Staunton, October 25 – Many Russians grew up in the mean streets of Soviet cities in the decades after World War II, at times engaging in turf fights with other young people of about the same age. Most, Boris Zhuikov says, eventually grew up and out of the mentality they displayed as youngsters; but some, including Vladimir Putin, did not and continue to idealize that approach.
In a commentary for Polit.ru today, Zhuikov, who is head of a laboratory at the Institute of Nuclear Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences, notes that he and Putin are almost exactly the same age and that they grew up in similar cities, he in Volgograd and Putin in Leningrad (polit.ru/article/2015/10/25/zhuikov_about_street_education/).
But despite those similarities, their lives and fates have been very different. Putin was a KGB officer and so has remained; Zhuikov was and remains an intellectual. Putin wasn’t religious but claims to be now. The nuclear physicist was an atheist and has remained exactly the same.
The experience of the two with street fighting was very different as well. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was difficult to avoid getting involved in such fights. There was always a hierarchy and it was often established by fists. There was a lot of cursing, and petty theft was something not unusual.
Trying to protect oneself by getting one’s parents or other adults involved only made the situation worse, but it was always possible to simply not go into the yard, albeit somewhat more difficult than now because there wasn’t the internet and television was not universally available at home.
Thus it is “an interesting question” what Putin means when he says that “’fighting is inevitable.’” That wasn’t always true and need not be, Zhuikov says. He worked in the Komsomol and among other things dealt with young people in trouble and with keeping the amount of fighting down, not by using fists but by adopting other techniques.
At one point, Zhuikov says, he was asked to prepare an instruction for Komsomol workers on how to handle potential fighting at dances and other places where large numbers of young people were in attendance. His draft so pleased his superiors that it went all the way up to the Komsomol central committee.
The advice it contained, Zhuikov says, was relatively simple. The principles behind the advance have “nothing in common with those the president grew up with like ‘if a fight is inevitable, hit first.’” Instead, the principles he and his Komsomol activist colleagues used wer “entirely different.” Among them were the following:
· “No fight is inevitable. You ALWAYS must be ready to ward one off.”
· Take a confident position between the conflicting sides and “demonstrate that behind each you stands a strong organization.”
· “Don’t be afraid of anything.” Threats won’t kill you.
· “Never make things worse by excessively sharp actions.”
· “Don’t take one side just because it is familiar or your own.”
· “NEVER hit first.”
Zhuikov says that he now thinks about how he would behave in the event of the apparent need to use force in international affairs. Certainly not like Putin – we have a different practice in our youth.” And their lives have been so different and in such different spheres. “But all the same,” the nuclear chemist says.
“As a result of [Putin’s] wars in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, alrady have died several hundred thousand people according to certain estimates. Directly with the help of our isotopes have been cured about 300,000 people and with our technology millions.” Clearly, Zhuikov says, “the balance” is in his favor.