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In Russia, A Debate Over How To Set The Clock

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
February 14, 2012

In just a few weeks, most of the United States will shift back to daylight saving time — and Americans will lose an hour of sleep but gain an extra hour of light in the evening.

That won’t be happening in Russia, though, where President Dmitry Medvedev has put the country on permanent summer time.

Medvedev’s decree, issued last fall, means that it doesn’t get light in Moscow now until around 9 a.m. Back in January, it was dark until 10 in the morning.

This has become an issue in Russia’s presidential election next month.

Many people don’t like being on summer time during the winter, especially adults who have to deliver their kids to school in the dark.

“It was hard to get up to go to kindergarten,” says Lyubov Buravtseva, a nanny who has three children to rouse. “Why would we get up when it’s still dark and everyone should be sleeping?”

It’s not just a question of waking the kids up. Many parents worry about the dangers of having so many kids on the streets in the dark.

So, this being an election season, candidates are promising to change things back.

Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announced that, if elected, he will return the country to “normal astronomical time.”

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, considered the all-but-certain victor in the presidential race, also weighed in. He is, after all, a member of the current administration. But like political candidates in the U.S., he can’t resist running as an outsider.

Putin said he didn’t make the decision to change the time system. He promised to consult experts and said if most people want to return to the previous system, he’ll make the change.

Pros And Cons

There’s actually a lot of disagreement about how clocks should be set in a modern industrialized country.

Andrey Panin, an associate professor of geography at Moscow State University, says most people just plain don’t like resetting their clocks twice a year, so Medvedev’s decision was probably the best overall.

“It has a disadvantage, that in winter, you have dark mornings,” Panin says, “but it’s what we have to pay if we don’t want to shift clocks, and if we want to have all the daylight which is given by nature to us.”

The advantage, he says, is people get more light in the evening, which encourages them to spend more of their leisure time outdoors.

That, of course, is assuming that people are up for going jogging when it’s well below freezing.

Alexsei Skopin is the head of the department of economic geography at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. He’s against changing clocks at all, because, he says, a northern country such as Russia uses all the daylight it gets in winter and has more daylight than it can use in summer.

Although he admits that research on the subject is scarce, Skopin says there is evidence that people’s productivity falls sharply in the week or so after a time change.

Since Putin has promised to revisit the issue, it’s quite possible that Russians will set their clocks back — and it could perhaps also be a sign of an early sunset on President Medvedev’s political career. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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