Moscow, Feb. 13: Hundreds of cars paraded in slow convoy through Moscow yesterday to demand the abolition of Russia’s most hated emblem of official privilege.
Perhaps nothing symbolises quite so potently the gulf between Russia’s uber classes and the rest of the country as the flashing blue siren, or migalka, affixed to the top of the elite’s chauffeur-driven luxury cars.
A hangover from Soviet times, the migalka confers on its owner the right to roar down the wrong side of the road at high speed, often disregarding traffic lights and careering on to pavements.
In a country that has become politically apathetic under Vladimir Putin’s increasingly autocratic though still popular presidency, few issues energise ordinary people quite so much.
Protests were also held over the weekend in 17 other cities, one of the most co-ordinated exhibitions of public anger seen in Russia in recent years.
“The blue light should be the preserve of the emergency services, not a badge of immunity for the elite and their relatives and friends,” said Katya Zhitkovskaya, a manager who took part in one of the demonstrations.
The Kremlin claims it has started to clamp down on the issue, awarding migalkas only to the emergency services, senior government officials, judges and members of the Russian parliament.
But Vyacheslav Lysakov, the head of the Free Choice Motorist’s Movement that organised the protests, said the migalka was still freely available to those prepared to pay a '30,000 bribe for one ' or for those with political connections.
Migalka owners are blamed for adding to Russia’s horrific death toll on the roads ' 95 people are killed in road accidents every day in Russia and 700 more are injured.