Saturday, July 28, 2012

Paving Political Potholes

For Global Voices Online: Say the word "roads" to most Russians, and you are likely to end up with an half-hour discussion. Throughout history, Russia has been infamous for its bad road quality. However, now Russian provincial city of Yekaterinburg seems to have come up with a solution to the problem, by making bureacrats get down to work. 

Being a road engineer in Russia must be a nightmare. The combination of harsh climate, mud and marshlands, with annual frost and thaw, makes the upkeep of many roads next to an impossible task. During spring, some roads simly float off. Recently, Russian roads were ranked 125 out of 139 in the world by the World Economic Forum 2011-2012 Global Competitiveness Report

One might assume that most Russians would have resigned to the task, but, whereas in a country like Canada, with similar conditions, few eyebrows are raised, in Russia roads have become a stain on national pride, in man's constant struggle to tame the forces of nature. Thus, last year, then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced a massive road construction programme, to double the rate of building. 

As with most overambtitious plans, Russians exercise some sound skepticism to its realization, and instead are beginning to take matters into their own hands, such as is the case in Yekaterinburg - Russia's fourth largest city. 

"Make the bureaucrat work" is the slogan of a local campaign [ru] run by the regional Internet news agency, Their solution to the road problem is as simple as it is elegant: They simply spray-paint the portraits of local dignitaries around potholes, with their quotes of promises to fix the problem, and guess what - problem solved! What has taken local politicians years not to do, is now done overnight. The embarrassment of having their portraits so concretely fixed to the potholes of their power, has seemingly made authorities run about like mad to pave over their portraits of impotence, filling the holes in streets and roads.

So, what have been the reactions in Russian social media? 

Tweeter @ekalmurzaeva shouts out [ru]:
Вот как заставляют работать чиновников! Портреты чиновников помогли отремонтировать дорогу.
That's how to make bureaucrats work! Portraits of bureaucrats helped repair the road.

LJ user salvatoreha underlines the efficiency of the campaign, but also points out [ru] that it was not a one-hit overnight victory for the campaign:
Напомним, что художники нарисовали на дорогах городских чиновников, причем ямы и пробоины попадали им в рот. Акция оказалась не только эффектной, но и эффективной. Сначала коммунальные службы закрасили рисунки либо удалили слой асфальта. Ночью авторы оставили дополнительное граффити «Закрашивать – не чинить!» К утру коммунальщики полностью заделали все дыры.
Remember how artists painted city officials on the roads, with pits and holes filling their mouths. The action proved not only effectful, but also efficient. At first, municipal services either painted over the pictures or removed a layer of asphalt. At night [campaign] initiators left additional graffiti "Paint - don't fix!" By morning, municipality workers had fully patched all holes.

Others, like Yekaterinburg LJ user Ivan Dmitriyev, adds [ru] some local colour and humour to the affaire:
Десятки информагенств осветили данную акцию. Но в администрации города отнеслись с юмором к произошедшему, сказав, что Евгений Куйвашев собирается вечером гулять по городу пешком, и ему было бы любопытно взглянуть на одну из карикатур. Но кто-то из высокопоставленных коммунальщиков все-таки решил не травмировать психику родного начальника. Уже к следующему утру все дыры были залатаны, асфальт уложен, а лица, с кричащими ртами-ямами, были, следовательно, закрашены. Результат получен – дело сделано, дыр нет. Вот и благо для родного города. Видимо, когда чиновники закрывают глаза на городские проблемы, необходимо им их раскрыть, а к своему «лику» они, как показал екатеринбургский опыт, относятся трепетно.
Dozens of news agencies highlighted this action. But the city administration reacted with humour to what had happened, and said that [Governor] Yevgeny Kuyvashev was to take an evening stroll through the city, and that he was curious to take a look at one of the charicatures. But some senior municipal official still decided not to traumatize the psyche of his local boss. Already by next morning all holes were patched up, asphalt laid, and the faces, with screaming mouth holes, were consequently painted over. The result was achieved - done deal, no holes. What a blessing to one's hometown. Apparently, when bureaucrats close their eyes to city problems, it is necessary to disclose them, because to their own "ranks", as the Yekaterinburg example shows, they remain in awe.

What is not said, is often more interesting than what is actually said. Critical voices to the "Make the bureaucrat work!" campaign are hard to find in social media. As noted by one blogger, even attacked politicians appear to look positively on the action, making their bureaucracy get down to work. 

As a matter of fact, the method seems so efficient that one wonders how long it will take before the campaign is taken to a countrywide scale, possibly by the lively Russian motorists' movement. As Russia's legislators and police clamp down on political rights these days, perhaps this campaign indicates the growth of alternative popular action, a spontaneously evolving civil society, aimed at solving actual problems in people's everyday lives.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Medvedev and the "Belarusian Circus"

For Global Voices Online: A picture says more than a thousand words, the saying goes. An Instagram snapshot that the Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev tweeted as a tacit comment to his visit to Minsk sure does: the "Belarusian Circus." 

During Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Minsk on Wednesday, July 18, he tweeted [ru] an Instagram snapshot with the comment: "In the streets of Minsk." The problem with the picture is that it portrayed the Belarusian State Circus, which could be interpreted as a tacit comment on Medvedev's meeting with the Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and senior state officials. 

 Medvedev's visit to Minsk was no courtesy visit. A recent smuggling scandal has aroused much anger in Moscow, and Medvedev used the meeting to bring Lukashenko to account for the export of chemical solvents produced from the Russian supplies of duty-free oil. Another item on the agenda, according to RIA Novosti [ru], was the recent intrusion into Belarusian airspace by a Swedish plane dropping teddy bears with anti-Lukashenko slogans. The bear incident was a major embarrassment for Belarus in view of the two countries' joint air defence system. As a consequence, a student [ru] who published a photostory about the bears, and a 16-year-old girl [ru], who allegedly took a photo of one of the bears, got arrested by the KGB.  

Then, how did social media react to the "Belarusian circus"? Twitter user @minssk united [ru] the two themes of the circus and the teddies:
Медведев прилетел в Минск, сфоткал цирк. До этого прилетали медведи, тот ещё цирк был, но с фотографом там не хорошая история получилась.
Medvedev flew to Minsk and photographed a circus. Before this, bears flew in, which was quite a circus too, but the story with the [detained] photographer wasn't good.

Some, like @Dubovnik_Dmitry, turned to sarcasm [ru] when commenting:
Медведев отметил минский цирк твитом:-) видно для того чтобы подчекнуть куда он приехал.
Medvedev mentioned the Minsk circus in a tweet:-) obviously to underline what kind of place he had come to.

Twitter user @daphnis_nerii assumed [ru] a more ironic tone:
Информационные порталы страны разместили новость о том, что Медведев сфоткал цирк. Что было бы, если б он в Беларуси в туалет сходил?
Information portals spread the news that Medvedev photographed a circus. How would it have been if he had gone to the toilet in Belarus?

Still, as Twitter user @yurok1521 asked [ru], the question on everyone's lips is this:
Медведев намекнул на «цирк» в правительстве Беларуси?
Did Medvedev hint that there is "a circus" in the government of Belarus?

What Medvedev's intention with the tweet was, only he knows, but if it was a joke, it testifies to a certain sense of humour of the former Russian president with the nickname 'iPhonchik'.