08 February 2011

Russian Means Sober. Oxymorons.

9.5 km - 59.18 min, windy, mild.
The Run, 1932, by A.Deyneka

(watch video below)
The beginning of this year has been marked in Russia by a curious clash between groups of young runners and the authorities who regard mass runs organised through social networks as a form of protest.

Sober Russian may be an oxymoron. Consumption figures vary from 9.3 litres of pure alcohol per person per year to 18 litres, depending on who and how counts. But alcohol abuse is often cited as the main factor in Russia’s catastrophic demographic situation. The nation’s population has not been growing since 1991, but declining by several hundred thousand each year. Researchers attribute 600-700 hundred thousand deaths a year to alcohol.

Since mid-1980s there has been no serious concerted effort to stem the vodka tide. The problem has long been exacerbated by the fact that tax and excise revenue from alcohol sales is necessary to finance public spending. ‘How do we pay teachers and doctors, if we stop selling vodka?’ is one killing argument I’ve often heard. Another factor is the rich culture surrounding drinking which portrays excesses in a largely positive light.

From the beginning of this year groups of young men and women, mostly students, have been organising mass runs in city parks. They communicate through the internet social networks and bypass official channels. Runners seem to appear from nowhere and in numbers reach 200-400, sometimes up to a thousand. Participants chant the slogan ‘Russki znachit trezvy’ –  ‘[being] Russian means [being] sober’. They warm up, run and some have dips in holes made in city ponds for Epiphnay rites. The atmosphere apparently is good-natured and the young people seem to be well-behaved.

This youth action caught officials unprepared and struggling to work out how to react. Nervous and tetchy after ugly race riots in Moscow last December, they took it as another ‘fascist’ or ‘nationalist’ demonstration. Police were sent in and arrests were made. The official reaction caused much amusement – and growing anger among the sober runners and general public.

Here is what an organiser of one recent run says on gradmar.ru web-site:
‘It isn’t correct to compare the new initiative with the story-line of, let’s say, Forrest Gump. The main character there was running across the USA ‘to get away from himself’, or if you will, ‘to find himself’ and later realised that there was no sense in what he was doing. Here we have a very clear aim, we know what we are running from and where to. Our action has a definite message – to dismantle the cast stereotype of a Russian as the moronic hard drinker.
The reaction of the authorities and law enforcement organs is bewildering. Does it mean that every runner-sportsperson who happens to be in the Botanical Gardens or any other Moscow park has to be checked to see if they belong to an ‘extremist organisation’? Or is it that the slogan ‘Russian Means Sober’ can be seen as extremist? What, with no other ethnicities mentioned, does it mean that to say to a Russian that he is sober is to humiliate and ‘insult the nation’?
So, now if a person sticks to a healthy life style, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke (no payments to the state through excise on vodka and tobacco), doesn’t watch [state controlled] TV (politically suspect!) and actively promotes these principles in society, then that person is an extremist! And even if that person goes further and creates a family (doesn’t spend on abortions, condoms, visits to a venereologist, etc.), and, despite everything, is raising two, three and sometimes more children, – then they are Extremist with a capital letter.’

Read more on Tetradki blog

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