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Grigory Pasko: Electricity, Hockey, and Murder in Russia

Remarks on Russian reality Grigory Pasko, journalist 1. Fools and roads 130 kilometers outside Moscow in Vladimir Oblast is the little village of Ileykino. From Ileykino to the nearest population center with shops, a hospital and school – is 8 kilometers. But neither hospitals nor schools, from all appearances, really interest the inhabitants of the village. They’re accustomed to treating what ails them with folk remedies. And there’s nobody to go to school – children only appear during the summer holidays, coming to visit the old folks from the cities where their parents live and work. A grocery-store-on-wheels truck comes by once a week: for the old people living out their days in Ileykino, that is enough. True, there is one unpleasantness: the electricity is often turned off. But without it is difficult. Because the village doesn’t have gas (the kindness of Gazprom still hasn’t reached such faraway places – a whole 130 km from Moscow!), and there’s nothing to burn in the stoves. As soon as the wind even starts to blow or the rain to fall, immediately – as if though by someone’s malicious command – the electricity in the village goes out. What haven’t the inhabitants done: they’ve written letters, made phone calls, travelled to the rayon center to the management to demand, tried to themselves collect (and did collect!) the money to restore the electric transmission lines… All senselessly. The power is cut off regularly, from year to year.

About yet another misfortune of the Ileykinites (just like that of the inhabitants of the nearby villages of Sanino, Fineyevo, Starovo, Shibotovo…) has also been known for a long time. The fact is, that the road to civilization lies along a horrible road. It’s hard to even call it a road: a direction, really, no more. And also not for one decade are the people suffering, shuttling back and forth along this direction, while the powers don’t care.doroga072808The “road” in Ileykino (photo by Grigory Pasko)Once upon a time, the inhabitants complained to me, a journalist, about all these misfortunes of theirs. I asked: at the last elections, who did you vote for? For «United Russia» and for Putin’s «youngster» – Medvedev. Well, in that case, they’re the ones you should turn to for help, I suggested. The natives pondered that one, scratching their gray heads. You should have thought earlier. Maybe eight – or, even better – ninety years ago.2. But life goes on…In the Moscow office of the international environmental organization Greenpeace, I saw a graph the notation: «Find replacement for Internews (distribution network) for regional TV…»Just an ordinary notation: matter-of-fact, concrete, for someone – important. About Greenpeace, I think, readers of the blog have heard plenty. Internews – there used to be such an organization in Russia, existing on grants, which taught regional telejournalists all over the country about freedom of speech. It was so good at what it did that the Russian powers opened a criminal case against Internews chief Manana Aslamazyan: supposedly for smuggling a large sum of currency. In actuality, what was being spoken of was a petty administrative violation, committed by the woman through absent-minded forgetfulness… A year after the opening of the criminal case against Manana Aslamazyan, the Constitutional Court of Russia ascertained all the details of this case and came to the conclusion that there was no criminal component in the case of Aslamazyan. But Manana has been living in Paris for a year already, while the wonderful organization Internews that she founded exists no more.And this is why Greenpeace and other organizations were being forced to seek a replacement for Internews. Maybe they’ll find one. But such a phenomenon as Internews no longer exists and will never exist. And I fear that Manana too is not going to return to Putin’s Russia.3. Money is everything, image is nothing?There is such a stupid commercial on television with the slogan: image is everything, thirst is nothing. As applies to Russia, one could say that the country has long ago ceased to hold its image in any esteem. The country’s leaders are behaving in such a way that the way the whole world treats the country is, to put it mildly, not very good. Recently in a German clinic, I spoke with a Russian nurse who works there. Why is it that they dislike us so much, she asked me. Because, my dear, we’re from Russia, I replied. That’s the kind of image we have – not good. It wasn’t you and me who created it, but by our silence and participation in false elections, we have contributed to its cultivation.Russia behaves insolently on the world stage not because it is strong economically, but because it is rich in oil and gas. And the whole world is in need of these energy resources. And since it is in need, it is sometimes forced to keep silent, to not criticize Russia for violations of people’s rights, for totalitarianism and other «charms»… The west fears Russia’s insolence. And fears its wild petromoney.With this money, Russia is trying to buy something it hasn’t had for a long time already – a positive image. The world of sports – is a vivid example of this. It’s hard to find in Russia a team (be it hockey or football) where there isn’t a foreigner laboring at the position of coach. Dick Advocaat from «Zenit» and Guus Hiddink from the national football team – are just the tip of the iceberg.But the Russians take it even further.I read someplace that star of world hockey Jaromir Jagr has announced his intention to play next year not in the NHL, but in a new Russian super-league, the KHL. The Russians clearly want to create some serious competition for the monopolism of the «decadent west» in ice hockey, if they’re offering NHL stars so much money that these are willing to play for teams with names like «Lokomotiv» instead of «Mighty Ducks», live in such cities as Nizhnekamsk, and fly to work on Tupolev planes.Jagr_04_.jpgJaromir Jagr will soon be Яромир Ягр (photo from pro-hockey.narod.ru/)So far, all the teams in the KHL – are Russian and one each – from Minsk, Riga, and Astana. But next year they’ve already invited two Swedish teams, and there’s also interest on the part of some team in Kiev and in Finland. In short, in a few years this will become a EUROPEAN super-league, which will certainly throw down the gauntlet to the pros from the NHL.4. Local horrorThis story quickly disappeared from the pages of Russian internet publications. Supposedly, even though the event was horrible, it wasn’t typical for the country as a whole. But I think otherwise – I think it is typical. And that there are more than enough events like this throughout the entire country. They simply don’t all fall into the mass media’s field of vision.In February of this year in the center of the town of Kolchugino (Vladimir Oblast) at the Eternal Flame of the memorial to heroes of the war, four young people burned a living person to death. One of the oblast newspapers, telling about this, on the strength of the extraordinariness of the crime couldn’t even come up with a headline for its article.The examination of this loud criminal case recently ended in the oblast court of the city of Vladimir. In it, three 20-year-old inhabitants of Kolchugino, Alexander Andreyev, Mikhail Danilov, and Nikolai Kuragin, as well as one minor, a certain G-v, were found guilty of the commission of the monstrous crime. They were sentenced to various terms of deprivation of liberty.kolch.jpgThe trial of the murderers in Vladimir (photo from the author’s archive)There are in this story several noteworthy facts. The court session was supposed to be over on the eve of Victory Day. But the powers decided not to ruin the holiday, and moved the issuance of the verdict to a later time period. While at that same Eternal Flame at the memorial to fallen soldiers, local schoolchildren laid flowers and pronounced solemn speeches as if though literally nothing had happened.And another fact. In the courthouse, journalists asked the mother of the dead 25-year-old Alexey, Olga Denisova, to say a few words about what had happened.

“You’ve seen the defendants?”, they asked of her.“Yes, I’ve seen them… They were laughing in my face.”

What is known about the murderers? That they’re ordinary Russian inhabitants. Andreyev, Danilov, and Kuragin completed a vocational school in the specialization plasterer-painter. The two first ones worked as packers at the local plant «Elektrokabel». Kuragin wasn’t working in recent times.The minor G-v was studying in the 8th grade. It turned out also that both Kuragin and G-v had managed to spend time in the dock before: one for robbery, the other – for theft. But the terms they’d gotten were suspended.There are thousands just like them all over Russia. They live in their cities, towns, and villages, in general quite poorly. There is often no electricity in their homes. They travel on horrible roads. And they vote in elections the way they’re told to. They couldn’t care less who is in power in the country. The powers couldn’t care less how they live or whether they’re even alive…. By the way, the little town of Kolchugino is just a stone’s throw from the village of Ileykino – less than a hundred kilometers. And Moscow is right nearby…