Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is not atypical for a Russian politician in the volume and severity of the corruption charges regularly but ineffectually leveled against him. But Luzhkov, mayor since 1992, has recently become embroiled in a very unusual kind of scandal related to the August forest fires that blanketed his city in perilously unhealthy levels of smog. Russian media say that he spent $3.4 million on caring for sick Muscovites at risk from the smog, but well over twice that, $8.3 million, relocating his personal and apparently vast collection of live honeybees.
Moscow-based journalist Julia Ioffe writes on her blog, "Russia’s most famous apiarist — honey has been a major Russian export since the days of Kievan Rus — has made sure that his precious honey bees have been evacuated from the hot, only somewhat smoggy Tula region. Quoth Luzhkov’s beekeeper Alexander: 'There on the lakes, the air is better, and the ecological situation is more conducive to selection.'" Ioffe scoffs, "Classy."
So who is bringing the heat on the bee-loving mayor? Ioffe floats an idea in a follow-up post: "The Kremlin, you see, has waged a massive black PR campaign against Luzhkov, using the same tactics and the same person (Sergei Dorenko) they used to torpedo his presidential campaign in 1999." Much of Russia's media is state-run, partially state-run, or otherwise intimidated by the Putin-led government responsible for some of the worst press restrictions in the Western world.
Is Putin's regime responsible for bringing attention to Luzhkov's honeybee scandal or is it just his angry Moscow constituency? Either way, the mayor offered a defense that is some combination or earnest, remorseful, and completely out of touch. Translated into English:
They say that the mayor decided to allocate money to his little bees. I can tell everyone, and many know this, yes, I am into beekeeping. I find it interesting. It’s a philosophy. It’s a unique philosophy of the life of a family, of the life of the society of bees. But I don’t need government funds for this. On the contrary, the entire produce of my hives, of my bees I send to orphanages.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.