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Russia: Seeking Justice by Linking and Re-Posting

The Russian blogosphere became a place of public outcry against the lack of adequate punishment for corrupt government officials and their relatives violating the law. A simple blog search reveals numerous posts criticizing Russian police, senators and governors who disregard any notion of the law and easily avoid any consequences for taking bribes, pursuing illegal business deals or even killing people.

But the public frustration online doesn't always lead to real-life changes. The recent story of a car crash in one of the Siberian cities and online reaction to the incident illustrate how an improvised online campaign attempts to affect gloomy reality.

On the surface, the story of Anna Shavenkova who ran over two women while driving her Toyota on December 2, 2009 in Irkutsk is nothing new in Russia. Thousands of people are killed in road accidents every month. But the story took a slightly different spin when people found out that Anna is a daughter of Lyudmila Shavenkova, a chairwoman of the election committee in Irkutsk region, who apparently has a lot of influence on the way things are done in that part of the country.

The disturbing video [ENG] of the crash, which keeps being deleted from YouTube, has been shown by some media outlets and, at first, did not originally cause any significant discussion online. Some bloggers pointed out the indifference of people who continued walking as if nothing happened. Some were upset that Anna, the driver, got out of the car and started immediately calling someone (not the ambulance) instead of checking the condition of the victims (one of them died in a hospital several days later).

What really led to the outrage on the blogs is a result of a formal investigation of the crash by the road police in Irkutsk. Anna is allegedly being treated as a witness of the crash although she was the one who drove the car into the sidewalk and hit the by-passers.

The well-known blogger and member of “The Other Russia” oppositional coalition [EN] Marina Litvinovich (aka LJ user abstract2001) commented on it in her blog post [RUS] that quickly attracted thousands of visitors and hundreds of comments:

Многие, наверное, помнят ролик из Иркутска, где камера видеонаблюдения зафиксировала ДТП. Его виновница, Анна Шавенкова, на полной скорости сбившая двух девушек в самом центре Иркутска, вдруг оказалась не виновницей происшествия, а его свидетельницей. Кто является виновником ДТП, суд пока не установил. Вполне вероятно, что виновником окажется автомобиль. А Анна Шавенкова просто так, случайно, оказалась на водительском сидении. Чисто как свидетель.

Many remember the video from Irkutsk where a camera captured a car crash. The person who caused it, Anna Shavenkova, hitting two girls in the center of Irkutsk at full speed, suddenly became a witness and not the one responsible for the crash. The court has not yet determined who is responsible. It is possible that the car will be found guilty. And Anna Shavenkova just happened to be in the driver's seat. Just as a witness.

Litvinovich urged other bloggers to re-post this information online hoping  that it would eventually catch the attention of media. Following the advice from a fellow blogger, she even created a “re-post” button at the end of the post making it easier for everyone to spread the information.

Many bloggers responded to this by enthusiastically linking to Litvinovich's blog (the most popular reply to the post was “I re-posted”) and expressing their deepest concerns with how the local authorities handled the incident.

A good portion of online readers admitted the impotence of law in Russia against people with power and called for concrete actions. Blogger tvn1, for example, wrote [RUS] that one cannot blame a mother who tried to shield her daughter from the punishment. Instead, the blogger drew attention to the people who made it possible for a person to be above the law:

А вот судью и ментов надо мочить жёстко и показательно. Из-за них, взяточников, и стал возможным мажорский беспредел.
Нужно уже брать пример с той-же Греции, Франции т.п. Так за такие дела люди выходят на улицы и пускают в ход силу ломов, коктейлей молотова и прочих подручных средств, этим самым напоминая, что власть – слуга народа а не народ на службе у власти.

We should whack the judge and police harshly and indicatively. Because of them, bribe-takers, the lawlessness became possible. We should follow the example of Greece, France, etc. People there take it to the streets and use the force of crowbars, Molotov cocktails and other means reminding the authorities that they are servants of people and not the other way around.

Proposals to “whack” authorities and “take it to the streets” were not uncommon among the bloggers.

Some suggested that the “lawlessness” is the fault of people who elected those authorities. LJ user toytronic wrote [RUS]:

В этой стране власть всегда имела граждан, почитайте историю! Радуйтесь, что в ЖЖ вам пока любезно позволяют чувствовать себя свободными! Вы сами проголосовали за вертикаль власти и парламентское большинство, а получили тотальную коррупцию, полное разложение МВД, цензуру СМИ и парламент состоящий из коррупционных чиновников, на все это мерзко смотреть! У вас была возможность избрать демократическое гражданское общество в конце 90х! Если народ не поумнеет, его ждет новый 37 год!

The authorities always “had” people in this country. Read history! You should be glad that you are so far allowed to feel freedom in Livejournal [popular blogging platform in Russia – V.I.]! You were the ones who voted for the vertical of power and the parliament majority and you got total corruption, full decay of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the parliament that consists of corrupted officials. It is sickening to look at! You had an opportunity to choose a democratic society at the end of 90's! If people don't get smarter, they will face the year of 1937 [the Great Purges period in Russia – V.I.]!

Another blogger called for active participation in local and regional elections to prevent corrupt politicians from taking power.

Litvinovich's post is currently among the most popular ones on the Russian blogosphere leading in every rating of the top online entries. It seems that the author achieved the goal to attract attention of many netizens to the issue.

But it is still unclear if the improvised virtual campaign will amount to any results in real life. Litvinovich seems to be convinced that it will change things for the better. Replying to a comment doubting the effectiveness of re-posting, Litvinovich optimistically noted:

Опыт показывает, что простым привлечением внимания моно много добиться – например того, что следствие и суд к проблеме отнесутся по-другому, а не так как сейчас. Если не помоет, будем думать, что еще можно сделать.

Experience shows that, by simply attracting attention, one can achieve a lot. For example, the court and further investigation will treat this incident differently and not how they treat it now. If this doesn't help, we will think of something else we can do.

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