Friday, March 30, 2018

Kemerovo More Evidence Russia Becoming ‘Upper Volta with Missiles,’ Aleksashenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 29 – The horrific fire in Kemerovo and even more the response of Russian officials and politicians to it shows how far Russia today has moved in the direction of becoming “Upper Volta with missiles,” Sergey Aleksashenko says, a state in which leaders care only about profit and power and in which people die.

            “We ever closer are approaching not the most developed African countries in terms of level of security, concern about human life, and about the attitudes of the leaders of the country or those who consider themselves leaders of people who live in it,” the Moscow economist says, but rather the least (

                That was shown in the first instance by the declarations of some that protests about the fire were supposedly organized by hostile forces from abroad, he says, an indication that “in the heads of these people something isn’t right: that they want to transform the country into some absolutely mindless structure where people have no rights to anything.”

            But “the most horrific thing,” Aleksashenko says, is that “we all bear responsibility for this.” It is long past time to make conclusions and to recognize that Russians must be concerned about themselves and take steps to make things better – and not be palmed off with investigations that find a few guilty parties but recognize that this is a systemic problem.

            Of course, such people must be identified and punished; but if things end there as they always have in Russia in the past, nothing will get better. The country needs to understand how it was possible for a building constructed years ago for one purpose could be allowed to be used for a public one without being completely changed.

            What kind of a system allows that? Because it is the system not a special case. And Aleksashenko continues, “I want that what begins with Kemerovo oblast will be extended to all Russia so that trade centers … will all be checked to see how far they correspond to the basic rules for saving people.”

            Fires in malls happen, but they happen “extremely rarely” in developed countries and then will little loss of life.  “They happen more often in developing countries in Asia, Africa and sometimes in Latin America. There people die;” but even in those places, fire departments save more people than they do in Russia.

            The reason is simple: “In Russia things have worked out in such a way that no one ever bears responsibility even though it is clear on whom responsibility rests. It rests on the man who built this system where only he can take decisions.” For things to change, for Russia “not to become like Upper Volta,” that must change as well.

            And there is a model for what Russia must do. It occurred following a February 1984 fire in Turin where 74 people died.  Immediately afterwards, “not only in Italy but throughout the entire Eurozone the rules for the construction of public buildings were reviewed.” Flammable materials were banned.

            Since that time in Europe, “there has not been a single such fire which has carried off the lives of people.” 

            Russians often are told that they have nothing to learn from the West. They have their own “truth,” their own “spiritual values.”  But those values must include that “there is nothing dearer than the lives of people.”  And if Europe has found a way to save those lives in these situations, there is no reason Russia should not copy them.

            Otherwise there will continue to be more fires and more deaths and Russia will continue its slide to the status of “Upper Volta with missiles” – even if its leaders keep talking about how special Russian values are and how little Russians have to learn from anyone else. 

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