Giant caricatures of local officials appeared suddenly on the streets this week, their mouths stretched in surprise over jarring potholes. What appeared to be past promises to fix the roads were stenciled alongside the cartoonish faces, a jab at the continued disrepair of the streets.
“Reconstructing the roads is our main task,” read the slogan alongside the face of Sverdlovsk Gov. Yevgeny Kuivashev, the Moscow Times reported.
The Yekaterinburg mayor, in turn, was reportedly accompanied by a stenciled pledge to finish repairing the roads by April of this year.
Mayor Yevgeny Porunov denounced the graffiti as inappropriate and “polluting,” a news website in the Urals reported. But after the mocking mugs appeared on the streets, crews showed up to clean them off -- and plugged the potholes too.
The pothole problem has long been lamented in Russia. Three years ago, The Times' Megan K. Stack talked to Russian truckers and infrastructure experts about the shoddy roads, left unfixed during its economic boom. At the time, the government estimated that Russia lost 3% of its GDP annually to shabby streets. But the problem was not simply a matter of money, Stack wrote:
The bad roads, experts say, are often courtesy of rampant corruption: Builders end up blowing their budgets on kickbacks for every imaginable body, from health inspectors to police to the contact who awarded the contract. And so they scrimp on materials or blatantly violate standards, confident that the cash doled out will keep everybody quiet and complicit.
The problem has persisted: Russia ranked 130th out of 142 countries on the quality of its roads on the Global Competitiveness Index last year. The country has increased its spending on infrastructure in recent years, hoping to appease Russians frustrated by the ragged streets.
In Yekaterinburg, perhaps a few more buckets of paint would do the trick.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A caricature of Sverdlovsk Gov. Yevgeny Kuivashev is painted over a city pothole. The slogan says, "Reconstructing the roads is our main task." Credit: Ura.ru