Russia And The Politics Of Car

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

When cars and politics collide, the results are rarely pretty. No wonder the political discussions here at TTAC so often rate amongst our most heated and community standards-challenging. Modern cars are machines of great power, facilitating a great deal of freedom but also carrying undeniable consequences, and their position in modern society demands a constant re-evaluation of their terms of use. Some of TTAC’s gripes on car-related policy may lead some to believe that we harbor ulterior political motivations for our coverage, but the truth of the matter is that our principles are simple and directly car-related. If our political coverage sometimes seems petty, it’s because American motorists have relatively little to complain about. In Russia, however, motorists find themselves under assault by import bans, draconian tax increases and corrupt traffic police. And as the New York Times documents, it takes a lot to push motorists into political awareness, but once pushed their eloquent defense of their automotive rights is nothing short of inspirational.

When motorists gather for a meeting, they don’t come out with political slogans. We have no ideology. It’s a revolt of people who are not satisfied — not for political reasons, not because our salaries have not been paid — but because something sacred has been taken from us, our car.

So says one Kiril Formanchuk, a lawyer who helped organize a campaign against traffic police corruption in Yekatrinburg. His cause, combined with last year’s Vladivostok anti-car-import-ban riot and opposition to a proposed doubling of car ownership taxes have galvanized motorists as a political class. So potent is their middle-class rage, that President Dimitri Medvedev recently overturned the proposed tax increase, against the wishes of his party United Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin. In a country like Russia, where opposition is scarcely tolerated, this represents a rare concession by the ruling party. Opposition commentators have taken notice of this chink in the Kremlin’s armor, and are embracing the newly politicized motorists. Yuri Gladysh of the opposition site explains the power of this new constituency.

For a car, a Russian will simply bite through the throat of a passer-by. I know plenty of shop owners who in their hearts are prepared, if the state takes their business away, to return to some office job, with their Soviet-era diploma. But I don’t know a single motorist who would silently agree to the infringement of his rights

To which Novaya Gazeta’s Yuri Geyko adds:

My biggest shock was that these people were not poor. This was the middle class. These people, they did not go out into the street because they have nothing to eat. They went out into the street because they have a future.

For all the rhetoric that surrounds the right to bear arms in the United States, few could deny that cars are a far more relevant tool for the cause of freedom. But the eloquent defense of any right is almost always born of extreme pressure. Let’s be thankful then, that Americans enjoy the freedom of the automobile to such an extent that we can remain ambivalent to its politics. Even if some of us choose not to.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Bertel Schmitt Bertel Schmitt on Nov 30, 2009

    Steven Lang: Having lived in a village of the swanky Hamptons, where parking anywhere within the village limits between 1am and 5am is verboten, and where the monthly court session is swamped by people who received a summons because their tire touched the white stripe while parking, I look forward to your series on automotive fascism.

  • Bimmer Bimmer on Nov 30, 2009

    Problem is that Russian politician impose taxes on vehicles assembled outside of Russia. Therefore, many companies bring parts and assemble vehicles on Russian territory. Problem is that quality of said vehicles does not match original. I used to live in Ukraine. They had similar problem. As for people who used to bring vehicles from Europe for resale, there was age limit. So they found out way around it: buy registration from a vehicle after fire or accident, then import vehicle, but say it will be used for parts. After just update Ukrainian registration with VIN from a newly brought car.

  • FreedMike Well, here's my roster of car purchases since 1981: Three VWsTwo Mazdas (one being a Mercury Tracer, full disclosure)One AudiOne FordOne BuickOne HondaOne Volvo I think I hear Lee Greenwood in the background... In all seriousness, I'd have bought more American cars had they made more of the kinds of cars I like (smaller, performance-oriented).
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X I'll gladly support the least "woke" and the most Japanese auto company out there.
  • Jmo2 I just got an email from the dealership where I bought my car and it looks like everything has $5k on the hood.
  • Lou_BC I suspect that since the global pandemic, dealerships have preferred to stay with the "if you want it, we will order it" business model. They just need some demo models on hand and some shiny bits to catch the impulse buyer. Profits are higher and risks lower this way.
  • Probert When I hear the word "patriot", I think of entitled hateful whining ignorant traitors to democracy. But hey , meant to say "Pass the salt."