In the summer of 2010 Muscovites and people in several regions around Moscow were literally suffocating with the heavy acid smoke coming from the forest. The temperature that summer was abnormally high for this latitude—up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit—and forests rich with peat were burning like a stack of dry hay. There was a general resentment about the efficiency of the local and country authorities who were dealing with this natural disaster. At times, there was a feeling that they were not dealing with it at all, letting the unlucky ones whose houses were in the danger zone deal with the raging natural disaster.
The Internet that summer was full of indignant blogs, as well as calls for volunteers for the fire fighting teams organized by local residents in different villages. The editor of one of the major radio stations in Moscow was looking for information about the fires and the fire-fighting situation in different regions. Because this radio station didn’t have correspondents in all these regions, the editor was reading what people from those regions were writing in blogs. He found a good one: a blogger who named himself top_lap wrote that he had a vacation house in the region that was beset with fire and he was blaming local authorities for the inefficient management in his situation. The blog was loaded with curse words directed at the authorities, but in general it was well written and juicy. The blogger’s irritation with the local bureaucracy quite naturally evolved into a frustrated monologue about the state of things in general:
“Where is our [tax] money being spent?” he exclaimed
“Why with every passing year are we hurtling towards a primitive social order?”
“Let us live the way want, and we want to live well and happily. We do not rely on you because we understand your life principle: everybody around owes you something, but you are wrong about that: it is you who owe us, and you owe us a lot, believe me.”
In the end, the blogger demanded the return of the alarm bell that had always operated in his village in Soviet times, and disappeared in the mess of the transition. He said he didn’t need the phone, which was not even working, but instead wanted local authorities to dig out special fire ponds, which would make water available in case of a fire, so that local people could prevent its spread quickly and efficiently.
The editor copied the blog and pasted it in a special box named “write to the Prime Minister” on the government’s site, not even hoping to get a response. He felt like, as a member of the media, he at least fulfilled his duty in letting the government hear the “voice” of at least one angry citizen.
Surprisingly, the next day Prime Minister Putin himself wrote a response in a soothing and slightly ironic manner, praising the author of the blog for his literary style. He promised that the local authorities would deliver the anonymous blogger the alarm bell he so passionately demanded.
This story of Putin’s response to some anonymous blogger made it to all the major news channels and was covered in the foreign media. To this day this, exchange of messages is considered to be the first (and probably the last) of Putin’s direct dialog with “the members of civil society,” who openly express their dissatisfaction with authorities, even if with obscene vocabulary. Here is the BBC’s article:
The blogger was even invited to the talk show on the radio station, which made him famous. In the interview he announced that he would keep posting and that he is glad his writing produced such a powerful effect.
This story looks like a good example of how regular citizens using telecommunications are empowered now and are able to put additional pressure on authorities and hold them accountable for their actions. But there was more to this story.
On December 25, 2010 it was announced in the news that police searched the blogger’s house and confiscated his flash drives and a hard drive. Later he wrote in his blog: “It looks like they are really going after me…” Then he wrote that there was some inspection at his mother’s workplace. His last post was, “Busted.” The journal was soon deleted.
So who is willing to be the next brave “concerned” citizen?