Daching or How to Get Beaten Up in the Russian Countryside
Published: August 11, 2014 (Issue # 1823)
Many extreme sports, from snowboarding to air racing, are known health hazards. But only one can lead to indiscriminate beating, allegations of terrorism, jail and even self-imposed exile — and all you need to do is take a stroll through supposedly public land.
Dozens of Russian officials, from President Vladimir Putin on down the totem pole, are accused of possessing posh "dachas" — countryside mansions that are often built on public land and would be impossible to afford on an official's salary.
The new Russian pastime of "daching" is defined by activists as the touring of the public land that holds such mansions in an attempt to attract attention to the dubious real estate.
Proponents insist that daching is lawful and innocent — but more often than not, they face harassment by police on questionable pretexts and attacks by thugs, sometimes in plain view of the guardians of order.
"This is public enlightenment," said daching devotee Georgy Alburov. "We're trying to shed light on the lifestyles of the people controlling financial flows in the country."
"They're incredibly irritated," Alburov, a known opposition figure and anti-corruption campaigner, said by telephone Wednesday.
Someone definitely is irritated, judging by the latest round of daching last weekend, which ended in several dozen brief detentions and another 10 or so alleged beatings.
The clash took place by the village of Akulinino outside Moscow, best known for a mansion linked to state monopoly Russian Railways' president, Vladimir Yakunin, an estate that reportedly boasts a fur storage area and a climate-controlled prayer room decorated with a collection of rare Christian icons.
Most activists, including Alburov, were detained when they queued up for train tickets — which, police said, amounted to an unsanctioned rally.
Some 15 drove to Akulinino, only to be attacked at the gates by thugs with brass knuckles and air pistols, Alburov said.
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