sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

January 6, 2015

Statism Wrapped in Statism Inside Statism

Filed under: politics, Russia — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:07 am

UPDATE 01/10/15: Many thanks to Professor Jacobson for linking.

As goes California, so goes Russia?  As of January 1, 2015 Russia has banned indoor smoking:

The strictest part of Russia’s anti-tobacco law comes into force on June 1, making it illegal to smoke cigarettes in cafés and restaurants.

The smoking ban also spreads across to hotels and marketplaces, as well as long distance trains, train stations, and ships.

From now on, smoking areas will cease to exist in eating establishments across Russia, with special rooms for tobacco lovers also forbidden.

In the US liberty dies the death of a thousand papercuts — now the governments tell supermarkets how to bag our groceries, and now parents are obligated to sign in when they volunteer in schools.  Putin, who’s now been in power a full 15 years, didn’t bother with such nonsense — he went after the free press and abolished the elections of regional governors.  No fascism with a smiley face there: while Russia has been a playground of the autocrats, its social problems are notoriously intractable.  The state tried and failed to fix the behavior of ordinary people.

When, back in my wasted youth, California prohibited smoking in bars my friends were swearing to defy the law, which I found fabulous, and some bars stubbornly offered ash trays.  I should note, that while I never made a habit out of smoking, I did enjoy a cigarette or two with a drink, and I usually got them off of other people.  Soon after the ban went into effect cigarettes became hard to come by, and within a couple of years everyone quit.  I mean everyone.  Now I mostly hang out with parents who consider smoking some sort of a high crime on par with gun ownership.

Will Russians quit too?  Americans quit because Americans are law-abiding people, and Russians are not.  In Soviet days, everyday life required conducting black market deals of some sort, and living outside the law was the norm.  Corruption remains a pervasive trait of post-Soviet society in both Russia and Ukraine (as well as, I’m sure, in other “republics”).  In this light:

A violation of the ban will result in significant fines – which must be paid by both the smoker and the owner of the establishment.

An individual owner will be forced to part with 30,000-40,000 rubles (around US$870-1,150) if one of his customers is caught puffing a cigarette. Meanwhile, a chain-run corporate business must pay a larger penalty of 60,000-90,000 rubles (around $1,700-2,600) for the same crime.

Which leaves a restaurateur some space to bribe a policeman.

Will Russians quit?  They are no civil libertarians, but perhaps their cafe owners have some common sense:

Eighty-two percent of Russian restaurateurs believe the smoking ban is a “direct discrimination of smokers” and expect a huge outflow of visitors starting from June 1.

Actor Mikhail Boyarsky, here as d’Artagnan, one of his most famous film appearances, is a leader of All-Russian Movement for Smokers’ Rights. Boyarsky is an early Putin supporter

With Europe going tobacco-free, Russian looks like the last outpost of lung destruction freedom.  One would hope that the Ruskies will stick up for personal liberties, but here is the thing:

The law “On protection of citizens’ health from tobacco smoke and the consequences of tobacco consumption” was signed by President Putin in February last year and fully came into effect on June 1, 2013.

However, the restrictions were introduced gradually. Smoking was first outlawed in certain public places – including educational, healthcare, and sports facilities, as well as airports, state administration buildings, and lifts and stairways of apartment blocks.

Earlier this week, Russia’s Health Ministry announced that the anti-tobacco law is working and the number of smokers in Russia has decreased 16-17 percent since it started being introduced. (Emphasis mine.)

If Russians vote in presidential elections in which any competitive candidate is eliminated years in advance, is it really big deal if the state will ride shirtless atop a bear to rescue them from ugly cancer death?  Or, more specifically, of lung cancer because liver ailments are a whole different story.  The Russian economy collapsed late last year, and inflation is in full swing.  To help his countrymen in hard times Putin ordered a cap on liquor prices.  A reminder: many Russians never get to develop lung cancer because 25% of Russian men die before 55, and alcohol is to blame.

Speaking of uncompetitive elections, Putin put his sights on Alexei Navalny who generally presents as a liberal, if not a classic liberal, while taking positions, such as deportation of ethnic Georgians, that Western press bashfully describes as “nationalist”.  Navalny once made a video, ostensibly in defense of gun rights, comparing immigrants to cockroaches.  His nationalism is not of a popular Russian variety because true Russian nationalists are also statists and imperialists.  Navalny would rather rid of parts of the empire — he supports cutting subsidies to the Caucuses, for instance.  True Russian nationalists smell fowl; in their typical fashion they accuse this Moscow lad of being a Jew.

That a thirty-something loudmouth and a failed mayoral candidate with hardly a real following outside the country’s capital is Putin’s arch-nemesis says something about Kremlin’s ability to destroy opposition.

In any event, Navalny and his brother were tried for embezzlement, and two days shy of the New Year Alexei was sentenced to house arrest and Oleg, the brother, to 3,5 year prison term.  This is a first for Putin (family members used to be off limits in the post-Soviet days) and a further proof, if one needs any, that Russia is moving in the direction of restricting freedoms.  On the bright side, unlike our generous creditors, Russians are not harvesting organs.  Yet at the rate they are going, there might not be a liver left in the country in a few year’s time.  Lungs, on the other hand…

Could Putin have miscalculated? This is made for daytime TV: Oleg Navalny (left) possibly the hottest political prisoner today. Meantime his wife (center) is pregnant with their third baby.  Alexei Navalny is pictured center right

The title of this post is referencing this quip by Winston Churchill.

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