Krymsk Floods Spur New Political Consciousness

There is a characteristically sharp article by Yulia Latynina in today’s Moscow Times about the Krymsk floods, in which she blames ‘plain stupidity’ for the tragedy.  Discussing one of the more outlandish conspiracy theories – that water was released from the Neberdzhayevskoye reservoir in order to save one of Vladimir Putin’s nearby residencies, thereby causing the flood – Latynina points out that it does not matter whether they are true or not, because

the population of Krymsk, 95 percent of whom apparently voted for Putin in the March election, firmly believe it.  This is a well-known psychological phenomenon and very bad news for the authorities. It is common for victims of natural disasters to believe that they were victims of an evil plot of some sort.

She also notes widespread incredulity with regard to the official death toll of 171, which certainly hasn’t been eased by today’s news that four men protesting the official numbers at a public meeting in Krymsk have been charged with hooliganism and thrown into custody.  Such ‘skittishness’ on the part of the authorities has also been felt with regard to the massive surge of volunteerism that has sprung up in support of the flood’s victims, says Sasha Senderovich in the New York Times, contributing to the overall picture of the authorities as out of touch, and fighting a losing battle to contain serious public grievance over their shoddy handling of the tragedy.  Senderovich argues that the crisis has spurred Russians to examine their obligations to each other, and could help fuel anti-government sentiment.  The widespread humanitarian efforts of ordinary Russians in the wake of the disaster, she says, suggest a change in Russian public consciousness:

Soon after an overnight flood destroyed the town of nearly 60,000 people in southern Russia on July 7, killing 172 by official count, perhaps many more, President Vladimir V. Putin predictably sought to play it down: “One should not exaggerate the dimensions of the tragedy,” he decreed. It was not the first time he had shown indifference to human suffering. But the response from many Russians — particularly young people — was different. From many corners of the country, groups organized humanitarian aid and descended on Krymsk to help, rather than wait for incompetent government functionaries to fail. (Local officials were already being blamed for not notifying residents about the impending consequences of an extraordinary rainstorm.)

The volunteerism in Krymsk is one signal that anti-government street protests that began last winter have helped inspire in many young Russians a consciousness of their responsibilities toward society and a desire for the government to uphold its obligations to its citizens. Buoyed by social networks and new communities, they are creating what could become a blueprint for a new form of civil society.

As has often been the case in Russia, government-controlled media still try to suppress information and diminish the dimensions of disasters like the one in Krymsk. But these days unfiltered reports make their way to the Internet and feed a sense among the young that individual lives have more worth than the state assigns to them. Asya Tsaturyan, 22, a sociologist who has volunteered on behalf of children with special needs, and has taken part in anti-government protests, put it this way in a Skype interview: “Suddenly, there is a demand for a different way of relating to other human beings.”

Read the full article here.