Blue Light Special

On February 25, 2010, two female doctors were in a car accident in Russia. They were traveling in the middle lane, reserved for emergency vehicles (such as theirs) when another car entered the lane as well. That other car, like the doctors’ vehicle, was outfitted with a siren and rotating emergency flashing blue light called a migalka. But the second car wasn’t actually an emergency vehicle. It was a regular Mercedes Benz S500 carrying the deputy director of petroleum giant Lukoil, Anatoly Barkov. Barkov and his driver survived. The doctors did not.

In protest, this happened:

(There’s a video there. If it doesn’t play, click here to watch it on YouTube.)

Yes, that’s a man with a blue bucket on his head — two, actually — running on top of a car with one of those flashing blue lights. And no, the car shouldn’t have had the light on its roof — at least not if the issuing bureaucracy followed the law.

The private, non-emergency use of migalkas aren’t all that rare in Russia. A holdover from the Soviet era, they’re readily available if you know who to bribe. For the cost of maybe $50,000 (or, per the Telegraph, free “for those with political connections”), one can be yours. These migalkas don’t actually bestow upon the driver any legal benefit — officially, one needs to still be operating an emergency vehicle or the like — but corruption runs rampant. Further, there’s no appetite to enforce misuse of lights acquired through back channels. And that leads to accidents and, ultimately, to tragedies. In response to such abuses and terrible results, the man in the video above staged a one-man protest outside the Kremlin, vaulting onto one of the infringing vehicles in an act of defiance.

His action started a movement. A group of concerned citizens have since gathered in protest, with a makeshift solution of their own, adopting his idea to don blue buckets. But instead of wearing them on their heads (well, they do that too), they also use them as fake migalkas, as seen below.


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The Society of Blue Buckets, as they’re often called, started strapping the buckets to the tops of their cars in the summer of 2010. This symbolic act — neither a blue flasher nor a blue bucket turns your car into an emergency vehicle, of course — quickly drew rebuke from official channels, requiring that members of the Society register their intent to protest before taking to the streets. After all, many of the bureaucrats who wrote the laws were also those abusing the migalkas — and they’d rather suppress dissent than sit in traffic.

Bonus Fact: Buckets are popular in Japan, too. Not as tools of protest, but for the chicken that comes inside. KFC is so popular as a Christmas meal in Japan that, according to the Financial Times, “the fast-food chain’s Christmas Party Barrels can be ordered up to two months in advance in Japan.”

From the ArchivesDoubting Thomas: The history of a KFC patriarch who is famous for another restaurant’s successes.

RelatedA dozen bright blue buckets, for all your protesting needs.