Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-023
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is one cool guy! He does martial arts. He fishes. He hunts. He’s bilingual. He scuba dives. He’s charismatic. He’s smart. He looks good topless. And, he rides a hog - in leather, no less. (“Leader of the Pack” photo, Japan Times, August 31, 2011). But immediately when I saw the image of him leading a pack of bikers through the Russian town of Novorossiysk as part of an annual festival there I was struck by the complete absence of motorcycle safety helmets. It was a missed opportunity to greatly contribute to road safety not only in Russia, but elsewhere. No doubt Russian law does not mandate helmet use. But I also have no doubt that injuries and deaths resulting from their absence is a considerable problem in Russia.
Published on Sunday, September 4, 2011 as “Bareheaded Putin misses chance.”
It only occurred to me after I sent this letter that not wearing safety helmets may be - probably is - part of Russian machismo. In addition, many of the Prime Minister’s athletic or outdoors activities might be specifically planned as publicity to appeal to Russian machismo. I cannot say with confidence that Putin’s behavior is deliberate populism - a kind of Russian populism. But the case can certainly be made that Putin is just as much a populist as, say, former U.S. President George Bush was. Russian populism is an outdoor and athletically active life, a hard-drinking life and just as flag-waving as the American populism of cowboys and independent individualist citizenry bucking against their own government while clutching a Bible in one hand and a firearm in the other.