Russia's Potemkin Hospitals?

Prime Minister Medvedev visits a Moscow hospital. YouTube screenshot.

Prime Minister Medvedev visits a Moscow hospital. YouTube screenshot.

Should people trust what they see on Russian television? No, says Moscow blogger Daniil Tereschenko, in a LiveJournal post [ru] he published on November 11, 2013. Tereschenko, a member of a religious organization with nationalist overtones called the Orthodox Brotherhood of the Resurrection [ru], tells a curious story about Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's recent televised visit [ru] to a Moscow hospital.

According to Tereschenko's anonymous “former classmate”, who works at the hospital, in the days before the PM was due for a walk through, the place went through some changes. Two days prior, the hospital stopped admitting new patients. At the same time, anyone who could walk without endangering their life was discharged. But the kicker was this:

Коридоры, по которым должен был пройти Медведев, быстро отделали накладными пластиковыми панелями, раскатали новый линолеум. […] как только Медведев из больницы уехал, накладные пластиковые панели и линолеум в коридорах тут же сняли и увезли.

The hallways through which Medvedev was due to walk were quickly redone with stuck-on plastic paneling, and the floor was covered with new linoleum. […] as soon as Medvedev left the hospital, the detachable plastic paneling and the linoleum in the hallways was immediately removed and carried off.

The post, which had included no proof or evidence (aside for anecdotal), garnered almost 400 comments. Many readily believed the story was true, and some had similar “Potemkin village” stories to tell. LJ user salome_lou wrote [ru]:

То же самое было, когда он приезжал на журфак. Я не узнала нашу главную аудиторию, они ее переделали вплоть до коврового покрытия, а потом все увезли.

It was the same when he visited the [Moscow State University] Journalism School. I didn't recognize our main lecture hall, it was redone down to the carpeting, and later everything was taken away.

Another blogger told of a time [ru] when Medvedev visited a small town of Kozelsk, where the authorities decided to turn on the city fountain in his honor. Only it was winter, and freezing. A third blogger recalled [ru] a time when a factory in Siberia got free WiFi, only to have it taken away once the visit was over.

Others questioned Tereschenko's post. One commenter said [ru] that rolling out temporary linoleum would be fraught with so many difficulties that this detail threw the rest into question. Another reader noted [ru] the lack of incriminating photos (after all, everyone has a phone camera these days), and linked to a online photo-gallery located on the hospital's website. The gallery shows clean, well lit spaces, and modern equipment:

Hospital #67 photo gallery. Screenshot.

Hospital #67 photo gallery. Screenshot.

Of course, that's not to say that these photos couldn't also be staged, as user Andrey Bibikov was quick to point out [ru].

Finally, Tereschenko's post drew attention of the hospital itself — which published a response [ru] on its website. The hospital denied that it changed its mode of operations or stopped serving and admitting patients. It also ridiculed the linoleum story, while admitting that there was some temporary carpeting set up in the conference hall to improve sound quality.

It's hard to tell who is in the right, short of going to the hospital and seeing for yourself. Regardless, people will tend to believe what they want to believe — whether they see it on TV or read it on the Internet.

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