Staunton, August 5 – The unprecedented heat wave in European Russia is not only sparking more than 700 fires across the country and putting at risk the agro-industrial complex in “not less than 14 regions” as well as the health and well-being of many Russians, but it is changing the way in which Russians view their current leaders and their political future.
In an essay in today’s “Nezavismaya gazeta,” that Moscow newspaper’s Volgograd correspond, Andrey Serenko, says that the shortcomings in past government policies regarding the environment have been highlighted by the collapse of infrastructure and the inability of many agencies to fulfill their responsibilities (www.ng.ru/politics/2010-08-05/3_kartblansh.html).
In Volgograd, he says, where the temperature is now more than 39 degrees Celsius “in the shade,” people are beginning to ask “if this is not the end of the world, that what is it?” And he suggested that there is no doubt that residents of “Elista, Astrakhan, Rostov-na-Donu, and many other southern cities of the country are asking themselves the same question.”
As a result, Serenko continues, “the heat is changing Russia,” all the more so because Russians have been told that next year and the one after that may be even worse. What needs to begin happening, he suggests, is to “assess fully the extent of these changes” in order to predict what will happen next.
“’High temperature modernization,’ without any push from the Kremlin, is forcing people to change the way they live, to transform their accustomed social and ecological milieu, subjecting to further decay of infrastructure, and forcing a change in the structure of economics in the regions in which live several tens of millions of people.”
According to the projection of experts, he continues, “in any case, those of whom are not occupying themselves with a search for traces of the application of an American climate weapon against Russia,” the high temperatures Russia is experiencing now are a reflection of global warming, and so the future is bleak.
“Our country,” Serenko notes, “is not too well adapted for a comfortable life. The heat on the other hand is capable of making this life unbearable.”
Given the massive quality of the impact of the heat on Russia, he goes on, “it cannot but provoke changes in social and political life.” The heat wave is, after all, “a national misfortune and requires a corresponding reaction.” But so far, he suggests, the leaders, including Vladimir Putin, have behaved much in the same way they have in the past.
That is, as the prime minister showed at the time of his visit to Nizhny Novgorod oblast, they are prepared to praise those fighting the fires, give them special bonuses, and “sometimes change local leaders, and so on.” But given the seriousness of the problems, Serenko argues, “public opinion is hardly going to remain satisfied with such actions alone.”
Discussions about what Moscow failed to do in the past to “prevent” ecological disaster and what it must to now are rapidly becoming ever more important as part of “the political order of the day.” And those discussions again “cannot but become part of the political and electoral process in the country.”
Serenko says that he will “risk predicting that the heat already in 2011 will be quite capable of turning out to be one of the most popular themes in the upcoming parliamentary elections” and that Russians, who may have paid little attention to the ecological programs of the various parties in the past, will now focus precisely on those.
That could lead to a revival of the Green Party, but it could also and perhaps more likely mean that “a new ecological strategy and climate policy will become a national idea of the country and one of the key directions of the modernization of Russia that the Kremlin has called for.”
Already, Serenko points out, “mass protests against the heat – that is, social actions – are already becoming a reality in the regions of the country.” Churches and other religious centers are organizing sessions to pray for rain, and “in Volgograd, several days ago even took place a youth meeting of protest against the heat.”
That somewhat playful session, he acknowledges, did not feature political demands. “However who is prepared to say that serous political slogans will not ever appear in such entertaining meetings in the cities of Russia? All the more so, when the tasks of electoral politics require ever more sophisticated attention to the voters.”