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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Roads to Be Taken: Freedom or Foolishness

It's always an amazing sight when you get to that bridge that's under repair on the road from Sheremetyevo. You know the one, and if you don't, it's time for a vacation.


You sit in the traffic jam created by a three-lane road reduced to one lane and watch as some drivers go over the divider into the oncoming traffic's left lane. When that backs up, others swerve around them into the oncoming traffic's center lane. One time, the cars from our side of the road simply spilled into all three of the oncoming lanes, halting all traffic, causing accidents and whatnot.


The point of all this is not how bad it is to drive in Moscow -- everyone knows that already -- but something our acquaintance said as we all sat obediently in place in the "legitimate" traffic, watching the daredevils zoom by us and thread their way back into our lanes up ahead: "Znachit, my duraki ('So, we're the fools')."


No!, no!, no!, we cried. They're the fools, they're the ones who are risking their lives.


Reaching for a little local wisdom, we tried: Tishe yedesh', dal'she budesh' (which translates something like "go slowly and you'll be there further on down the road").


"You don't get it," chuckled our host in that all-too-familiar patronizing manner as he gestured at the cars speeding down the road to our left, and far left. "Nas derzhat za durakov ('They're making fools of us.')"


If there is one phrase that defines Russia's first half-decade of post-Communist society, it is this one, which really means something closer to "They must think we're some kind of fools."


If five years in search of Russian democracy has given anything to the masses, it is the right to stand up and say "They must think we're some kind of fools."


They told us that oil spill wasn't that serious. Nas derzhat za durakov! They told us those weren't Russian jets bombing Grozny airport and the security services never recruited Russian soldiers to fight in Chechnya. Nas derzhat za durakov!. They told us that those masked men who were waving assault rifles around central Moscow were protecting the president's life. Nas derzhat...


Davai bez durakov, our friend said: Let's cut to the chase.


"If the state can make fools of its citizens and get away with it every time, how can we expect drivers to obey ordinary traffic laws?" he observed.


We didn't understand the logic, but we got the message. And so, if you're a driver on the Sheremetyevo road, you can either taste unlimited freedom for yourself, or you can ostat'sya v durakakh -- become one of the fools.