years of age. I know!! I was surprised, too; I was expecting it to be Ireland or France; you know their reputation. But notice also who else beat out Russia in the blotto sweepstakes: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, the aforementioned “Loaded” Luxembourg, Nigeria, Portugal, Saint Lucia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. To employ a treasured La Russophobism, ouch, ouch. That’s a lot of drunken murderers. Nations of them, you might say.

I’d point out, too, that the United States didn’t come in all that far below Russia on the consumption index; 8.6 compared with 10.3. No comparative study is going to be 100% accurate without testing every single person in every country, and like most such studies, this one is likely based on an extrapolation which is in turn tied to population. However, the WHO is as reliable a scientific standard as you’re apt to find on health matters. It’s not as if the Russian government isn’t making any effort to combat the problem, either: other WHO-related sites point out that, ironically, Russian government closure of distilleries and bars has served only to drive alcohol manufacture and marketing underground, where it’s even more difficult to regulate.

Now that we’re a little clearer on who is the rightful claimant of the Booze Crown, let’s look at attitudes to children. I’d have to say my own observation of Russian parenting is extremely positive, but I haven’t seen a very broad sample. How about Americans? In my personal experience, they’re attentive, informed and caring parents. Do kids in the care of American camp counsellors die? Why, yes, they do. In this sickening case, the counsellor repeatedly dunked the 4-year-old, then swam away from him. The lifeguard (call me crazy, but isn’t it his job to pay attention to people in the water?) failed to notice him, and the child drowned only feet from him. What’d be a good representative headline for that, do you think? “America is a Nation of Sadists and Dozy Halfwits”? Of course that would not accurately portray a nation that is mostly progressive, aware and kind-hearted. Neither is it accurate to suggest all Russians are drunken murderers who pay no attention to their responsibilities for children who depend on them.

We won’t bother going into the cases of Andrea Yates, disturbed bughouse lunatic who drowned her 5 children in the bathtub like unwanted kittens, or the Gravelles of Wakeman, Ohio, who starved 11 adoptive special-needs children in their care, kept them in cages at night and locked the kitchen cupboards. These are not generally representative of American attitudes or morals, and I think the lesson is clear enough.

This excellent tell-it-like-it-is article is brutally honest in holding up Russia’s shortcomings as regards standards in the supervision of children by adults. It holds up the U.S. as an example in a manner that’s generally a fair comparison. However, it implies camp counsellors in the USA must be accredited and licensed. That’s not entirely so. Only 25% of summer camps are actually accredited, states have different requirements for licensing, and accreditation in some cases is entirely voluntary.

This was a wrenchingly sad tragedy for Russia. Riding it to a cruel and manifestly inaccurate mini-manifesto is just ghoulish. Stay classy, baby.