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Monday, December 11, 2006

Russian Hospitals are the Disease, not the Cure

The Houston Chronicle reports:

A fire tore through a Moscow drug treatment hospital early Saturday while patients slept, killing 42 people, fire officials said. About 160 people had been evacuated from the five-story Hospital No. 17 in southern Moscow, said Moscow Fire Department spokesman Yevgeny Bobylyov. But Bobylyov blamed hospital workers for not reacting to the fire sooner and evacuating people more quickly. He also said the fire department was not called until very late. "The hospital personnel worked very badly," he said. Firefighters put out the blaze within an hour of the first call for help, Bobylyov said. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, though Russia's chief fire inspector said he was "90 percent certain" it was arson, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. The victims died of asphyxiation, Bobylyov said. Ten people were also hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning, he said. News agencies reported that two hospital staff members were among the dead. ITAR-Tass said the fire only burned a small part of the building, but the heavy concentrations of smoke killed people as they slept.
As if that was not enough, Sky News reported a second incident:
Nine mental patients have died after a fire swept through a psychiatric hospital in the second major blaze in Russia in two days. Hospital officials tried to put out the fire at the clinic in the town of Taiga in the Kemerovo region in central Siberia. Emergency services were not called until 90 minutes after the fire broke out, a government spokesman said. Fifteen patients were taken to hospital, said Valery Korchagin, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry. On Saturday, 45 women were killed in a fire at a Moscow drug treatment centre killed 45. The victims could not escape because gates and doors were locked and windows were barred. The accidents underlined widespread neglect for fire safety rules in Russia, which records about 18,000 fire deaths a year - roughly 10 times the rate in the US.
So that's 54 fatalities in Russian hospitals in one weekend where the hospitals were the cause of the harm, not the protector. And how many similar incidents are we unaware of? And this is while Russia is enjoying a massive oil revenue windfall unprecedented in its history. Can you imagine what horrors we'd be seeing if it weren't? As the next post shows, Russia is fundamentally failing to deliver the benefits of that windall to its people.

The BBC reports that Russia records about 18,000 fire deaths a year, AP reports - 10 times more than in the US. Since the U.S. has twice as many people as Russia, as Siberian Light notes, this means your chances of being burned alive are twenty times greater in Russia than in the U.S. Is that tour of the Golden Ring you were planning still looking so good? No? Didn't think so.

Here we see the four brutal facts of Russian life, working together in symbiosis to destroy the country:
1. Total indifference to the value of human life
2. Utter bureacratic incompetence and corruption
3. Leeching of the nation's resources by a clan of oligarchs in the Kremlin
4. Complete political irresponsibility by a cowardly, lazy population
These are consistent features of Russian history right the way back through the ages. Russians were far more annoyed at the affront to Slavic power by the Beslan and Dubrovka attacks than by the loss of life, to which the regime contributed in equal measure with the terrorists, and the people have not supported inquiries to hold anyone accuntable. The situation is even worse with the 1999 apartment bombings, where the Kremlin is killing off the investigating committee one by one and the public not only fails to defend them but allows the Kremlin to paint the effort as an anti-Russian conspiracy. Today’s Russian adults are condeming their children to decades more Soviet rule, and that’s an outrage (they’ve stood idly by while non-state television has been obliterated and Putin has taken control over both national political parties and local elections). They'll do nothing to correct the problems revealed by these events, they'll send their children to be treated in these hospitals and their children will suffer just as their parents did.


Openheimer said...


Dear Russophobe,

I have some general comments regarding your blog. Could you please drop me a line and your e-mail address at


guzhevnikov said...

fire safety violations are a favoritie tactic of the government when shutting down an opposition newspaper or an ngo. you can find a code violation in just about any building, so that's the lame 'legal' pretext that's used to shut down a rogue newspaper. but what that does in the meantime is create a fire code system and fire inspectors that are cynical and do not take their job seriously.

La Russophobe said...

OPENHEIMER: My address is listed in the sidebar, it's, feel free to drop me a line whenever you like.

La Russophobe said...

GUZHY: Thanks for the info! Fascinating. It's an outrage that isn't written up more in the Western press. Of course, as with corrupt police part of the problem is that Russians won't commit to paying these civil servants a high enough wage to insulate them from the corruption impulse; then again, even if they did, without a broader moral context (which would start with the notion that the KGB shouldn't rule the country) higher salaries might not do much good.

I am curious: Do you think that by using these kinds of means Putin can get Stalin-like control over Russia, or will there be a backlash at some point that will force him (or his successor) to get nasty? In other words, are the Russian people "broken" sufficiently, or is there hope in the fact that Putin's resources are limited and he might not be able to get nasty enough?

Andy said...

Guzhy - what you say about fire violations is true.

It's worth noting, though, that fire safety officers did recommend that this hospital be close, because it was a fire risk. Just, nobody acted on their advice.

As the hospital was in the public sector, it's a fair bet that they were doing their jobs properly (as opposed to trying to extort money) in this case. Although... this is Russia, so I could be wrong.