MOSCOW – President Dmitry Medvedev allowed viewers to post comments on his video blog for the first time Monday and he instantly got an earful.
Medvedev, 43, who prides himself on his computer savvy, began posting videos on his Kremlin blog a few months ago. But until Monday viewers were unable to respond.
His latest video blog was filmed in the mountains near Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, where he was on a skiing vacation last week. Medvedev talked about the importance of sports and promised that Russia would fulfill its ambitious construction plans despite the financial crisis.
"This is not something on which we have the right to economize, because in the end the well-being of the people depends on this, what is called the health of the nation," Medvedev said.
The president encouraged Russians to follow the example of "their neighbors" in Europe, who take family ski vacations over the winter holidays.
"This is the culture of vacationing, a sports culture, that we should try to create in our country," he said.
More than 100 comments appeared on the blog by the end of the day, with many of the bloggers complaining about the lack of sports facilities in Russia and the high cost of everything from skiing to ice skating to swimming.
A blogger named Oleg said he went to Sochi to ski at the same time as the president, whose plane he spotted in the airport, and said that if Russia wants to develop a sports culture it first needs to work on its service culture.
"This is felt starting from the need to fight your way through the crowd of pushy private taxi drivers at the airport and ending with the absence of any decent budget hotels," he wrote.
Inna, a blogger from the city of Vyborg on the Finnish border, complained about the cost of going to the local swimming pool, which she said was built by the state-run gas company Gazprom.
"If we want to be like neighboring countries then we have to do things the way they do and make the cost affordable for everyone," she wrote. "But as it turns out, doing sports in our country is crazily expensive."
Several bloggers said Medvedev should start his effort to promote a healthy lifestyle by leading the fight against alcoholism. While a small portion of Russia's population spends the 10-day New Year's and Orthodox Christmas holiday skiing, a much larger portion celebrates by drinking even more vodka than usual.
At least one blogger said he would be curious to see if the postings on Medvedev's blog undergo any "modifications" before appearing on the Kremlin Web site.
There was no comment on the blog about Medvedev's alleged veiled criticism of his predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on Sunday. Medvedev, without naming anyone, said the Cabinet had dragged its feet in dealing with the economic downturn.
While most blogs are edited, it remained to be seen how much open criticism and debate the Kremlin would tolerate. No criticism is permitted on the national television stations or in the most popular newspapers, though the Internet has remained free.