Grigory Pasko: Russia in a Lada Trouble

We’ve posted several articles already about the recent mass demonstrations in Vladivostok and other Russian cities against the recent steep increase in import duties on foreign cars – Vladimir Putin’s version of the recent Detroit “bailout” in the US. Today, our own Russia correspondent Grigory Pasko, who spent a significant portion of his adult life in Vladivostok as a reporter for the Pacific Fleet newspaper, weighs in on the subject as well. But a few points of explanation are in order before he does:

Pasko does not refer to these demonstrations as “demonstrations” in his article. He calls them “mitingi” in Russian, which is a word derived from the English “meeting” but which actually means something more akin to “rally”. In Russian, a “demonstration” means a government-sponsored event with lots of red flags and happy proletarians “voluntarily” expressing their support of (or outrage at) whatever they’ve been told to express it about.

Another term you may have heard in connection with thesedemonstrations is “automobilists”, and this too requires a bit ofexplanation. Most Russians don’t own cars. Most Russians don’t evenhave drivers’ licenses. As a result, those who do form a sort of elitefraternity, somewhat similar to motorcyclists in the West.”Automobilists” have unique common interests and concerns, and feel acertain class solidarity, as has been evidenced by the Vladivostokdemonstrations.

In the Primorye region, where Vladivostok is located, nearly everyautomobilist drives a Japanese car with the steering wheel on the rightside. The region is Russia’s gateway for used Japanese cars, and manylocals earn their living from this trade. So the new higher importduties, which will price the cars out of reach of most buyers, will hitthe already economically depressed region very hard.

And finally, a word about the ubiquitous Russian «Zhiguli» (known inthe West as a «Lada»). This flagship of the Russian automotiveindustry, which Vladimir Putin is encouraging Russians to buy insteadof better-built foreign makes, is so shabby that it is not even allowedon the Kremlin grounds! A colleague of ours recently attended a meetingat the Kremlin and had to pre-register his car in order to obtain aparking pass. Upon stating that he’d be coming in a «Zhiguli», he wasgruffly informed that this was a “non-representative” vehicle,unsuitable to be parked inside the Kremlin. – Translator’s note


Putin in «Zhigulis»

Grigory Pasko, journalist

Let me explain right off the top: «Zhiguli» – this is a kind ofmeans of transportation, which the Soviet auto industry started puttingout in the 1970s under license from the Italian Fiat [and exporting abroad under the more pronounceable name «Lada»–Trans.].In the opinion of many specialists, the automobile of this plantremains the worst in the world to this day. To which I will add that ontop of all this, it’s expensive as well (the cost of a new auto isoften higher than 10-12 thousand US dollars) and not safe in operation.

But here recently premier Putin called upon Russians not to rebelagainst the raising of duties on the bringing of foreign automobilesinto Russia, but to buy only Russian autos, that is, autos of theZhiguli marquee. He even proposed to deliver Zhigulis to Primorye [thePacific coast region of Russia–Trans.] for free, by which he in nosmall measure surprised, angered, and evoked the laughter of theinhabitants of the faraway region.

Knowing the situation in Primorye well, I can say with confidence:the Primorians are never going to go acquiring Zhigulis. Even for free.It’s strange that Putin, ostensibly a Russian person, doesn’t knowthis. Either he seriously considers the Zhiguli an automobile, or hehas a very poor knowledge of the situation in Primorye and in the FarEast.

So it’s not surprising that a wave of protest rallies has rolledover Russia, which buys in the main foreign automobiles, and in themain – of Japanese manufacture (with the steering wheel on the rightside).


Judging by how the police and the OMON were clamping down on these rallies, Putin and his team were ready for such a reaction.

Here’s what journalists reported from Vladivostok on 21 December.

According to rumors, on the eve of the rally on 21 December therearrived in Vladivostok two aircraft with fighters from the Central partof Russia. Either the Moscow-suburban “Zubr” or OMON from the Southernfederal district. The fighters were trained in cracking down on massrallies. They acted masterfully and ruthlessly: they started to knockyoung lads off their feet, beat them with sticks without regard forwhat part of the body they were hitting, kick them with heavy boots anddragging them into “voronki” [police squad cars (which, truth be told,are usually still «Zhigulis» in most of Russia!)–Trans.].

With particular predilection the OMON dealt with journalists,especially with “filmers”. Photocorrespondents and cameramen, includingforeign and from the central television channels, they stuffed intoavtozaks [windowless prisoner transport vehicles–Trans.]. Cameras theysmashed.

Protest actions against the increases in duties, despite the calls ofthe powers of all levels “not to rebel”, took place in other cities ofRussia as well.

According to the reports of eyewitnesses, policemen everywhere werein an extremely radical frame of mind, they simply did not leave thecity folk chances for the conducting of peaceful and tranquil actions.Here and there, the protesters held posters “Pedrosy – krovososy“[“Pedrosy” is a brand-new Russian word you’ll probably be seeing quiteoften in the near future. It starts with the letters EDRO, which are anabbreviation for the “party of power”, «UNited RUssia», then adds apersonalizing suffix similar to “-ists” in English to mean “membersthereof”. Finally, it adds the nefarious letter “P” at the beginning,creating the letter combination “ped-“, which every Russian instantlyassociates… not with feet, but with the word “pederast”, which,strangely, does not mean “pederast” at all in Russian, but is rather aderogatory, if not clinically correct, term for a male homosexual(which already carries all sorts of negative connotations in Russia).Thus, this slogan could be translated with a modicum of accuracy as”UNRU faggots are bloodsuckers”–Trans.], “C–k alone won’t fill youup”, “No to raising duties”, «Putin, resign»…

The situation in Primorye was so serious that deputies of theLegislative Assembly of Primorsky Kray turned to chairman of the StateDuma Boris Gryzlov with a proposal to examine the question of thereconsideration of the decision on raising the duties.
Knowing Putin’s stubbornness, it can be assumed that the governmentwill not start reconsidering these duties, while the completely tameDuma will not start examining this question.


Here’s what kind of feedback about the events were placed on the Russian Internet:

«The asses should go f— themselves! they’re creating mayhem»., «Tothose present was demonstrated the refinement of training tasks byfighters of the spetsnaz of the MVD of Russia, including the tactics ofactions by combat-order groups of a special-designation policedetachment …», «I’m ready to gather even every weekend.

I don’t give a fu about holidays….I don’t give a fu about affairs of various importance…

Here already simply the question stands starkly: it’s us or them.Otherwise one’s got to leave this country after all», «Us, students,they prohibited from participating in protest actions, they said, thenthey’re going to speak harshly with us…», «Guys! The husband justcalled, sat down inthecar to warm up! He recounts: They don’t need anyprovocateurs from the crowd! To two guys standing on stairs, OMONovitescame up on stairs, in rough of forms seized [them] by the elbows! Tothe question ( reflexive human reaction) why grab roughly, instantlyfollowed a command of a commander standing nearby to”load [’em] up” FORNOTHING! They don’t need reasons ! They were beating up a guy from thecrowd with truncheons…»

I think that the protest actions in Primorye will continue, becausein this region of Russia autobusiness – is the sole form of survivalfor hundreds of thousands of people. And if the Putinite powercontinues ignoring these actions, they sooner or later the demands ofthe inhabitants of the region from economic will grow into politicalones.