While much of the world’s attention on Russia remains focused on Sochi, host of the bizarrely expensive 2014 Winter Olympics, there’s something else is being discussed in the halls of Russian power: a permanent shift to winter time.
Not only would such a shift have a near-universal effect on the Russian populace, but it also has a deeper meaning than it might at first glance.
According to a report in the Moscow Times, more than 100 deputies from the four Duma factions have signed a bill that would move the clocks back one hour in Russia year-round.
This isn’t the first time in recent history that Russians have been forced to play around with the settings on their clocks. Back in 2011, then-President Dimitry Medvedev moved the country from a daylights savings system, like the one used in the U.S., to permanent summer time. Medvedev cited a report from the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, which stated that when the clocks are changed, the number of heart attacks increases by 1.5 times and the rate of suicides grows by 66%.
After the 2011 switch, however, critics of Medvedev complained that their laptops and phones often had daylight savings settings in-built into them, and that changing these twice a year was an unnecessary nuisance. There were issues for banks with international business when dealing with other companies abroad. In some regions, the sun would rise around 9 a.m., and some of the anti-government protesters who hit the streets of Moscow in December 2011 complained that the clock change was typical of the bloody-minded, yet pointless style of Russian governance. With another switch reportedly a foregone conclusion, you have to wonder, why keep fiddling with the clocks?
Sergei Kalashnikov, head of the Duma Committee on Public Health and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, is one of the architects of the new bill. He clearly disagrees with Medvedev’s original reasoning. “After a government consumer rights agency released data on the state of health in the country it is evident that nothing can compensate for the harm inflicted by the time scheme that currently exists in Russia,” he said, according to Russia Today. Other supporters of the change note that it would put Russia one hour closer to European time zones, and thus make it easier to do business. There are also reports that a return to daylight saving time could be in the cards.
There’s a deeper reasoning at work here too, however. Perhaps the best way to think about the original shift is to consider it in the context of Medvedev’s presidency and, more importantly, his legacy. Medvedev was president from 2008 to 2012, a relatively brief interlude after Vladimir Putin’s two terms and return to the Kremlin two years ago (Putin was barred from a third consecutive term by Russian law). He was initially greeted as a welcome change from his mentor, and favoured by many of Russia’s middle class, who longed for reform. Despite high-profile campaigns against corruption, however, reform never truly happened, and by 2011 it was pretty clear that Medvedev was just a placeholder for Putin. In what appeared to be a last-ditch attempt to avoid a lame duck presidency, he pushed the eternal summer time law through. What better way to create a legacy than to change the very concept of time for an entire nation of people?
Of course, time is always a controversial business, and there had been reports of a reversal as early as 2012. Russian journalist Masha Gessen wrote then of a rumoured deal between Putin and Medvedev to keep the summer time law in place, in order to spare Medvedev from humiliation at the end of his term. Apparently that deal is over: Putin has publicly expressed his annoyance with permanent summer time, and the latest reports suggest the Kremlin is firmly behind the new timing. It’s a reminder — It’s Putin’s Russia, and winter is coming.
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