Russia has closed four McDonald's locations in Moscow for “sanitary violations” in what some say is just another stage of the sanctions war. The RuNet exploded with disbelief—and photos of Russian bathrooms.
The average Westerner might not think of a McDonald's restaurant as a clean and inviting space. The food is nothing to write home about, and the restrooms are usually gross. Not so in Russia, where most of the McDonald's locations are spotless and attract a crowd, not least due to free bathroom access. Public restrooms are still scarce in Russia, and even in major cities citizens continue to be grateful to places like McDonald's for “years of free WCs.” So when the Russian consumer watchdog inspected and promptly shut down four of the brand's restaurants in Moscow, including the oldest Russian McDonald's, Russians took to social media to complain.
Закрыли первый "Макдоналдс" – восстановим и СССР! pic.twitter.com/tokAVfFmp5
— Мuд Роисси (@Fake_MIDRF) August 20, 2014
We closed down the first McDonalds—we'll rebuild the USSR too!
While there were plenty of jokes about the quality of the food and the sanctions (TJournal has a nice collection, in Russian), some of the discussions took a darker turn. As netizens expressed their disbelief at the usually spotless McDonald's being forced to close for “sanitary violations,” some started posting images of bathrooms and washrooms from their local hospitals. Twitter user @jamchronicle started the trend from Yekaterinburg:
В Москве закрыли 4 Макдональдса из-за санитарных условий. То ли дело городская больница №23 в Екатеринбурге pic.twitter.com/2MkXpNBVdm
— Уильям Шекспир (@jamchronicle) August 20, 2014
In Moscow 4 McDonald's were shut down for unsanitary conditions. Certainly no match for city hospital #23 in Yekaterinburg.
A trickle soon turned into a flood, as the original tweet gained hundreds of retweets. People started sharing their own stories of horrific hospital conditions in various parts of Russia.
User Алла tweeted a photo from Saint Petersburg:
— Алла (@HucklberryFinna) August 20, 2014
Or the Filatov hospital in Piter [Saint Petersburg].
Another user, vlad from Saratov, added some more shocking bathroom images:
— vlad (@vladviol) August 20, 2014
Or in Saratov.
5strike5 on Twitter added this haunting corridor from a Moscow suburb, Balashikha:
— 5strike5 (@5strike5) August 20, 2014
Nor a match for the Dermatology and Venereal Disease Hospital in Balashikha.
@drzky88 Да там реально жуть, можно хоррор снимать без декораций ) И это ближнее Подмосковье…
— 5strike5 (@5strike5) August 20, 2014
It's seriously scary, you can shoot a horror movie there, no props needed:) And this is a suburb close to Moscow…
As netizens shared stories about the awful conditions in hospitals, it seemed no one was shocked. Instead, user Викси reminded others that these hospitals were supposed to be run and maintained from the state budget, funded by the taxes ordinary Russians pay.
— Викси (@viksi761) August 20, 2014
Look at this and think: where is the taxpayers’ money going?
That a McDonald's closure escalated to horror stories of dilapidated restrooms, and that these testimonies have become a kind of digital activism tactic is not surprising, for Russia seems to have a history of underfunded hospitals, and the issue remains unaddressed. In March of this year, in a gesture of goodwill to the newly annexed territory, the governor of the Greater Moscow Area pledged 40 million roubles for renovation of a children's hospital in Sudak, Crimea. RuNet users ridiculed the decision and pointed out that the governor probably never bothered to visit hospitals in his own constituency, which were falling apart.
— Ирина Филиппова (@fillip_ina) March 9, 2014
The Greater Moscow Area governor gives 40 million roubles from the regional budget to renovate a Crimean hospital. Has he been to Greater Moscow Area hospitals?
На фото больница в Королеве, в Московской области. Той самой, чей губернатор выделил 40млн на ремонт больницы в Крыму pic.twitter.com/s1GKrOCHbQ
— Deni88 (@88iDEN) March 9, 2014
This photo shows a hospital in Korolevo, in Moscow region. The same region whose governor sent 40m to renovate a hospital in Crimea.
In the end, closing the McDonald's locations might not harm the chain (which has hundreds of other locations in Russia) or its fans (who can go to Burger King). What it has already done, however, is start a necessary conversation about the double standards of Russian authorities when it comes to “sanitary conditions” in state-funded institutions, as well as the pervasive corruption of local government. A free loo at a downtown location is a bonus, but a functioning and clean toilet at a children's hospital is a necessity.
The curious practice of photo witnessing emerges as a common tactic that Russians engage in when their rage with the government's decisions boils over. Might it be that the Kremlin is afraid of exactly these kinds of discussions online when it imposes new restrictions on Internet users? If so, it's in for a difficult time. Because Russians love to vent on social networks.