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Russian nightclub fire: Corruption behind Lame Horse tragedy?

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Some commentators are praising Russia's leadership, which reacted swiftly and severely to the tragedy. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin immediately dispatched a special investigation team, which has since arrested five people, including the nightclub's owners, and charged them with "reckless negligence." They face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

The Lame Horse had operated in much the same way for eight years, amid obvious fire-trap conditions, as a photo gallery on the club's own still-operating Website illustrates. Russian authorities say the tinderkeg-dry wooden ceiling, the single narrow exit for a space capable of holding more than 400 people and the indoor use of fireworks, were all strictly against local fire codes and other laws that should have been enforced.

"There is a criminal levity toward life, one's own and the lives of others, that prevails in this country," says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. "There is a Russian attitude which we call '' (roughly meaning '') that led them to think, 'hey, we've been doing this for eight years and it's always been OK. So why worry?'," he says.

Bribes vs. fire code enforcment

Some Russians say that while it's hard to argue with the Kremlin's tough response, it may amount to little more than an energetic burst of political theater unless something is done to address the deeper culture of corruption that enables unsafe enterprises of all kinds to routinely escape regulation by paying off inspectors when they come around.

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