How many deaths will it take?

Every single time a transport tragedy happens in Russia, everyone freaks out, high-profile meetings take place, commentators weigh in – and then a month goes by, and we’re back where we started.

Meanwhile, the demographics question is routinely raised by politicians when they are taking time off from visiting disaster sites – the Russian population is shrinking! Quick, everyone, have more children!

How come so few of these people ever make implicit connections between needless transport deaths and the low birth rate?

“Mommy help me!” These were the last words a passenger of the doomed cruise ship Bulgaria heard her little boy cry out before he drowned in a river disaster this summer – as widely reported in the press. All of the usual catchphrases were trotted out in response to this disaster. Even the usually reserved PM Vladimir Putin pointed out the horror of so many lives being lost – children’s lives in particular.

Still, transport minister Igor Levitin remains in his seat – and Russian transport regulations remain as convoluted as ever, allowing safety rules to go unheeded. Last Wednesday’s plane crash by Yaroslavl will have Levitin delivering a special report to the Duma on September 20 – but it’s not special reports that will ensure the safety of passengers in Russia.

Choosing to have a child is a risk – we accept the fact that children are mortal and we can’t protect them from everything. Bulgaria passengers who helplessly watched their children drown make for an extreme example – and mundane dangers still lurk everywhere.

With so much death on the news, it’s no wonder why many people opt out of having children. There is no hint of respect for human life in the way the present system operates and in this light, calls to improve the demographics situation by raising the birth rate feel like an insult: “Have more kids! So they can drown in the Volga!”

© RIA Novosti. / Grigoriy Sisoev

This summer’s Bulgaria disaster on the Volga river cost the lives of many children

When people reply with “no, thank you,” can we blame them?

The Beslan tragedy, which occurred in 2004, was an attack by outsiders. It was Us vs. Them, and the bloody violence specifically targeting schoolchildren infuriated and horrified any person with a basic sense of human decency.

By contrast, there is something altogether banal about the new spate of transport tragedies – the Domodedovo bombing notwithstanding – they’re frightening in a different way. There is an awful casualness and inevitability about them.

The Beslan terrorists had their fanatical ideals – the people who idly watch planes fall out of the sky and mumble out “special reports” just don’t care a whole lot.

“But Natalia!” You will say. “Don’t forget that the Beslan terrorists meant to maim and kill! Nobody meant for the Yaroslavl plane crash to happen! Nobody meant for the Bulgaria to sink!”

You will have a point. Still, considering how often these disasters occur, I have to argue that most people are by now aware that corruption, lax safety standards and a devil-may-care attitude maim and kill as surely as guns and bombs – and ignoring the problem is, in fact, very similar to condemning people to death outright. The fact that nobody meant for her child to die will not console the Bulgaria passenger recalling her son’s last cries.

Last week, a young woman in the Rostov region was electrocuted to death… by a park bench. Once again, lax safety standards allowed her to die – a street lamp hooked up to the metal back of the bench was wired improperly. Journalists looking at the case quickly noticed that a five-yearold boy had been electrocuted in the same alley a year and a half ago. The boy survived – and his parents took the local administration to court, winning 80 thousand rubles.

The money was paid out – but the problem, which could have been solved for much less, was never taken care of. Killer benches! It would sound hilarious, if the reality of this case was not so awful.

Death comes to us all. But when death arrives as the result of someone’s greed or stupidity, and hits out at the younger generations, a.k.a. the hope of the nation – it feels like a special insult.

Read other articles of the print issue “The Moscow News #70”

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