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Russian caste system.

by ericy Mon Feb 13th, 2006 at 09:53:06 PM EST

This story is just so bizarre.  All I have is what was in the paper this morning.  Perhaps there are people here who have lived in or driven in Russia who might have a greater insight as to what the situation is.


The day started out normally enough:

The crash occurred on a beautiful morning Aug. 7 in the Altai region of Siberia. Shcherbinsky, 36, his wife and 12-year-old daughter, along with a neighbor and her son, were heading to a lake for a picnic. Gov. Mikhail Yevdokimov, 48, was on his way to the birthday celebration for a Soviet cosmonaut who hailed from a nearby village. His wife sat beside him in the back seat. Up front were his official driver and a bodyguard.

but things quickly went horribly wrong:

Shcherbinsky, driving a Toyota, was about 300 yards farther down the two-lane road. He was slowing, turn signal on, and easing into the turn, according to court records and testimony.

Yevdokimov's driver began to brake about 80 yards from the point of impact, but it was too late. The Mercedes hit the left side of the Toyota and became airborne, then slammed into a birch tree.

Yevdokimov's car was estimated to be travelling between 150 and 200kph (depending upon who you ask, of course).  All but one occupant of Yevdokimov's car was killed in the accident.

Shcherbinsky was fortunate in the sense that he and the occupants of his car were not injured, but the Russian legal system had a nasty surprise in store for him.

More on the flip...

While tragic enough, here is where things went really wrong.   Shcherbinsky's misfortune was that Yevdokimov was a popular politician.  

On Feb. 3, the judge sentenced him to four years in a labor colony for careless driving leading to the death of others and for not yielding to a car with priority.

This case is in a sense just a symptom of a much larger problem.  On the Russian roads there is a caste system.

Nowhere is the privilege -- and abuse -- of power more visible to ordinary Russians than on the roads, where politicians and bureaucrats, who have special license plates and blue lights for their luxury vehicles, speed recklessly, force other drivers aside and generally flout the rules. At the same time, ordinary citizens are subject to constant harassment from traffic police, who routinely demand small bribes. These irritants have become the source of open anger because many motorists can easily imagine themselves suffering Shcherbinsky's fate.

Even though I live in the US and I routinely see and complain about the abuses of power by Bush, Cheney and the rest of their crew, the situation in Russia is a stick in the eye for average Russians.

I've heard gossip (not substantiated) to the effect that Dick Cheney's motorcade drives at hazardous speed and has menaced pedestrians and other motorists.  But then he also shoots people accidentally :-)  Although as a buddy at work said, when Left Blogistan was asking this morning why Cheney could shoot someone (over the weekend) and the story takes two days to come out -- "No, that's not really about Cheney, that's about Texas.  Shooting people is not such a big deal there."

Ah, those inscrutable Occidentals.  They just don't place the same value on human life as the rest of us :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Feb 14th, 2006 at 01:30:52 AM EST
They drive like maniacs.  Everyone is Washington drives like a lunatic -- my aunt more than all the rest (which is frightening since she drives one of those tiny Mazda sports cars that crumble like paper in an accident).

I was once walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in Foggy Bottom (George Washington U. area) on my way to see some of the "touristy" stuff when Bush's motorcade drove by at about 150 mph.  About five minutes before it passed me, I could hear the police sirens all the way from Rosslyn, and officers started clearing -- pushing really -- pedestrians from the sidewalks.

Maybe it's a Texas thing.  Texans are, I'm convinced, an entirely different species.  These are people who wear jeans and wool plaid shirts when it's a hundred and twenty degrees outside.  We really should've let it remain an independent country.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2006 at 03:09:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have lived in the DC area for years, but I have only seen one motorcade (and that was Clinton).

That being said, I haven't heard many people complain about excessive speed (or endangering the public) when these things roar through.  They usually start by temporarily closing off all side streets, then block pedestrians from walking into the street.  Then the motorcade roars through on the cleared streets, and the whole thing moves on.  5-10 minutes is about all it takes.

Not to say that there haven't been incidents though.  There might have been one a few years ago, but I only have a vague recollection of it all.  People who live up in NW DC near the Naval Observatory might have an entirely different take on the whole thing.

by ericy on Thu Feb 16th, 2006 at 10:45:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't speak for the current situation, but my observation there was that the "rules of the road" as we know them in America do not exist in Russia.  Driving, whatever your social position, is a risky business.  

And the way those in charge, whether they be provincial governors or mafia, or both, are able to act above the law and mete out revenge for anyone who gets in their way (in this case, literally) is not limited to highway offenses.  

It doesn't help anything that this guy doesn't have to worry about being re-elected.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Tue Feb 14th, 2006 at 01:14:49 PM EST
Actually, "the rules of the road" do not exist in Bulgaria, either. Here the pedestrian should be cautious not to be run over by a car and not the other way around. Because if you get hit, there is great chance that the driver won't even stop to call an Ambulance. Being a pedestrian hare is quite risky.
by Denny on Wed Feb 15th, 2006 at 03:16:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
True Story:

I had an aquaintance who was the victim of a hit and run in Moscow.  She was crossing the street and a police car hit her and sped away.  She lay barely conscious in the street for close to an hour hour while we tried to get an ambulance to come.  While we were waiting for the ambulance, we went to the police station (right across the street from the accident!) to report the accident and the police responded by asking me and my friend if we had boyfriends and would we like some.

Stranger than fiction.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Wed Feb 15th, 2006 at 05:16:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The situation is pretty much the same in Bulgaria. The owners of expensive vehicles are previleged and the police do not stop them if they violate the road rules.
The ordinary people have to pay small bribes to the police officers for every violation. But I do not blame the police because they have very low salaries (about 200 $ per month) and the economic situation, the corruption, and the poverty are the preponderant factor about the different attitude toward the rich and the poor. I lived in Austria and Germany for a couple of years and there the police officers are respected and well paid and when it comes to fulfill their duties they do not show any prejudice or "double standards." The number of crimes in these two countries is also very low if a comparison with Russia and Bulgaria has to be set. However, although the
American police is very well trained, the rising levels of crime in America are worrisome. May be too much liberty and freedom, when these terms are misunderstood, is also a problem...

I'm not ugly,but my beauty is a total creation.Hegel
by Chris on Wed Feb 15th, 2006 at 02:16:39 PM EST
Rising crime in America has nothing to do with too much freedom, but is a result of not enough opportunity.  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Wed Feb 15th, 2006 at 02:39:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or probaly both...
Disagreement is a sign of diversity.
Umberto Eco

I am wondering why when I think somethink someone always has to tell me it is wrong. I respect different opinion; what I do not respect  is the absolute rejection of mine.
The source of the quote is very edifying, but I will not go into details...

I'm not ugly,but my beauty is a total creation.Hegel
by Chris on Wed Feb 15th, 2006 at 03:20:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bravo, good point! Well done, Chris!
by Denny on Wed Feb 15th, 2006 at 03:34:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sorry.  I should not have been so dismissive of your comment.  

What I should have said is: working in an area of high crime, I've observed that there is a major correspondence between lack of jobs, racism, poverty and crime.  And the opinion that it is too much freedom which results in crime is something I find dangerous, as it gives those in power reason to deny people their rights and doesn't pose a solution to the real problems plaguing our neighborhoods.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Wed Feb 15th, 2006 at 03:49:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Posters above have pointed out similarities between the behavior of Russian officials and Dick Cheney with his motorcades. While such similarities exist, and the presidential and vice-presidential motorcades as they are now executed in the US are completely out of place in a democracy, having spent some time in post-Soviet Russia, I can say that the democratic spirit, with its idea that everyone is equal under the law, is considerably less developed in Russia than in the US.

Should Americans be consoled by this? I don't think so. It is well known that Russia did not participate in the Enlightenment (Catherine the Great's correspondence with Voltaire notwithstanding). In contrast, the US, with its liberalism and ideas of natural rights, is generally considered to be an outgrowth of the Enlightenment, and America, in Baudrillard's words, to have been "born modern", in contrast to Russia's inability to this day to fully leave a medieval set of attitudes.

My point is: given that America was once considered the beacon of modernity, while Russia's backwardness compared to "the West" has always been a given, it's being so natural today to compare the state of lawlessness in America to that in Russia is a sad testament indeed to how low America has fallen.

If only European elites began to realize this.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Thu Feb 16th, 2006 at 02:08:21 AM EST
If only European elites began to realize this.

Given the recent discussion on "What is Europe?" I feel it is fair to say that "European elites" is a pretty big one. I'm interested if you'd care to narrow it down a bit, perhaps with an example?

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2006 at 02:50:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
so I haven't been following all discussions closely.

For a start, I would say European business, political, and academic elites. But I'll try to look at the discussion "What is Europe", and then get back to you on this.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Thu Feb 16th, 2006 at 03:28:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't mean to sound as if I am lecturing. The mention of the other diary was to explain why I think that it's useful to say something more focused than "the European elites." If only because, it is theoretically plausible that if you are "elite enough/the right kind of European elite" (e.g. the very rich kind) then a society like Russia seems to be more to your benefit than one like the "USA at it's best" or "Europe at it's best."
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2006 at 06:17:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a very typical, and to me wholly unsurprising anectode. I have tons of those myself, some which are actually funny.

I'll just say that it has its good sides: with a bit of money, you can buy the same for yourself (the police escorts, not the impunity, I mean - although with enough money you can of course buy that as well). I went to a friend's wedding, and to go around the city before and after the wedding, he had hired a police escort from the nearby police station: for about $200, he has two police cars opening up the way around the city for his limo (a ZIL, i.e. the car of Brejnev et. al., separately hired). It was a nice experience, and accessible to pretty much everybody at such a price...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2006 at 07:08:03 AM EST
Shcherbinsky's misfortune was that Yevdokimov was a popular politician.

Actually, this is not exactly so. After having won the elections (strictly speaking, much of the people's support for Yevdokimov came solely from his popularity as a comedian and from his predecessor's unpopularity as the governor), Yevdokimov embarked on a political path that led to disaster.

Being an amateur in politics, he did not understand the intricacies of the Russian regional bureaucracy. He tried to play his own game, disregarding the "special interest groups." While there were attempts on his part to solve the accumulated problems (largely, economic) of the Altaiskiy krai, the local political elites united in their move to obstruct the work of the governor, publicly disgrace and eventually oust him from the office.

As I saw many times in the Russian news (we used to get the broadcast of channel NTV [HTB] unedited), he was usually accused of nepotism, of having personal connections with local mafia, and, of course, of mismanagement of the regional affairs, which ultimately led to the failure of the seasonal harvesting activities and to the krai's total unpreparedness for the winter season. Collective letters with criticisms were being routinely sent directly to Putin, who refused to fire the governor albeit Moscow's apparent discontent at the man's victory in the elections in the first place.

Finally, Yevdokimov got impeached. And later he died in a car crash. Certainly, there were rumors of the two events being related. No proof for that was ever found. (more here, here, and here)

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government -- Edward Abbey

by serik berik (serik[dot]berik on Gmail) on Thu Feb 16th, 2006 at 12:00:26 PM EST

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