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Inspired by Columbine but driven by bullies Russia’s response to school shootings has overlooked underlying causes, says new ‘Mediazona’ report

Source: Mediazona

In a new article published by Mediazona, journalist Elizaveta Pestova argues that Russia’s response to increasingly common school shootings has been too heavy-handed. She spoke to multiple scholars who say the country’s authorities are ignoring the phenomenon’s underlying problems: bullying and a lack of support from parents and teachers. Meduza summarizes Pestova’s report.

According to Mediazona’s calculations, attacks against students at high schools and colleges in Russia since 2014 have claimed 32 lives and injured at least 111 people. These figures include the 20 fatalities and 67 wounded victims in Vladislav Roslyakov’s assault on the Kerch Polytechnic College in October 2018.

From local police to Vladimir Putin, Russian officials have blamed the nation’s school shootings on “globalization,” the American cult surrounding the April 1999 Columbine High School massacre, and mental illness. Pestova confirms that many of the Russian teenagers who commit school shootings have expressed infatuation with the Columbine massacre, and Russian politicians and police have tried to purge VKontakte of groups devoted to this personality cult (though this content has now reportedly migrated largely to TikTok).

Pestova refers extensively to a January 2019 article by the Russian social scientists Denis Davydov and Kirill Khlomov, titled “Massacres in Educational Institutions: Mechanisms, Causes, and Prevention,” that faults state officials and law enforcement for responding to school shootings with new prohibitions, increased school security, and additional limits on gun ownership, as well as media censorship intended to squash the potential glorification of attackers. Davydov and Khlomov also criticize the Russian authorities’ hurry to diagnose these people with mental illnesses, arguing that no “universal psychological portrait” exists for school shooters (though perpetrators have been exclusively young men). 

Ultimately, bullying is what gets too little attention in Russia, says Pestova, echoing the findings of Higher School of Economics researchers Maria Novikova and Artur Rean, whose recent work shows that metropolitan students in Russia are 1.5 times likelier to encounter harassment from classmates than youths in more rural areas, with more than a quarter of all students experiencing some form of bullying. Getting picked on by classmates doesn’t affect everyone the same way, clearly, but low household income and under-educated parents can often aggravate the problem, according to Novikova and Rean. 

Though the Russian authorities have been more than willing to monitor the Internet for suspicious content related to school shootings (even institutionalizing some youths who seemed too infatuated with the subject), officials have shied from open conversations about bullying, which occurs increasingly on social media, not in classrooms. 

Even when police manage to identify troubled teens supposedly at risk of committing acts of violence, the state has relied on “repressive” tactics from there. For example, this approach landed a 14-year-old girl named Alena Prokudina in mandatory psychiatric care because she subscribed to a VKontakte community dedicated to the Columbine massacre. More than a year before any bloodshed, the authorities in Nizhny Novgorod actually singled out Danil Monakhov by tracking his behavior on social media. A “correctional conversation” with police officers, however, didn’t stop him from turning a shotgun on his own grandmother and then shooting several bus passengers before killing himself in October 2020.

Pestova also criticizes the response to Monakhov’s shooting spree, calling the state’s reaction “predictable.” How have officials handled the incident? The boy’s doctor has been charged with criminal negligence and the detective handling his previous case is now accused of abusing his office for failing to press the investigation. Also, Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee head has advocated more security at schools — a response that misses the more “delicate” work needed in these scenarios, Denis Davydov told Mediazona.

Summary by Kevin Rothrock

Cover photo: Pixabay

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