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Russia: Renewed Anger Over Bureaucratic Traffic Bypasses

A fiery incident on a Moscow highway has reignited the debate on Russian officials’ use of “special signals” that allow bureaucrats to move quickly through traffic.

Blogger and member of the Society of Blue Buckets activist group's LiveJournal (LJ) page, archeornis, brought attention to a recent YouTube video [ru] of the Head of Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, Sergey Shoygu’s black Mercedes making use of the “official” blue signal and robotic chirp, which is used to make drivers pull over to let the “official” car pass.

“Want to be shot in the head, idiot?”

The video was shot in Moscow and uploaded to YouTube by archeornis (aka YouTube user vlastimeu, sometimes used as a collective videoblog for the Society of Blue Buckets) on May 14, 2011. While driving in the outside right lane of the motorway, archeornis was hassled by a black Mercedes whose driver insisted his car be allowed to pass:

archeornis did not pull over, and about a minute into the video someone in the Mercedes shouts through a megaphone:

Tе че, дебил, в голову выстрелить чтоль, придурок?

Hey retard, do you want to be shot in the head, you idiot?

The video, picked up by dozens of Russian blogs, spread throughout the Internet. The owner of the Mercedes was quickly identified as Sergey Shoygu, Minister of Emergency Situations.

Not only did the Mercedes driver's imprecation became an Internet meme, it also ignited a number of discussions in the blogosphere.

User zangasta spoke up [ru] about the unfair nature of how laws are enforced in Russia:

Но, если закон утверждает что у какого-то Михалкова больше прав чем у меня, и я должен уступать ему дорогу – то это не закон а гавно.
И соблюдать его я не буду.

But if the law states that some sort of Mikhalkov [Reference to Nikita Mikhalkov, Oscar-awarded Russian director unpopular among bloggers] has more rights than I, and that I should make way for him – then that is not a law but shit. And I will not follow it.

However, other comments [ru] showed a cynical and unfazed public:

Небедный человек. Очень небедный.

Well-off guy. Very well-off.

User xoxlova commented [ru] whether or not it actually is a law that drivers must pull to the side for cars with sirens and signals:

С другой стороны – разве не обязаны пропускать при включенных маячках с сиренами?

On the other hand, aren’t you required to let a vehicle pass when a signal with a siren is turned on?

According to Russian law, cars are required to pull to the side to any car with a blue signal turned on. Such signals, however, are only to be used during emergency situations.

One of main questions raised by the bloggers was if Shoygu himself was in the car at the moment. Irina Andrianova, head of media relations for the Ministry of Emergency Situations, told [ru] the Russian wire service ITAR-TASS, “The driver was alone in the car. He was driving from the garage to Warsaw highway. There was no reason for the driver to be in the hurry.” Andrianova underscored that, “The driver has been disciplined for his incorrect behavior on the road.”

Bloggers demand responsibility

Dissatisfied with the minor reaction from the Ministry and government, blogger Andrei Malgin posted a collage of pictures showing Shoygu’s same driver from before the incident, driving Shoygu’s Mercedes two days after the incident.

A collage of pictures showing Sergey Shoigu's driver made by Andrei Malgin. Pictures by user InGiNeR.

A collage of pictures showing Sergey Shoigu's driver made by Andrei Malgin. Pictures by user InGiNeR.

LJ user pavelcorsun registered his lack of surprise [ru] regarding the possibility that Shoigu's driver was still behind the wheel:

Почему я не удивился?
Потому, что ни в одной газете, ни на одном сайте не назвали его имя и фамилию.
Везде – водителя уволили.
К такой формулировке не прикопаешься — может и уволили :-)

Why am I not surprised?
Because, not in a single paper, not on a single website has the driver’s first and last name been stated.
Everywhere [it says] “the driver was fired.”
You can't oppose such wording – maybe he was fired :-)

In a post that had 2,396 comments as of May 20, blogger Aleksei Navalny wrote [ru] that he plans to send a letter of complaint to Russia’s prosecutor general on Monday May 23:

Ок, согласен со многими комментаторами, требующими написать заявление в прокуратуру.
Мы направим такие заявления.
Факты, требующие разбирательства:
– публичная угроза убийством, которая воспринимается вполне реально, с учетом того, что раздается из автомобиля с номерами ФСО
– был ли в машине Шойгу? Судя по включенной мигалке – да. Отдавал ли указание Шойгу высказать угрозу убийством?
– если сам Шойгу не отдавал такого указания, то какие действия выполнил, когда это произошло в его присутствии?
– по какой экстренной надобности следовал его автомобиль? Для чего были включены проблексковые маяки?

В понедельник отправим.

Ok, I agree with a lot of commenters who have demanded to write a statement to the prosecutor general.
We are going to send such a statement.
Facts that must be examined:
– a public death threat, which is understood as being fully substantial, taking into account the fact that it came from a car with Federal Protective Service license plates [such plates are on every governmental car – GV].
– was Shoygu in the car? Judging by the fact that the signal was on – yes. Did Shoygu instruct [the driver] to pronounce the death threat?
– if Shoygu himself did not issue such an instruction, then what action did he take when it happened in his presence?
– what kind of urgent mission was the car on? Why was the signal turned on? We will send it on Monday.

Though such violent language has been rarely caught on tape, videos of bureaucrats speeding through traffic with the help of a small blue signal, chirping horn, and megaphone is nothing new in Moscow.

In the spring of 2010, blogger archeornis posted several clips [ru] on his own blog, in which he documents how, through the use of a siren, one is able to speed through endless lines of Moscow traffic.

Andrei has announced [ru] that he has sent a request to the Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev to analyze who – the driver or Shoygu – actually made the threat, as well as whether or not Shoygu was in the car when the incident took place.

Both questions remain unanswered.

The finale?

On May 21, 2011, bloggers outed [ru] the driver, named Vladimir Shishkin (bloggers even published Shishkin's digital footprint – pictures from social network Odnoklassniki).

According to documents from the Ministry of Emergency Situations and shared on the RuNet by an anonymous source, it appears Shishkin was fired on May 16, 2011, two days after the incident. Bloggers, however, continue to doubt that Shishkin will be held responsible for making a death threat.

As Andrey Malgin wrote [ru]:

Причем в бумагах нигде не говорится об угрозах убить человека. Уволили за то, что включил спецсигнал. Обойден также вопрос, был ли на борту начальник. И, конечно, умиляет наличие в приказе об увольнении гос.номера автомобиля, – это чтобы никто не сомневался, что уволили того, кого надо. Не уверен, что в приказах об увольнении водителей принято указывать номер машины, на которой они ездят.

The papers don't say anything about the death threat. He's been fired for turning on the blue signal. They didn't answer whether Shoygu was in the car. And, of course, it is especially touching that they've included the license plate number – so that no one would doubt that they fired the right guy. I'm not sure that in such statements license plate numbers of the fired drivers are included.

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