The wild fires catastrophe has made this first week in August rather unpleasant for many in Russia. The death toll climbed to fifty people today, and more are likely to perish before the week’s end. Russia’s agriculture production is so threatened that the government is allegedly planning to ban grain exports. Hundreds of homes have burned to the ground and the ecological damage will last for decades to come.
In the whirlwind of all this destruction, a curious little episode emerged between Aleksei Venediktov (chief editor of Ekho Moskvy), an anonymous Internet-user, and Vladimir Putin himself.
A few days ago, Venediktov passed along to Putin an unsigned obscenity-filled open letter from a resident of the Tverskaia Oblast’ (since unmasked as Aleksandr Pochkov) criticizing the government response to the fires. It’s unclear why, but Putin actually responded to the anonymous letter — personally.
I’m sure many will read Putin’s response as another installment in his epic book of cool, but I happen to think this is only a plus for Vova insomuch as he wrote back at all. (If only we could all have our leaders for pen pals.) The actual content of his letter — its sarcasm and concluding offer to ‘return the fire alarm bell’ — seems to make light of a pretty serious problem, namely the embarrassing poverty of the Russian countryside. I enjoy the regular Putin wisecrack about American imperialism, but it seems like he should have left this one alone. At any rate, this is at least proof that the Kremlin’s top dog is paying attention.
As it turns out, Mr. Pochkov, aka “top_lap” on LiveJournal, is a 28-year-old Muscovite whose mother is rather ashamed that her son caused this whole scandal. (She pleaded with reporters not to make fun of him.) If that doesn’t discredit Putin’s ‘outreach effort’ enough, Pochkov also told Komsolmol’skaia Pravda that he plans to become president one day. He’s obviously a man of big ideas.
Read my full translation of the original exchange for yourself:
Do you know why we’re burning?
Because it’s all fucked. I’ll explain. I have a dacha in a village 153 km [95 miles] from Moscow, in the Tverskaia oblast’. This village is the sort of place where everyone lives nose-to-nose and shares common fences, or — like my neighbor and me — no fences at all. I’ve got nothing to hide from him and don’t need the fucking thing. And since he’s a local, he also looks after my house when I’m away, even mowing my lawn. After all, what’s good for his cows does no harm to my grass. The lawn grows back fast. But let’s get back to the fires.
In this village under those asshole communists, whom everyone shits on, there were three reservoirs for fighting fires [pozharnye prudy], an alarm bell hung (which was sounded in case of a fire), and miraculously there was even a fire truck. Now sure there was just one for three villages — but there was still a truck. And then came Mr. Democrat and his friends to fuck everything up. First they filled in the reservoirs and sold the land to developers. Next they divvied off the fire truck to God knows where (aliens probably snatched it), and they changed the alarm bell into a phone (fucking “modernization”). Only the piece of shit doesn’t work because they forgot to connect the line. There’s still a fireman, yes, but he’s got nothing left but a helmet and a coat (left over from those terrible communists). Here’s how he works: about fifteen years ago, a fire started in the neighboring village. They promptly sent us a messenger, and we ran back to help put it out. Our fireman got dressed in his uniform, grabbed two buckets, filled them with water and (this part is still a mystery to me) hopped on a bicycle, and came with us to put out the fire. It was laughter and sin together. Someone called [another] fire department, but they only arrived at the end of everything (five hours later) because they had to come from Tver’. Using everything within reach — sand, water, even spitting — we somehow managed to save all but one house.
Do I have any questions? [In response to the government soliciting citizens to write in.] Where are our tax dollars going? Why every year do we slip further and further toward a more primitive social order? Fuck the innovation center in Skolkovo if we don’t even have something as elementary as fire trucks! Why did there used to be people like the forest rangers, who warned people about fires and quickly conveyed the information to firefighters, so it wasn’t allowed to reach residences? I don’t want a telephone in the village — I want reservoirs for fighting fires and I want my alarm bell back. Give me back the fucking bell and dig me another reservoir, and I’ll fill it in and take care of it myself. If the regional authorities are game, just give me the space.
Understand me, Mr. Bureaucrat, Russia doesn’t need all your shitty genius ideas. Well before you, smart Russians — real men [muzhiki] — already figured this stuff out. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It was invented a long time ago and it works just fine, as long as you keep your nose out of our business.* Stop charging me taxes, or just cut off my pension deductions. I’m not going to live to retirement age in this kind of life, anyway. With the [saved] money, I’ll buy a fire truck for three villages and sleep soundly, knowing nobody will take it away from my people, from my neighbors, because that bitch will be ours and we’d kill anyone who tried. If you deputies and distinguished officials piss on us because we actually give a shit about ourselves and our neighbors, then let us live the way we want, happily and in peace [schastlivo i khorosho].
[But] we don’t expect much from you. We all understand that your life principle is that everyone around you should need you. But you’re mistaken. It’s you who needs us — and in a big way. Believe me.
So give me back my alarm bell, you bitches, and shove your fucking phone up your asses.
I ask you to convey my letter to the Kalyazinskii Region authorities, in the Tverskaia oblast’.
Thank you in advance. ~top_lap
Dear honorable Internet user,
At the end of the workday today, inhaling (as did all of Moscow) the smoke of the forests burning outside the city, with great interest and pleasure did I learn of your assessment of the summer fires situation that’s befallen central Russia.
Fair’s fair, one ought to point out that Russia hasn’t had such high temperatures for over 140 years — not even under the communists, that is.
This at least partly vindicates the authorities, who — while certainly responsible for fighting natural disasters — are only for the first time encountering something of this size on such a scale.
However, in general, I agree with your comments.
You are, of course, a remarkably plainspoken and direct person. All the more power to you! [Prosto molodets]
And you are undoubtedly a man of letters. If you had made your living as a writer, you could be living — like Lenin’s favorite writer Gorky — in Capri.**
However, even there you wouldn’t feel yourself entirely safe, insomuch as both Europe and the U.S. face the same mass-scale natural disasters. Suffice it to recall how many forests burned in Europe last year or the year before.
Despite all our problems and troubles, I hope you and I both make it to retirement age.
All necessary funds for disaster management and other pressing issues have already been dispatched from the federal budget to reimburse victims.
If you provide your address, your governor will receive an alarm bell right away.
*Here the author employs a Russian saying: “Со свиным рылом в калашный ряд,” which means literally, “With a pig’s snout to the bread market.”
**Gorky spent much of his exiled years in Capri, Italy, before the October Revolution.
As promised, Putin had the alarm bell delivered to Vysokovo, where Pochkov’s family has their dacha. Pictured above is his mother, Natalia, ringing the thing — in what appears to be a deserted open field. Clearly, the town is now safe from any forest fires.