In the wake of the fatal school shooting in Kazan on May 11, the question of how to prevent such incidents -- which have become increasingly common in Russia in recent years -- jumped to the top of the national agenda.
Some officials of longtime President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian government were quick to propose measures that could further boost the state's role in citizens' lives. Other commentators, though, have suggested the example the government sets by resorting to violence in the face of political challenges and blaming failures on outside "enemies" could be contributing to the deadly violence.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma, the lower chamber of Russia's parliament, wrote on Telegram that "it is necessary to discuss" proposals to restrict "anonymity on the Internet." Such restrictions would "reduce the volume of content promoting violence and lionizing extremism," Volodin said, purportedly summarizing the arguments of proponents of the idea.
Speaking on the YouTube channel of hard-line state-media moderator Vladimir Solovyov, Tatarstan ombudswoman for children's rights Irina Volynets blamed the Kazan shooting, in which nine people were killed and 23 injured, on "the absolute absence of a state ideology."
"As long as we do not have a state ideology, as long as children are not busy outside of school hours like they were in the Soviet Union -- and that activity has to be organized by the state -- if we don't fundamentally change our system, then unfortunately this situation will repeat itself," Volynets said.
State Information Abuse
The Education Ministry in the northern Murmansk region, in response to the Kazan tragedy, ordered the creation of a database of students and recent graduates who are "inclined to disciplinary problems" and who "demonstrate unmotivated aggression." However, the ministry's order, which appeared in several local publications, contained a web address of such a database that included personal information on hundreds of students, even though the file was apparently only created at 2:25 p.m. on May 11, Moscow time.
The database was quickly taken offline when journalists noticed it, but not before reporters from Mediazona found notations describing individual students that included "brought a knife to school," "shows suicidal behavior," "swears," "participated in a protest supporting [imprisoned opposition politician Aleksei] Navalny," "has opposed Russian laws," and "does not recognize authority."
The file reportedly contained information about students from cities and towns throughout the region, including, in some cases, their social-media accounts.
Kazan political commentator and civic activist Darya Kulakova told RFE/RL that the government had a clear track record of misusing security measures for political ends. When surveillance cameras were installed throughout the city, she said, the authorities used them primarily to identify and punish anti-government demonstrators.
"In January, after the demonstrations against Putin in Kazan, a Telegram channel called Krasnaya Kazan was created where they published lists of people who demonstrated and threatened them," Kulakova said.
"Since only the police have access to the cameras and the facial-recognition technology connected to them, it is not difficult to conclude that, most likely, the police were somehow involved in the release of this personal data. The organizers of the channel warned about retribution against protesters, but the police somehow ignored these threats."
The state's behavior could well be a cause of the problem, Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said. People don't understand what is happening," he told RFE/RL. "They are told constantly that we are surrounded by enemies and the whole world is controlled by unknown forces. Then conspiracy theories begin agitating vulnerable minds."
Analyst and former Kremlin speechwriter Abbas Gallyamov offered a similar perspective. "People have become accustomed to seeing enemies everywhere and to looking for the reasons for their failures outside themselves," he said. "Just as the Russian government does. People pick up the behavioral models that they are used to seeing around them."
In the past, the Russian government has been unwilling to entertain similar criticism. In July 2020, RFE/RL contributor Svetlana Prokopyeva was convicted of "justifying terrorism" for a commentary she made about the November 2018 suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk office of the Federal Security Service (FSB) by a teenager. Prokopyeva suggested that the teen's actions could have been motivated by feelings of despair and desperation caused by the repressive political climate in Putin's Russia.
Psychologist Denis Davydov told Current Time, a Russian-language network headed by RFE/RL in collaboration with VOA, that Russia really needs more scientific and transparent studies of such violent incidents in order to respond comprehensively.
"The first thing Russia needs is to organize a really serious research group under the patronage of a powerful ministry -- not the Education Ministry," Davydov said. "In America, the Secret Service does this work, recruiting the best and best-known psychologists. They publish regular reports on their research. Here, scientists in general have no access to factual data about what is happening."
Meanwhile, in a post on Facebook, pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov praised 25-year-old Elvira Ignatyeva, an English-language teacher who was shot dead during the Kazan tragedy, and the other teachers at the school.
"They fulfilled their duty and tried to save the children," Markov wrote. "They showed that we have a morally healthy society."
And pro-Kremlin commentator Solovyov published a YouTube video with the title: Western Structures Are Taking Over VKontakte Groups. Who Might Be Behind The Attack On The School In Kazan?