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Russia: Bloggers Vs. “Patricians” on the Road

A recent car crash in Moscow dominated headlines and blogs in Russia during the last four days. Bloggers launched a full-blown advocacy campaign to rehabilitate the memory of the two women killed in the crash and draw attention to a pressing issue of cars with “special” license plates that constantly disobey the rules and cause traffic accidents.

According to many witnesses, on February 25, black Mercedes of Anatoliy Barkov, vice president of Russia's largest oil company Lukoil [EN], drove to an opposite lane at a high speed and crashed into red Citroen with two women. Both women, Vera Sidelnikova and Olga Aleksandrina, died immediately. Vera Sidelnikova was a famous Moscow obstetrician and gynecologist who saved many lives during her practice.

The official version [RUS] of the accident – repeated by many government-controlled media channels – was just an opposite to the witnesses’ accounts: the two women in Citroen drove to an opposite lane at a high speed and crashed into Mercedes (here is a video reconstruction of the accident based on the official version).

Many people noticed how the official version of the road accident did not make any sense to start with. Apparently, a lane opposite to Citroen has been filled with many cars and, if Citroen did drive into an opposite lane,  it would be impossible to hit only Mercedes without crashing into other cars around it. At the same time, a lane opposite to Mercedes was pretty much empty and the car could easily drive into it and hit Citroen without damaging other cars.

Journalist and blogger Elena Tokareva (aka LJ user elena-tokareva2) expressed her doubts [RUS]:

Интересная трагедия. Нелогичная. Ситроен с геникологом Верой Сидельниковой за рулем ехал утром в сторону области, по свободному шоссе, с чего бы ему ни с того ни с сего вылететь на встречку? Тем более, что пожилые водительницы всегда едут медленно и печально, не гоняют. Что-то привирают гаишники

Interesting tragedy. Not logical at all. Citroen with gynecologist Vera Sidelnikova at the wheel was going from the city to suburbs along an empty highway. Why would she suddenly decide to to drive on an opposite side of the road? Also, senior drivers usually drive slow and gloomy, they don't drive fast. Seems like the policemen are lying.

Another blogger an4en was more straightforward [RUS]:

Утром по Серебряному дождю в блоке с информацией о пробках передали сообщение о том, что на площади Гагарина произошло ДТП с участием Мерседеса со спецномерами и Ситроена.
Звонили слушатели-очевидцы – все как один говорили о том факте, что Мерседес выехал на встречную полосу, где и столкнулся лоб в лоб с Ситроеном.
И вот уже вечером, буквально 20 мин назад, по “чудному” каналу РОССИЯ.1 в новостях сообщают, что это именно Ситроен выехал на встречную полосу, именно девушка виновата в аварии.
Hу да. Это мы тут, в Москве, такие. Несколько тысяч, кто слышал это сообщение по радио. А вся страна смотрит новости по федеральному каналу. И верит. И как-будто всё слава Богу. И как-будто власть у нас хорошая.

During the traffic news updates on Silver Rain [Russian music radio – A.S.] in the morning, they said there was an accident on Gagarin Square that involved Mercedes with a “special” license plate and Citroen.
Witnesses called the radio station. All of them said that Mercedes drove to an opposite lane where it hit Citroen.
And in the evening, 20 minutes ago, “wonderful” TV channel Russia 1 reported that it was Citroen that drove to an opposite lane and the woman-driver was the one to blame for the accident.Of course, we are different here in Moscow. Several thousands heard this report on the radio. But the whole country watches news on federal media channels and believes. Believes that everything is tip-top here. Believes that our government is good.

an4en later accused the Russian radio of deleting the witnesses’ accounts from its Web site:

я лично слышала в эфире Серебряного дождя, как радиослушатели звонили и сообщали, что авария случилась, потому что мерс со спецномерами выехал на встречку. Сегодня отслушала архив эфира от 25 февраля на сайте www.moskva.fm – эти звонки из эфира стёрли! Вырезали! Эфир смикшевали! Просто нет никаких сообщений от слушателей об аварии на Ленинском! Ну я-то не сумасшедшая! Я же слушала!!! И слышала!

I have personally heard that during the newscast of Silver Rain radio listeners called and said that the accident happened because Mercedes with special license plates drove on an opposite lane. Today, I listened the archived footage of the newscast on the Web site www.moskva.fm and they deleted those calls. Deleted! They edited the news cast! Now there are no calls from the listeners about the car crash! I am not crazy! I have listened!!! And I have heard!

Immediately after the crash, Russian rapper Noize MC [RUS] wrote a hip-hop song “Mercedes S666″ where the Vice-President of LUKoil Anatoliy Barkov is presented as a demon from “South Park” cartoon:

In the song, the oil tycoon boasts about his high rank and supernatural powers that allow him to escape a punishment:

I am a persona of a different level.
I am a being of a higher rank.
I don’t  know the problems that cannot be solved with a bribe.
I don’t know people whose lives are more important than my interests.
I don’t care what newspapers write about me.
If you are in the way of my Mercedes, it is your fault in any situation.
[…]
I can bend the time-space continuum.
All video cameras break when they capture the evidence of my crime.
You can shove your public opinion.
People will talk and then calm down.

The song's chorus compares Russian high-ranked businessmen in their expansive cars as patricians who treat the rest of people like slaves:

Mercedes S666.
Get out of my way, plebs.
Fear us, pathetic slaves!
Patricians are on the road!
We are in a hurry  on the road to hell!
Make way to our chariot!!!

Many comments to the song and blog entries describing the situation around the car crash call for boycotting the LUKoil gas stations around Russia and abroad.Blogger v_l_a_d_i, for example, posted an improvised sign calling for the boycott.

People also actively search for additional witnesses of the accident. The info for the YouTube video of the song, for example, contains a phone number and e-mail address where people can call and tell what they saw.

Another anti-LUKoil YouTube video depicts an impatient driver who is so eager to get to a LUKoil gas station that he ignores all the rules of the road and flies above other cars. Before making a jump in his car, the drives declares: “We'll get through it! We'll turn off video cameras and change the license plate!” The last slide in the video says: “LUKoil. Official partner of the Vostryakovo grave yard.”

Marina Litvinovich (aka LJ user abstract2001) who recently played an important role in distributing the information on another car crash [EN]  in Irkutsk posted an open letter [RUS] of the victims’ relatives. The letter accuses LUKoil and road police of falsifying the evidence of the crash and urges all witnesses to contact the relatives.

Headlines of other blog posts about the car crash pretty much describe the netizens’ attitude toward the incident:

“They were giving lives and he was selling oil”
“Let's help together! The evil must be punished!”
“Let's boycott murderers from LUKoil”
“Who is to blame and what is to be done?”
“Murderers must answer… What kind of country we have…”

Barkov's case gave life to an old issue of unspoken privileges for top businessmen and government officials on Russian roads. Mercedeses, Porches or Maibachs with “special” license plates (like the ones with three “C” or “O” in a row – Barkov's luxury Mercedes had the number c398cc77) are ignored by traffic police and are, in an Orwellian way, “more equal than others” [EN]. Special license plate numbers are normally assigned to special services cars so they can be identified by policemen. But this practice got corrupted. Instead of a tool for better work, the license plates became an example of overwhelming corruption: they can be “bought” in the traffic department. The Web site Avtomarket.ru even came up with a price-list [RUS] of “special” license plates:

ССС77 – около 4.000 $. В основной своей массе принадлежат Центру спецсвязи (больше половины), ФАПСИ, Фельдъегерской связи, МинСвязи. Несколько десятков номеров висят на машинах “близких” структур и на частных машинах сотрудников. Остальные – у “частников” Весьма неплохо работают.

Plates with CCC77  cost about $4,000. In general, they belong to the Center of Special Communications (more than a half), FAPSI, Government Courier Service, Ministry of Telecommunications. Some of the plates are on the cars of “close” institutions and on the private cars of employees of these institutions. The rest is on the cars of private owners.

It is still unclear wherever the criminal case started since the authorities of different levels tell controversial information. Russian Federation of Car Owners (RFoCO) started independent ivestigation of the case. Sergey Kanaev, leader of the Moscow department of the RFoCO called all Russian car owners to start boycotting LUKoil gas stations from March 1 until the independent investigation committee finds the evidence of Barkov's guilt.

Vadim Isakov

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