Good news, comrades: Russia is enjoying “permanent summertime”. Yeah right, I hear you say, and tractor production is up by 318 per cent, two years ahead of schedule? Mock not: time really has stood still in Russia, in one way at least. When other countries turned their clocks back an hour to so-called standard time this autumn, the country’s nine time zones remained resolutely fixed on daylight saving time – previously reserved for summer.
The change – which sees each member of our family now leave the flat every morning in the dark – is all down to Dmitry Medvedev, the outgoing president whose legacy will now be murky winter mornings where day barely creeps in till 9.30am (and, admittedly, marginally less murky afternoons). The Duma – the lower house of the Russian parliament – gave the nod last April to a bill gloriously named “On the calculation of time” (only the Russians could bring a whiff of metaphysics into the dusty world of legislative terminology). Two months earlier, Medvedev had already proclaimed “the end of wintertime” in Russia.
The aim of the reform, which puts Russia four hours behind London in the winter months (and two behind its immediate neighbour Ukraine, which retained the winter time change), is to wage war on “stress and illness” among Russians (and boy do Russians love pondering illness, its causes and remedies). With more hours of “useable” light during the working day, the theory goes, people will be happier and healthier. The old time shift, according to Medvedev, “really disturbs the human biorhythm. It’s just irritating. People either oversleep or wake up early and don’t know what to do with the hour.”
And in case you were thinking he was only worried about livestock, he clarified: “I’m not talking about unhappy cows or other animals who don’t understand the time change and don’t understand that the milkmaid is going to milk them at a different time.” So it’s not about the cows, ok?
Poor old Dimitry could be forgiven for feeling a bit sensitive: his great reform hasn’t won universal praise, though 60 per cent of Russians were said to be in favour. Last year there were street protests in the country’s far east after the government wiped out Kamchatka time as part of the same timezone shake-up programme.
From an English perspective, though, such decisiveness elicits a sneaking admiration. In the UK, we’ve faffed about for decades wondering whether to stick to summer time all winter, worrying interminably but fruitlessly about Scottish farmers, road accidents and vitamin D deficiency. Now, it seems real change might be closer – the Daylight Saving Bill (see how prosaic we Brits are compared with the Russians?) is bumbling through parliament and could push our clocks forward an hour year-round – but I wouldn’t bet on it.
In Russia, a country so vast you can’t draw a map of it without showing the curve of the earth, they don’t tinker: they grab the decision by its metaphysical scruff and take it. It may look grey and sleety out of your Moscow window, but remember it is now forever summer in Russia and be grateful.