Weekly Column by Natalia Antonova
This week, a typical video coming out of Russia went typically viral. It shows a tank seemingly fly out of nowhere and cross a snowy highway at great speed. “Ha,” you’re thinking, “well, that’s Russia for you.” Except this incident is more interesting than it seems at first.
The tank video was shot in the Sverdlovsk Region, in the town of Nizhny Tagil, home of the Uralvagonzavod factory – which, predictably, makes tanks nowadays.
The factory workers are, of course, famous for coming out in support of Vladimir Putin during the mass opposition protests that began over a year ago. The man who made the speech in support of Putin, Igor Kholmanskikh, was rewarded for his loyalty by being appointed one of the president’s official representatives.
Uralvagonzavod is also a thriving enterprise now, and an interesting example of regional development – in the sense that it services government contracts, including some innovative ones (they did an interesting prototype for a new high-speed train in 2012, for example). It shows how regional development in Russia would not be possible without serious federal money.
When wondering why so many people who live far from the urban centers are not too eager to support the opposition, Uralvagonzavod should come to mind. If the contracts dry up, a ton of people would be out of work. And in small-town Russia, one factory closing down can be a disaster of epic proportions (much like we’ve seen in the Rust Belt in the United States, come to think of it).
But what’s interesting about the video itself is that apparently, the tank had the right of way all along. If you watch closely, you can see that the driver of the car in which the video was shot has stopped at a red light – the tank is actually just going along a special intersection. So this wasn’t some random occurrence – though the fact that the tank’s path appears to be blocked by a snow pile would make it seem so. The thing is, a couple of feet of snow don’t have to be cleared away if you’re dealing with a road meant for tanks.
The video made me wonder about how eager we all are for weird news coming out of Russia – particularly the regions that are far away from Moscow and St. Petersburg. We’re conditioned to think that some seriously wild people live out there – people who would fly across a highway in a tank, for example, to the point that motorists must constantly look out for tanks on the road.
Don’t get me wrong, many other viral videos certainly prove that all kinds of weirdness and hilarity regularly goes down in small-town Russia, particularly on the roads. There is that one video of a famous car crash, for example, in which a guy jumps out of his car after his windshield has been blown away – entirely unharmed. There is another video of what appears to be an old guy on some kind of drug, dancing to techno music by the side of the road (in fact, that one particular video didn’t get nearly enough play, in my opinion. I’m serious, the dude has some moves). In general, the saying that one of Russia’s two problems is its roads (the other problem being various fools) has a lot to it.
In this instance, Uralvagonzavod management was quick to debunk the idea that its tank was threatening anyone or had broken any traffic rules. I suppose they have a point – they have their corporate image to protect. Still, I rather agree with the people who have pointed out that the tank video should be used for attracting more investment to the Sverdlovsk Region. It just has that certain something to it.
Imagine, for example, your boring commute to work. Now imagine it being interrupted by a speeding tank every once in a while.
Trendwatching in Russia is an extreme sport: if you’re not dodging champagne corks at weddings, you’re busy avoiding getting trampled by spike heels on public transportation. Thankfully, due to an amazing combination of masochism and bravado, I will do it for you while you read all about it from the safety of your living room.
Natalia Antonova is the acting editor-in-chief of The Moscow News. She also works as a playwright – her work has been featured at the Lyubimovka Festival in Moscow and Gogolfest in Kiev, Ukraine. She was born in Ukraine, but spent most of her life in the United States. She graduated from Duke University, where she majored in English and Slavic Literature. Before coming to Moscow, she worked in Dubai, UAE and Amman, Jordan. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Russia Profile, AlterNet, et al.
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