Russians have suggested many solutions to the country’s problems of inefficient government and lack of coordination between the centre and the periphery, but the region of Udmurtia this week proposed an unusual one – change the clocks.
Udmurtia, which is around 1,000km east of Moscow, is famous mainly for production of the Kalashnikov rifle in its capital Izhevsk. Currently, the region is an hour ahead of Moscow, but the region’s parliament has sent a request asking that the territory switch to Moscow time as soon as possible.
The president of Udmurtia, Alexander Volkov, said he could see only positives resulting from the move. “It’s obvious that this will make the work of government officials easier. Also, nobody will get mixed up with trains and planes, which run on Moscow time, any more,” said Volkov. “There’ll also be less stress for people travelling between Moscow and the region frequently; they won’t have to adapt to the different time zone.”
If Moscow approves the move, Udmurtia could switch time zones as early as next month – when the rest of Russia moves the clocks an hour forward to switch to summer time, the republic will remain on winter time, thus synchronising with Moscow.
It follows a statement last autumn by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. “It has been customary for Russians to take pride in the number of our time zones, which seem to us a vivid symbol of our country’s greatness,” said Medvedev during his annual State of the Nation address. “But have we ever stopped to think seriously about whether dividing our country this way makes it harder to manage it effectively?” The hall broke out in applause.
Experts should study the advantages of reducing the number of zones, he said at the time. It was unclear whether he envisaged simply putting regions into bigger time zone blocks, or actually to reduce the number of hours between Russia’s most distant points.
Currently, the country covers 11 time zones. Kamchatka in the far east is nine hours ahead of Moscow. This makes life for civil servants who ostensibly take orders from the capital difficult – they’ve left the office before their bosses arrive.
The number of time zones can cause confusion in everyday life as well as in high state matters. All trains in Russia run on Moscow time, so travellers booking an overnight train from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok, both of which are seven hours ahead of Moscow, often turn up for the 16.00 departure that their ticket states, only to realise that the train doesn’t leave until midnight.
But for all that time zones create problems in the way the country runs smoothly, they are there for a reason, say critics of Medvedev’s plans. It gets light and dark at different times in different places, and there’s not much that anyone can do about that. It’s Russia’s vast size that dictates the number of time zones it runs on, and improving infrastructure is what will make the country run more smoothly, not changing the clocks.
For ordinary Udmurtians, however, 70 per cent of whom backed the measure, it was more prosaic matters that prompted their support. Many said that they would no longer get confused by Moscow time on the television schedules and would now be able to watch programmes that are scheduled for Moscow audiences. “Finally it will be possible for us to watch those programmes that used to start too late,” said Volkov.