The Null Device
In Russia, rank hath privilege, and not even the laws of the road apply equally to everyone. Russia's elite are issued with migalki, roof-mounted car sirens which render them exempt from road rules, originally intended for the Party officials on whom the future of the USSR depended. Stripped of its connection to the security of the State, the system of migalki has since devolved into a self-justifying badge of status for the wealthy, powerful and well-connected, a signifier that one matters in a way that the bydlo (the common horde, literally "cattle") who have to obey road laws don't:
And then she got to thinking: what the fuck. Why are these people even here, in her city? Why not impose an entry fee to Moscow -- say, $200. "Then we'll have beautiful people driving around in beautiful cars, not collective farmers in their farting wrecks, or office schmucks in their miserable Passats," she mused. "And anyway: let these office drones take the metro to their kunstkameras, or, even better, have them go somewhere far away. Maybe Kolyma" -- the remote site of some of the most notorious Soviet-era gulags. "Let them pan for gold. That way, we'd at least get some use out of their pointless existence."There are now some 970 official migalki in circulation (and, unofficially, nearly double that number).
Who has them? Some of the president's advisors, some big businessmen who get them through connections. Who else? The deputy head of the Federal Customs Agency, who recently turned his siren on one weekday morning to speed to the dry cleaner's. Filmmaker Mikhalkov, ostensibly because he was the head of the Defense Ministry's Public Council. (When a journalist called him to ask why a film director would need a siren, Mikhalkov responded with a tirade so explicit, so bleep-worthy, that it firmly established him as Russia's leading artistic light.) Even more bizarrely, so does this woman, who called in to a Moscow radio station in January to complain that no one pays attention to her migalka:
The plebes, Tatyana complained, were not behaving. They did not respect the law, and the law mandates a strict split between them and people like Tatyana who have drivers and cars with migalki, people who reside in gated communities where nectar is drunk and the only law is the one that separates them from the plebes outside.The plebes, though, are fighting back, using phone cameras to record the elite's arrogance. Which does little to change the system, but is starting to stoke debate over whether this is a reasonable way to organise a society:
But, this being Russia, the point is not changing the status quo -- the cushy, legally extrajudicial privileges of the elite -- but changing the way the status quo is perceived. In the last year, various unheard-of lawmakers have "taken up the issue" of migalki and VIP contempt for traffic laws more generally, first last April (to no effect), then in February (to no effect), then again in May (to no effect). Otherwise, not much has changed. Just a month after the second legislative push, someone posted a cell-phone video of three ambulances, sirens on, waiting for a VIP cortege to pass through Kutuzovsky Prospekt, a major artery leading from the Kremlin to the city's elite suburbs.(Hmmm; a society with a class hierarchy cast in stone, where rank hath privilege and the convenience of those at the top outweighs the very lives of those beneath them, and where the law's very purpose is to entrench this inequality. Much in the way that Somalia can be seen as a physical manifestation of the pipe-dreams of Libertarians and anarcho-capitalists as embodied in reality, this could perhaps be seen as the real-world manifestation of the neo-feudal utopias those Conservatives who denounce the Enlightenment yearn for.)