Monday, February 13, 2006

Oleg Shcherbinsky

I learned about the strange case of Oleg Shcherbinsky this weekend from reading Masha Gessen's blog (was her Moscow Time's column originally). I wasn't going to write anything about it, except when I mentioned it to Katja this morning ... she said that many Russians were upset about the judge and verdict in this case. Katja said, based on what she heard, Mr. Shcherbinsky is not going to a conventional prison, but some sort of confined village work camp. Sounds like the old "The Prisoner" television show ... I wonder if a large bouncing rubber ball will catch and return him when he tries to escape?

In any case, even a gilded cage is still a prison, for an accident that - by all appearences - was not caused by Mr. Shcherbinsky. I see a MosNews article by Ms. Lisa Vronskaya cites:

A court in Altai Region where the tragic accident had taken place sentenced Oleg Shcherbinsky to four years in a labor settlement, triggering a wave of protests across the country.

On Sunday, a column of hundreds of cars drove slowly through the Russian capital as local motorists fed up with special traffic rules for Russia’s ruling elite massed in a peaceful protest, AFP reported. “The Shcherbinsky case has resonated throughout Russian society,” said Vassily Bochin, a 35-year-old computer programmer, who took part in the demonstration in Moscow, one of 21 planned across the country. “We want the law to be equal for everyone.”

Thousands of people took part in the protests by driving in convoy through cities with slogans including “Today it’s Shcherbinsky. Tomorrow it will be you!” draped on their cars, Reuters reported. “Today Shcherbinsky — Tomorrow You!” read placards posted in the windows of participating cars.

Protests in Moscow were organized by a group calling itself the Free Choice Motorists’ Movement. The convoy began at a site in north-west Moscow and traveled along roads frequently used by government officials.

“Every person in Russia understands they could easily find themselves in Oleg Shcherbinsky’s shoes,” said Vladimir Ryzhkov, a member of parliament who represents Barnaul. “People are upset that bureaucrats break the rules and an ordinary person ... through no fault of his own, gets four years in prison. That is why there has been such an uproar.”
Good of Mr. Ryshkov to see things so clearly. I also commend these Russian protestors for organized civil protests for something that should be corrected: one set of laws for the elite on the roads and a second set of laws for the average citizen. You can love your country and still criticize it or wish it to change for the better.

Personally, I found that driving in Russia is sort of a crazy thing ... any stretch of open road definitely invites high speed. Passing rules seemed a bit chaotic and unclear to me, although on the M8 heading northeast out of Moscow, it seems to be 3 or 4 lanes wide, largely unpainted. The middle lane (or lanes) is what we call here in the US a "suicide lane" - shared by cars coming both directions for passing. In the US we don't design or use suicide lanes for highway speeds; they are for more urban or suburban settings. Use of the shoulders as a driving lane during traffic jams appears to be either encouraged or at least tolerated (very illegal here ... shoulder is for ambulances, police, and broken down cars only). Also I often observed drivers squeezing their car in at stop lights. Sure, maybe it was designed and painted for 4 lanes each direction, but a 5th car will fit and we'll get ahead of this truck.

Ironically, getting a license the right way seems a bit difficult. Katja is going through a driving school now, hoping to pass it this month. It becomes ironic because what I hear - from every other Russian - is that she is foolish to take this exam. People say she should just grease the official with a little dengi ($$) under the table and get her license the way everyone else does ... by bribery.

Some other articles regarding the verdict and protests can be found on the Washington Post (Yes, I know) ... ITAR-TASS (including a reference to "Say no to Flashers" group) ... the UK's Daily Telegraph ... Reuters (here reprinted at the Malaysia Star) ... and even Aljazeera.

Lastly, a very interesting account of the accident from ... an apparent motoring enthusiasts website or magazine in Russian.

A quick google of Vladimir Ryzhkov indicates he is a deputy member of the Duma, has been a critic of Putin's government in the recent past, and is alternatively described as "independent" or an "OHR (Our Home is Russia) Faction leader". I would guess the OHR stuff is outdated as their supposed website pulls up an online camera store instead. I'm not sure if voices such as Mr. Ryzhkov's are seen in Russian politics as ... pandering to the populace ... or being responsive to voters ... or attempting to make "political hay when the sun shines".


Dmitri from Siberia said...

What does your phrase about a rubber ball mean? In those labour camps the prisoners work on some low-quality jobs, get paid and can buy some commodities in a store inside the camps. The regime there is less strict than in a conventional prison (where they also must work). In such camps are kept those sentenced for not grave crimes, like car acidents. Anyway it's also a heavy strike on one's life to be sentenced there.

Fortunately Scherbinsky was freed yesterday, the court of the Altai Krai has examined the appeal and cancelled the sentence.

Ryzhkov is a typical politican, trying to rise sails under some political wind. The "United Russia" party ("Yedinaya Rossiya") does the same.

W. Shedd said...

Yes, I had a posting about Scherbinsky being released yesterday as well.

The rubber ball comment was a joke about an old TV show, called "The Prisoner". It wasn't really that important, just that the prison in that show was also called "The Village".

Interesting how those labor camps work in Russia, however.

I had learned a bit more about Ryzhkov and his politics since the time of this posting. I understand him to be a rather liberal Russian politician who isn't taken too seriously in his own country.

Dmitri said...

BTW, I've looked into "Izvestia" newspaper website, they've written an article on the subject presenting it just upside-down:

1. "Public opinion based on love to Yevdokimov dictated the judge to sentence Shcherbinsky". That **** public opinion was Putin's phrase on TV, Officials and the court just wanted to please the upper authority.

2. They claim that "United Russia" organized the protests and only after the state Duma examined the question, it convinced the court. That's just bullshitting. "UR" did nothing, everything was organized by "Svoboda Vybora" (

There was also Anatoliy Kucherena, an advocate, a member of the Public Chamber, also coming to win some points.

Ryzhkov is younger, but seems to me as "bargainable" as LDPR.

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