Ask Moscow residents what their biggest gripes are about the city, and traffic tops the list. Muscovites sit for hours in traffic every day, their frustration compounded as they watch luxury cars with flashing blue lights on their roofs whizzing by, flouting traffic rules as they rush bureaucrats and businessmen about town.
The blue lights, or migalki, as they're called, have for years epitomized Russia's double standard for the rich and powerful and the hoi polloi. The lights allow cars to drive in special lanes, go the wrong way and ignore speed limits and red lights.
In recent weeks, the movement against the blue flashing lights has gathered strength, with Moscow protesters attaching blue plastic buckets to the roofs of their cars. Alexei Dozorov, the head of the Moscow chapter of the Committee to Protect Drivers' Rights, came up with the idea four years ago as a way to protest what he calls the "moral problem" that turns regular drivers into second-class citizens.
"I think that laughing at the problem is necessary, because it attracts attention and helps to solve the problem," Dozorov told ABC News. "We want to make laughing stocks out of the people who use blue lights."
When radio host Sergei Parkhomenko heard about Dorozov's idea in early April, he took to his blog, calling on drivers to do the same. On April 18, 50 bucket-topped cars drove around Moscow. Two days later, a band of motorists got together to protest but were stopped by police before they could begin.
The authorities have attempted to fine drivers for violating "cargo transportation regulations," a transgression that Dozorov paid a fine for in 2006 but eventually had overturned. He now carries a copy of the ruling with him in his car to show to the police. Two protesters were arrested April 20 when they refused to take their buckets down. They were arrested not for breaking the cargo law but for disobeying a police order.
The Russian Car Owners Federation has started a campaign with "Flashing Lights Are Russia's Shame" as its motto. Parkhomenko and Dorzorov have found friends in high places, joining their cause as well. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov told the Kommersant newspaper that aside from the president, prime minister and patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, no nonemergency vehicles should have the flashing blue lights.
The movement has been fueled in part in February when an oil executive's Mercedes collided with a blue siren and a Citroen, killing two women. Authorities initially blamed the women, but witnesses and the family said the LUKoil vice president was to blame.
In another incident, a Moscow businessman refused to move for a black BMW carrying an aide to President Dmitry Medvedev. The businessman, Andrei Hartley, posted an online video of him approaching the BMW and the aide's angry reaction. The chauffeur started to manhandle Hartley before another driver broke them up.