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A Typical Russian (Carnage-Filled) Summer

A Typical Russian (Carnage-Filled) Summer

When a hundred people are suddenly killed in Norway, it’s an unprecedented national catastrophe. But in Russia, it’s more like an average summer.

Today, the final victims of the sunken Bulgaria were freed from the ship’s wreckage, bringing the toll to 122. Earlier, a helicopter crash, a bus collision, and a spike in various fatal traffic accidents added to the tragedy. Last month, 44 died in a plane crash. And don’t forget the peat fires, which have been making a comeback (good to know the authorities have learned some lessons from last year…).

This summer is not unique. Many of the country’s most traumatic events have happened during the summer: Kursk, Beslan, the 2004 plane bombings, to name but a few.

Why precisely the country’s body count seems to rise with the temperature is unclear. Some insurance company research suggested that the male gaze may be to blame, but this seems unlikely to result in increased plane crashes and terrorism.

Daniil Kharms, the great Soviet surrealist, hinted at a mysterious well of Russian summer violence in his “The Start of a Very Nice Summer’s Day – A Symphony”, which it would be a crime not to reproduce in its entirety:

“No sooner had the cock crowed than Timofey jumped out of his window onto the roof and frightened everyone who was passing down on the street at that time. Khariton the peasant stopped, picked up a stone and threw it at Timofey. Timofey disappeared somewhere. “What a dodger!” cried the human herd, and a certain Zubov took a run and rammed his head into a wall. “Oo-er!” exclaimed a peasant woman with a swollen cheek. But Komarov gave this woman a swift left-right and the woman ran off howling into a gateway.

“Fetelyushin walked past and laughed. Komarov went up to him and said: “As for you, you fat lump!” and struck Fetelyushin in the stomach. Fetelyushin supported himself against the wall and started to hiccup. Romashkin spat out of his window from above, trying to hit Fetelyushin. At this point, not far away, a big-nosed woman was beating her child with a trough. And a young, plump mother was rubbing her pretty little girl’s face against a brick wall. A small dog, which had broken its hind leg, was sprawled on the pavement. A small boy was eating something revolting from a spittoon. There was a long queue for sugar at the grocery shop. Women were swearing loudly and shoving each other with their bags. Khariton the peasant, having just downed some methylated spirit, was standing in front of the women with his trousers undone and uttering bad language.

“In this way a very nice summer’s day started.”

Maybe the country just lets down its guard in the summer. Maybe some readers have better ideas? Whatever the reason, there are many who will be breathing a sigh of relief for surviving another August.



Vadim Nikitin

Vadim Nikitin was born in Murmansk, Russia and grew up there and in Britain. He graduated from Harvard University with a thesis on American democracy promotion in Russia. Vadim's articles about Russia have appeared in The Nation, Dissent Magazine, and The Moscow Times. He is currently researching a comparative study of post-Soviet and post-Apartheid nostalgia.
Areas of Focus:
USSR; US-Russia Relations; Culture and Society; Media; Civil Society; Politics; Espionage; Oligarchs