Saturday 15 August 2020

Mourning and remorse

Russian feeling for their fellow man has been beaten out of them by communism and the Putin regime, writes Annemarie van Gaal.

Last week saw the return of the bodies of the victims of disaster flight MH17. The contrast between the respectful ceremony at the airport and the way the bodies were handled by the separatists couldn’t have been greater.

Meanwhile, credit cards and mobile phones belonging to the victims are being used and if my ten-year experience of living in Russia is anything to go by any valuables, money or other belongings will never make it back.

Russians don’t respect the dead. It’s not in their genes. What fellow-feeling they had was beaten out of them by seventy destructive years of communism when nobody was allowed to speak out or stand out. Mourning was considered a useless emotion and remorse served no purpose.

What followed was a decade of coups, a devastating crisis and Vladimir Putin’s reign of terror. With Putin as leader Russia will remain a country in which the disadvantaged and those who are different don’t count. He created a culture in which a lack of emotion is seen as the ultimate strength.


I remember driving behind a truck in the dead of winter which stopped every so often to pick up the frozen bodies of alcoholics and homeless people. They were unceremoniously piled one on top of the other.

I would be in a car with other Russians and we would pass the scene of an accident. ‘They’re dead’ would be their only comment. Any display of pity from me was met with total incomprehension.

Once I saw ambulance personnel kick a body to see if there was any life left and turn it over with their feet to have a better look. Meanwhile, a passer-by rifled through the victim’s car while the nurses lit up and spat on the ground before putting the body in the ambulance.

Of course not all Russians are emotionless. Many will have pitied the victims and cried, unobtrusively or behind closed doors. But they will never be in a position of power.


Believe me, none of the separatists felt any regret about what happened. It’s not in their genes.

Mourning and remorse are two words that go together in our culture. Russia doesn’t know the meaning of either. I’m proud of our country’s culture in which emotions are not a sign of weakness but of strength.

Annemarie van Gaal is head of AM Media and a writer and broadcaster.



Thank you for donating to

The team would like to thank all the generous readers who have made a donation in recent weeks. Your financial support has helped us to expand our coverage of the coronavirus crisis into the evenings and weekends and make sure you are kept up to date with the latest developments. has been free for 14 years, but without the financial backing of our readers, we would not be able to provide you with fair and accurate news and features about all things Dutch. Your contributions make this possible.

If you have not yet made a donation, but would like to, you can do so via Ideal, credit card or Paypal.