As Russia’s ruling tandem switches places yet again, Dmitri Medvedev ambling slowly off centre stage, legions of internet users offer a canned outrage that even the most vehemently anti-government newspapers hesitate to express. Vladimir Putin returns yet again – a superb pole vault of the vertical of power.
Behind the stifling sense of apathy across most of Russia, however, an interesting trend in social commentary (or civic vandalism, call it what you will) prefers to brandish the spray can rather than the keyboard. Russia seems at times a country where the pen is rarely mightier than the sword. Yet, the attentive, squinting down alleyways and roads, can find some pearls of wisdom on this urban blackboard.
“Farewell, unwashed Russia” wrote Lermontov in 1840. These musings on walls often find themselves whitewashed into oblivion should they prove too controversial. The graffiti artists of Tatarstan’s capital of Kazan, however, have remarkably specific concerns.
“Putin gave you traffic jams!” asserts this corrugated iron fence near the city’s central market. Public transport woes abound, with outraged Twitter users prompting Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov to berate local officials over the issue, telling them that ‘people ridicule me there (on Twitter, about the roads,) and I have no arguments to counter them!’ Blaming Putin in person, however, can hardly be fair. Russia speeds ever onwards under his green lights.
Traffic woes are back again as summer reaches Tatarstan. We are told “Love traffic jams? Vote United Russia!” Painted on the side of the Bulak Canal near Kazan’s Kremlin, this is visible to pedestrians but not drivers. The city’s metro, meanwhile, is being expanded. Time will tell whether the author should eat their words or not.
With no more need for such statements by early May, however, the problem had evidently been resolved, the accusations shrouded under grey paint. There is, at least for now, one more contented citizen proud of life under United Russia.
License plate from South Ossetia. All photographs courtesy of the author.