In Russia tomorrow (Wednesday) we are observing a national day of mourning for those who perished in the shopping mall fire on Sunday. Russian diplomats and poisoned spies are in the main headlines, but the rest of the world should know that the Russian people are deeply grieving about another matter entirely.
If you have friends in Russia, you may want to write and express sympathy. Of course we are in St. Petersburg and the fire was nowhere near us, but it is a national tragedy, and I'll explain why.
Part of why it is so painful is that many victims were children, and as you've probably read, safety measures were not up to standard. As an adult I often feel like I am taking risks with my own safety, but children do not have a choice...they depend on us. I think Americans are fairly obsessed with personal safety, so this kind of thing wouldn't happen to the same extent, but then...
I think you could draw a lot of parallels with the most recent U.S. school shooting, since that is still fresh in people's minds. How could this happen? How could children be so unprotected? Where are the policies to prevent this? What is going to be done to ensure that this doesn't happen again? And just like in the U.S., it has happened before, and then some time went by and the memories faded, until it happened again.
I don't know of a country in the world that doesn't include in its basic values a love for children. Of course not everyone cares enough to make them a priority, but on a personal level, among friends and families, children are so fiercely loved, and their loss so deeply mourned. When you mess with children, our ugly side comes out, the Mama Bear! It's universally understood.
This is school vacation week here, and one whole class of children (young teens) was in a movie theater. When it filled with smoke, they discovered that the fire exits were locked and there was no way out. They called and texted loved ones to say goodbye. That is just one example. You can also probably imagine that there were adults outside the building, trying to gain entry to help victims get out. (note that these shopping malls are everywhere and we have been to similar play structures to the one that went up in flames)
Our sermon at church on Sunday (probably around the time the fire broke out) was about "taboo" topics. Why do we feel awkward discussing our finances, controversial political issues, and even death? When is being tactful the best policy? One Christian psychologist friend of ours and colleague (fellow teacher) of Andrei's has been publishing post after post about this horrible tragedy. About the agonizing death of children, the excruciating grief of parents, the unspeakable (but we have to say it) corruption, the inadequate media reaction, etc. I find it interesting that as a psychologist she finds it appropriate to be very outspoken and very blunt about it. We are all thinking about it anyway, so we might as well say it.
Russian demonstrations unfortunately pale in comparison to those in the U.S. To be honest, I'd be a little frightened of large-scale protests here. I want to see everyone rallying for change, but I don't want violence to break out or innocent people to be arrested. U.S. marches for change are inspiring, but often strike me as low-risk. Is there anything risky about being surrounded by a huge crowd of people that think exactly the same as you, raising your voice according to your democratic rights? But it wasn't always that way, and maybe change will come to Russia, too.