“If Person Says Something Stupid and Everyone Accepts It, He Thinks He Is Talking Sense”

Interview with a cognitive activist who has been beaten by Nazis in Moscow metro.

In early September, a Moscow resident Valentina Ingsots was attacked by nationalists in the metro. They were singing an anthem of local Nazis (“Moscow skinheads”) and chanting Nazi slogans while riding an escalator. The young woman asked the men to be quieter and to pay some respect to others. In return, she received a punch on the head. A metro passenger who tried to defend her got threatened with a knife by the attackers.

The police were refusing to accept the victim’s complaint for a long time and in general, were acting “as if it had been me who had beaten up someone”, noted Valentina. She managed to take a photo of the attacker and posted it on her social media page along with the description of the event. Soon the girl started receiving messages with threats from other nationalists: “if it was not enough, we can add to it”. 

The nationalist who hit Valentina in the metro.

The Civic Assistance Committee supports Valentina within the framework of the program for help to the victims of hate crimes. The lawyers of the organization often protect the rights of migrants who suffered attacks in courts in the framework of this project, but the Committee is also striving to make visible every single attack committed by Nazis: this way, the risk of a repeated offense in the future will be significantly lower.

According to Valentina, her speaking up to the Nazis in the metro is actually an important step: one should not pretend that shouting out discriminative slogans is normal.

Do you consider yourself an activist?

I am a cognitive activist, I know how to pose questions to people, and that is what often drives them mad.

But do you believe that if you point out to a person that they are doing something that discriminates or degrades dignity of another person, it can actually work?

Yes, sure. I think though that it depends on general consciousness of a person and of all the people involved.

And so you do not think that making a remark on the behavior of a huge Nazi while riding an escalator is, in fact, foolish?

No, it was not foolish because people must not behave like this. I could, of course, expect that they would not listen to me, but I do not believe that I should have just done nothing.

If a person says something stupid and everyone accepts it, he thinks he is talking sense. And when a person is saying something stupid and you tell him it is stupid, he or she may go mad, may disagree, may become irritated, but this person will definitely remember it. And beating one for a remark, this I find completely unacceptable, this should not be happening in a civilized country. I am surprised how many people found the behavior of that man normal and mine not.

Not only he will remember…

Yes, also the silent observers will. In this case, though they will likely just remember that one can get beaten up on the metro.

Recently we have been debating over nationalism with a friend. And suddenly it occurred to me that his beliefs are based on an idea that some people are by default better than others, and the rest is just built up to disguise this foundation. That discussion took place a week before the attack, and now it is difficult for me to discuss it with him because I keep thinking that it was the way that man on the escalator was seeing things.

Do you think you will stop talking to him because of this situation?

I don’t know. Maybe, had I not been attacked, I would try discussing it again. But it is hard for me to discuss things that touch people’s feelings easily, in particular, discrimination. Especially when a person can become mad, start shouting. No one likes when their views are being questioned, I get it, but I think we can only come to understanding when we respect each other.

In your view, why do certain people treat people of a different nationality differently?

Out of fear. For instance, out of fear that those could get some advantages. For example, some people believe that representatives of different ethnical groups have advantages over Russians in Russia because they help each other, live as a diaspora, so they should be limited in their rights, otherwise they will limit Russians in their rights.

Photo from the private archive of Valentina Ingsots

Because Russians are not as united?

Allegedly. And it even has a share of what I would agree. Cultural identities of certain people, indeed, imply group support. However, I do not believe that it is a reason to limit someone in their rights. And everyday xenophobia is, in my opinion, just so dense, deep and unconscious: they are not like us, they look and speak differently, weird guys, we should not trust them, so we will be afraid of them.

Why do you not have this then?

Obviously, I have it too. I just work to overcome it. It is not only a matter of nationality, the same can be with anything: with gender, with weight. It is simply some people not thinking about it and believing it is okay to discriminate others this way.

What do you do when you catch yourself on stereotypic thinking?

I am trying to figure out, how such thoughts can be counter-argued, because where it comes from I understand more or less: it is drawn up from the society, from the past experience, from books. And for some thoughts, I just find it more reasonable to completely block them out, I will never discriminate people based on their nationality, I just will not and that’s it. And then, for example, if I don’t like behaviour of certain people, then I just refuse the idea that it can be because of their nationality and I look for a different reason.

Ideally, what would you want to get as a result of the investigation?

That’s actually a good question. I would like them to be punished in some way, to have their fault acknowledged, that it was actually battery and assault. That there is some result, at least a paper that says that those guys have been found guilty of this and that. That I could post that paper on Facebook and say “Look, guys, you think it’s not a big deal to beat a person on an escalator, but the court does not think so. Look at this and think again water you think right”. This is it for me. But actually, that guy was really dangerous. Someone else could suffer much more, it is probably not even necessary to speak to him at all for this.

Translated by Daria Gorbacheva