Russia: Anglophone Bloggers Discuss Social and Political Aspects of the Wildfires

Global Voices Online
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Anglophone Russia bloggers have been discussing social and political aspects of the catastrophic wildfires and the ongoing firefighting efforts in central Russia since early August. Below is a selection of their views.

In an Aug. 4 post, Streetwise Professor noted that, for a number of reasons, Russia lacked much of what was needed for "effective firefighting" - "a good deal of contingency planning," significant "investment in equipment," "excellent communications," and "trained personnel who can act on the spot in response to sudden developments" - and concluded:

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the official response seems as much focused on appearing to be in charge and doing something, rather than actually being in charge and doing something. [...]

A Russia-based reader - mossy - responded in the comments section:

[...] It’s really, really, really bad. The most organized, prepared, well-funded and well-organized system wouldn’t be able to cope with this. On the other hand, we don’t have an organized, prepared, well-funded, and well-organized system. And people are idiots. My neighbor has his sprinkler on 24/7 even though he loses water because of it. People start bonfires to burn construction material and leave them unattended. So yeah, the authorities are really f*cking up. But yeah, it really is a miserable situation. There has never been anything like this in the recorded history of Moscow.


[...] On Putin “taking control.” This is a double-edged sword. [...] On the one hand, some people probably think: Molodets! Taking control from those local jerks who didn’t do their job. He cares about people. On the other hand, some people also think: So what happened to the power vertical? If you’re on the top with top-down command, why did you let it get this bad? And why is it that the only time problems get fixed is when you show up? Don’t we have any system of governance that works without the prime minister taking charge?

So I’m not sure how this is going to play out. I’ve been surprised at the ferocity of government criticism from “average citizen” types who usually support Putin. We had a smaller version of this horror in 2002, and I don’t remember any criticism of the government at the time. I don’t think this is the straw that will break the camel’s back, but I do think people’s general sense of being fed up is being pushed up another notch. [...]

On Aug. 5, Miriam Elder filed a GlobalPost dispatch from a burned-down village 140 km from Moscow and also blogged about burning her foot severely there:

[...] I was taking photographs of the remains of Kadanok, a village that had burned entirely, when one wrong step left me sinking into something that felt like a thousand boiling knives stabbing themselves into my foot.

Russia is burning. Whatever you’ve heard, multiply it by a thousand and that’s how bad it is. [...]


And there is no one to help. With three colleagues, I left Moscow at 7 a.m. and got to the hospital in Moscow at 7 p.m. Twelve hours and not one moving fire truck, army truck, official emergencies ministry vehicle. These people have been left to fend for themselves. In Beloomut, people, many of them pensioners, are picking up shovels and digging trenches for themselves.

This isn’t Siberia or the Far East. This is a suburb of Moscow, incredibly poor and totally forgotten. [...]

Also on Aug. 5, A Good Treaty translated from Russian the rynda/fire-alarm-bell exchange between LJ user top-lap and PM Vladimir Putin (a GV translation is here) and wrote this about it:

[...] I’m sure many will read Putin’s response as another installment in his epic book of cool [...]. [...] The actual content of his letter — its sarcasm and concluding offer to ‘return the fire alarm bell’ — seems to make light of a pretty serious problem, namely the embarrassing poverty of the Russian countryside. [...]

On Aug. 10, Vadim Nikitin of Foreign Policy Association's Russia blog wrote about the consequences of the disastrous situation for some of Russia's officials:

[...] So far the disaster has claimed the political lives of just one small and isolated group of mid-ranking bureaucrats: Medvedev sacked a few Defence Ministry officials for letting the fire destroy a top military installation. The Minister himself received only a mild rebuke.


[...] What’s the point of looking for blame when the damage has already been done? Like get over it and move on already, Russia!

Sublime Oblivion analyzed the climatic aspect of the current situation, in addition to the social and political ones, concluding that "the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010 as a mere herald of things to come." Below is a summary to this rather lengthy post (which has so far generated 46 comments):

[...] 1) There is nothing the Russian government could have done to contain a natural disaster of such magnitude, 2) many of the lectures about how Russia could have done better to prepare itself would have been counter-productive had they actually been implemented, 3) the hysteria about Moscow turning into a giant morgue from heat stress and smog or radioactive ash clouds is overblown, and 4) the real problem, or rather predicament, is global warming, the effects of which are expected to transform Russia’s heartlands into Central Asia within the next few decades. [...]

The Reference Frame also took a close look at the climate issue, asking - and answering - this question in regard to the current weather conditions: "Can a rare heat wave in a big city occur by chance?" According to the blogger, "the short answer is Yes." Below is a small part of "the long answer":

[...] Now, is it shocking that Moscow has experienced temperatures that are expected once in 2,000 or 15,000 years? Well, if Moscow were the only city that matters, if July were the only month in the year, and if the temperature were the only quantity that can excite us and that can drive the climate alarmism, the answer would be that it would be relatively unusual. [...]


But Moscow is not the only city, July is not the only month, and temperature is not the only quantity that can be interesting or that can look like a sign from the heavens to some sensitive individuals. [...]


But much like tens of thousands of years ago when people would invent new gods whenever they experienced a somewhat unusual event - solar eclipse, rainbow, hurricane - people remain irrational when it comes to events that only occur "a few times a life" or less frequently. People just can't "instinctively" understand that statistics also holds at time frames that are longer or much longer than our lives. [...]

Finally, Robert Amsterdam's blog translated a conspiracy theory explanation of the heatwave, offered by Komsomolskaya Pravda, a popular Russian tabloid:

"[...] Certain specialists suspect that the current temperature records are not the fault of global warming, but of the application by the Americans of military elaborations. [...]"

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