Arts, Culture & Media

Why Russians Fear August

By Jessica Golloher

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It's August and that means summer fun, right? Well, not in the former Soviet Union. The month is considered by many to be unlucky because of several catastrophic events and crises that have happened, over the years, including terrorist attacks, raging forest fires and even war.

A forest fire raged out of control near Moscow last year in August. The blazes were caused by the worst drought and highest temperatures the country had ever experienced.

The beginning of the end of the Soviet Union came on August 19, 1991 and the Russian government defaulted on both its domestic and foreign debt in August of 1998.

Given, that it is already August 3, 2011, are Russians on edge? Do they think history will repeat itself?

Some like Natalia Belyaeva, who works at Deutsche Bank here in Moscow, thinks so.

"For me, it's difficult to explain why. I think that there are different reasons from different aspects, and so maybe it's only our expectations, superstitions," Belyaeva said.

"I don't think so. It seems to me that Russians don't have the mysterious souls," said Nikolai Petrov from the Carnegie Center in Moscow. He said he doesn't think Russians are making things up. Black August is the real deal.

"August is a time of vacations, and, as in Russia, there is a kind of menial management. A lot of decisions should be made by very high-ranking boss. It means that if the boss is absent then decision-making is even more complicated than usual," Petrov said.

Petrov said it is not that August is cursed; it's that the system simply doesn't react well to crises.

And maybe Petrov is right. Remember those deadly forest fires we mentioned?

The heat and smog from those blazes nearly doubled Moscow's death rate, caused billions of roubles in damage and forced thousands of people to flee the capital.

And where was Moscow's then mayor during all of the upheaval? Yuri Luzhkov was nowhere to be found. Many media reported that he didn't want to cut short his August vacation.

"I think August is such a transition point in the economic cycle," said banker Artem Prigunov. He said he can't explain the natural disasters that have happened in Russia in August in the past. But he does say that political upheaval is often connected to the economy, and the Russian economy is connected to August.

"A Russian scientist developed the theory of economic cycles, and all economic developments in the world depend on them. And I think August is a transition point from one period to another," Prigunov said.

Prigunov said when cycles change sometimes bad things can occur.

So is Prigunov expecting a whiz-bang August event?

"It's superstition," he said.

Even if August is a bad month, the Russian scientist Prigonov is referring to, predicted that the cycles will come every three, 10 and 40 years. So Russia should be okay this year; at least in August. Some Russians are speculating that a ferryboat accident last month in which 120 people died is this year's "August event."

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