Milk for the citizenry and free bus rides for pensioners

I don’’t know if our authorities love me but I definitely love them. I love the fact that they care about me. And I love their sense of humour. Especially when Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin cracks a joke, that really is something!

At a recent cabinet meeting Agriculture Minister Gordeyev complained about citizens drinking less milk and eating fewer dairy products. And Putin had a joke right up his sleeve: C’mon, treat your colleagues to some milk then, don’’t be so tight-fisted! The tight-fisted agriculture minister muttered he hadn’t brought any milk as he was not prepared for this turn of events. You have to be prepared for any turn of events,came another witticism from our nation’’s leader, clearly getting into his stride.

In my mind’s eye I see Gordeyev appearing, on a whim, at a cabinet meeting bearing a canister of milk, a mighty huge one to make sure nobody has to go without. And for good measure, along he brings a big loaf of bread, a slab of ham – basically, the full range of agricultural products. After all, he’’s got to be prepared for every turn of event. Just in case Vladimir Vladimirovich is suddenly overcome by a craving for a piece of meat or some bread and butter. All the other ministers could follow suit.  The energy minister might bring a can of petrol, the construction minister a pile of bricks, the health minister a syringe.

Yes, that was a great joke Putin cracked there. But he failed to ask the simple question: why have people stopped drinking milk? Because the answer would have to be backed by figures. And the figures would show that the increased cost of  milk production over the past year has surpassed that of almost any other kind of production.  Drink lots of milk, children, milk is good for you.  Well, the citizens may still be buying milk for their children but not for themselves.

However, for some reason, the cabinet did not discuss this issue. They discussed promotion instead. Gordeyev proposed a milk advertising campaign on the TV and asked the government to fund this great plan. Gordeyev’’s proposal met with Putin’s approval.  After all, why bother sorting out premiums and rip-offs when it’’s so much easier to inform people about the benefits of milk? And while we’’re at it, we might as well show adverts exhorting the benefits of brushing teeth and doing as Mummy says. The nation will discover new, previously unknown truths and promptly swap vodka for yogurt and kefir.

Meanwhile in Volgograd it was the Parliament speaker Mironov’’s turn to care about the citizens. He decided to try out an extreme sport, a safari of a sort – riding a trolleybus.  Afterwards he said something to the effect: “‘I can afford to ride a trolleybus at prices like these but our pensioners will be ruined”’.  So what is the problem? He can ride whatever he likes.  Except that during his most recent visits to Volgograd Mironov was seen riding a convoy of foreign-made cars. Nothing wrong with that either. A trolleybus really isn’’t the most appropriate form of transport for a Speaker.

Of course, in the light of recent government declarations in support of the domestic car industry driving a foreign-made car is not overly patriotic. But Mironov, who knows which side his bread is buttered, has recently announced he was ready to give up his imported car in favour of a Russian-made one.  And he added, after a brief pause, that he would be quite happy with a BMW assembled in Kaliningrad.  How could this thoroughly Russian car possibly disappoint Mr. Mironov?

But that is in the distant future. Right now his Volgograd convoy sports other makes of automobiles, including a Porsche Cayenne and an Audi A-6.  Both, if one is to believe the Traffic Safety Inspectorate’’s database, have been brought in from Ingushetia. One of them has not even cleared customs and the other one is listed as a Zhiguli. Stranger things can happen – a Zhiguli has turned into an Audi.  It would be a shame not to support domestic producers like this.

Nevertheless, Mironov expressed his support for pensioners and concluded his statement with a condemnation of the 8 rouble fares: For me it’s o.k. But for a pensioner who has to spend two thirds of his pension paying for utilities it’s not o.k.  It is vital that pensioners’’ benefits be reinstated, particularly free public transport. And again, nobody has asked the follow-up question. The question is not why the fare has gone up to eight roubles but why the hell do two thirds of pensions get spent on utilities. In this situation, eight roubles for a trolleybus ride really is a lot. But will free rides really make our pensioners’’ burden any lighter? 

Translation: Julia Sherwood


This article was originally published in Russian in the Yezhednevny zhrunal.