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'Beglov's Shovel': Memes Pile Up On Russian Snow Clean-Up Order

Utility workers shovel snow on Suvorovsky Prospekt Street in St. Petersburg on January 10.

When winter comes to Russia, you can safely bet on one thing: snow. Expect hazardous sidewalks and disruptions on the roads.

But when a poll this week in St. Petersburg showed that almost half the northern city's residents thought too little was being done to clear the white stuff, the city's acting governor decided special measures were needed.

At a meeting with city officials on January 9, Aleksandr Beglov said the heads of every district in St. Petersburg would be given a shovel with his name on it, and Beglov would personally inspect the trunks of their cars to make sure the shovels are in regular use.

Aleksandr Belgov (file photo)
Aleksandr Belgov (file photo)

"Drive around to all the kindergartens, schools, and health centers. Their territories should be cleaned up," the mustachioed political veteran ordered, according to a press release on his website. "On Monday the children will return from holiday."

By the start of next week, all district heads must report on their progress, Beglov added. And the public must be satisfied.

"Along with official appeals, you must also study social media," he told his underlings.

But the Internet didn't go easy on them. Within hours of Beglov's tirade, his infamous snow shovel had become a meme.

A Telegram channel titled "Beglov's Shovel" was launched in tribute to the initiative, and immediately became a repository of online ridicule.

"Bring a friend from the local government and get your driveway cleaned instantly," read an advertisement from the superstore chain Maksidom, showing a black spade with Beglov's name on it.

Another ad showed a doctored version of a Game Of Thrones poster bearing the name of the popular TV series' first episode, "Winter is Coming," but with the swords displayed in the original replaced with black and red snow shovels.

​Other Telegram users sent in images of roads and sidewalks covered in ankle-high snow, complete with angry messages about official incompetence.

"It seems the shovels have not reached Komsomol Street yet," one post read, showing a picture of an apparently unnavigable street.

However, it seems Beglov's speech did not fall on deaf ears. At least one local official took up her "Beglov shovel" to clear away snow, according to a video posted by local news site on the morning of January 10.

Later that day, more than a dozen officials posed with the shovels they'd been gifted in the offices of the city administration.

The 62-year-old Beglov was personally appointed by President Vladimir Putin to replace Georgy Poltavchenko as St. Petersburg governor in October, and seems eager to gain constituents' approval ahead of gubernatorial elections later this year. His shovel initiative came just a day after a burst pipe left 500 homes in St. Petersburg without heat. According to the news site, Beglov personally oversaw renovations of the pipe.

Still, as St. Petersburgers continue to grumble about excess snow and frozen homes, some Russian Twitter denizens have bigger concerns.

"We've got a Beglov shovel. We've got a Beglov pipe. But we’ve got no Beglov work!" Twitter user Bessudnoff wrote, in response to a post critical of Beglov’s initiative from the local headquarters of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

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    Matthew Luxmoore

    Matthew Luxmoore is a Moscow-based journalist covering Russia and the former Soviet Union. He has reported for The New York Times in Moscow and has written for The Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. He’s a graduate of Harvard’s Davis Center and a recipient of New York University's Reporting Award and the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Journalism Award.