Well I had hoped to be able to write something in my first entry from St. Petersburg about how wonderful it is here. On the positive side, it’s a lovely city full of cultural and artistic treasures like the Hermitage, numerous palaces and cathedrals, and a rich artistic tradition from Doestoevsky to Kandinsky. I was simply blown away by the beauty and craftsmanship of the Church of the Spilled Blood. On the negative side, I got mugged on the first day I arrived.
I won’t dwell on the circumstances, but suffice to say that I am now penniless. I am very grateful to be unharmed and to still have my passport, tickets, iBook and camera. Meanwhile someone has been running around all over town the past two days making thousands of dollars of charges on my credit cards. Kind of annoying.
One good thing is that I have clear reminder of the importance of the rule of law in society now. One can speak about it in the abstract at UN conferences and NGO events, but the fact is that living in a society without the rule of law is living in fear and anxiety all the time.
As someone from a Western country with a moderate income, getting robbed of my wallet is an annoying inconvenience at most. I have numerous means of support — the UNESCO conference organizers have been incredibly helpful and kind (and the Russian police and the local Citibank office have been totally useless.) But for someone living from hand-to-mouth, getting mugged can be a major disaster.
So its for those folks that we need to build societies under the rule of law — where kids can have safe places to play, teenagers have alternatives to gangs to gain respect, people have equal access to justice regardless of position or class, and law is administered fairly and enforced vigorously.
And people don’t get mugged on a Sunday afternoon on the metro.