“Prenatal clinics are now a source of obscurantism”

“Prenatal clinics are now a source of obscurantism”: “Helpful Advice for Strengthening Family Ties” Brochure Handed Out in Prenatal Clinics in Moscow
Yuri Lvov
September 1, 2015

An acquaintance of mine is expecting a baby, and she was issued a so-called exchange card [obmennaya karta] at a prenatal clinic. This, for those of you who do not know, is a brochure containing about twenty pages of various medical tests. But my acquaintance’s exchange card was about twice as long, and this additional content makes it virtually a new work by Vladimir Sorokin. It is simply a monument to the New Middle Age. The ads at the back of the brochures—for diapers and rocking chairs that “imitate the motions of parents”—are one thing. But the text printed alongside them, “Useful Advice for Strengthening Family Ties,” is genuinely obscurantist and insulting.

Sample “exchange card” for pregnant women. Courtesy of 2polisa.ru

“It is best for the woman not to awaken the ‘beast’ in her man: a wife’s ability to be second constitutes her greatest value for the man.” “All men wish to be the heads of their families because it is their God-given destiny.” “The man cannot stand to be supervised by his wife: the head of the family cannot be supervised! Try and supervise the country’s president: will he be able to do much for his country?” argues the text’s author. He or she is not listed, by the way, and although the word “god” is capitalized, what god is meant is not spelled out. So we will assume that a certain denomination has played no role here. The Moscow Health Department Health itself simply converted to some faith, apparently, in connection with layoffs of doctors and cuts in the number of hospital beds.

Andrey Ryabushkin (1861-1904), Merchant Family in the Seventeeth Century, 1896. Oil on canvas. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It would seem that mandatory health insurance policies now come equipped with a divine covering and the rhetoric of the Domostroy. But in the sixteenth century, the man in charge was the tsar, who really could not be supervised, unlike, it would seem, the president in an electoral democracy. By the way, similar advice—e.g., to greet your husband in a clean apron and say nothing while he eats supper—was to be found in a Soviet book of the 1960s entitled Housekeeping [Domovodstvo]. Even back then, however, such advice looked like a stupid atavism: the Soviet regime had long ago destroyed the foundations of patriarchy. But now, half a century laters, we read, of all things, about the male’s divine status in the family. In the twenty-first century, neighborhood prenatal clinics in Moscow are a source of obscurantism. They could have at least thought what it is like for single pregnant women, whom god did not send husbands, to read stuff like this.

In Russia, whatever problem you tackle is serious, but the topic of feminism had always seemed concocted to me. Domestic violence in connection with widespread drunkenness and police inaction is a real problem, but feminism in the sense of the struggle for women’s rights appeared as far-fetched as the recent controversy over the word “chick” on the social networks. Russian women have long enjoyed all the same rights as men: they can be anything from bosses to rail sleeper layers. If anything, society rather suffers from a lack of respect for the work of housewives. But if the health department has hatched a plan to send women back to the kitchen, consider me a feminist.


Yulia Markina, the brochure’s publisher: 

I myself am the mother of three children, and I discovered that the exchange cards at prenatal clinics were obsolete. They were compiled way back in the 1980s. Many tests were not listed in them, and OB/GYNs had to update them manually. Some other mothers and I contacted different departments, but no one responded. So then we offered the doctors to develop new cards, and our designer worked out the bugs.  To recover our expenses somehow we added advertisements. We published 15,000 copies of this card and have been distributing them to prenatal clinics. Women have been grabbing them up, and some places have even run out of them.

In this issue of the exchange card, we decided to publish a psychologist’s advice on a trial basis. This advice is based on normal Christian principles. In fact, many obstetricians, worldly wise adults, have backed up this advice. My own life experience speaks to the fact that these recommendations works.

Marriages based on selfishness quickly disintegrate, so many women have to give birth alone. These tips will make selfish people indignant, of course: “How come I have to restrict myself in some way?” Well, what can you do: everyone is different. However, we are not going to publish such tips again so as not to upset anyone.


The heading on page 31 of the controversial Moscow “exchange card,” a brochure distributed to pregnant women at prenatal clinics, reads, “PRACTICAL TIPS FROM PRESIDENT’S WIVES ON HOW TO IMPROVE FAMILY RELATIONS. It’s a well-known fact that behind every famous man is a woman. Reading the biographies of successful people in various fields, we see confirmation of this. For example: Roosevelt, Lincoln, [and] Churchill. Let’s have a look at several tips that helped these women [sic] make their husbands great.” Image courtesy of Afisha Gorod


Excerpted from Anastasia Karimova, “‘Don’t awaken the beast’: What is happening in prenatal clinics,” Afisha Gorod, September 2, 2015. Both articles translated by the Russian Reader


Olga Tseitlina: “Society Doesn’t Understand Why It Should Protect Syrian Refugees”

What Happens to Syrian Refugees in Saint Petersburg
Veronika Prokhorova
September 9, 2015

A flood of refugees from Syria has swept over Europe. The refugees have been passing through Hungary on their way to Austria and Germany. The German government is willing to take in 35,000 refugees. More than four million people have gone to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. According to Amnesty International, Russia, as, for example, Japan and South Korea, has not officially provided places for refugees, although legally speaking, Syrians still have ways of remaining in the country.

Paper spoke with Olga Tseitlina, a lawyer who works with the Memorial Human Rights Center, about how things really stand in Russia with Syrian refugees.

The human rights lawyer told us how the refugees end up in Petersburg, why, because of legal conflicts, the refugees can neither stay nor be deported to zones of military conflict, and how Syrians who have lived in Russia for long periods become illegal immigrants.

A525E3E4-CA83-4A0B-87A2-2891FE71AD0D_w640_sOlga Tseitlina, human rights lawyer from the organization Migration and Law. Photo by Tatyana Voltskaya. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Why Syrians Go to Russia
Syrian refugees seek safe countries in order to save their own lives. Sometimes, smugglers deceive them, saying they are taking them to Egypt, bringing them instead to Russia. This is common. Some refugees themselves choose Russia because they have family or friends here (there is a diaspora of Syrian refugees in Petersburg), but this is the exception rather than the rule. They do not receive real help from the authorities, since the region lacks a center for receiving and housing displaced people.

It is important to know that only people who are seeking asylum are not held responsible for illegally crossing borders. Those with whom we work had not asked for asylum but were merely trying to get out of our country.

After the court has made its ruling, these people are sent to the Deportation Center in Krasnoe Selo [a far southern suburb of Petersburg], whence by law they should be forcibly removed to Syria, but that is inadmissible, because there is a war going on in their home country. If they are returned, these people might be killed, meaning their right to life would be violated. We cannot forcibly return people to military conflict zones: this is contrary to international law.

Our government agencies do not understand that people are in Russia illegally for long periods not because they are criminals and villains. Sometimes, because of language problems and lack of knowledge, they do not draft their claims properly. They do not know where to turn or how asylum is granted, since there is virtually no information either at the border or at police stations.

Often they turn to the police, who do not send them to the immigration authorities, but immediately cite them for an administrative violation or pass the citation on to the Federal Migration Service. There, the procedure for bringing them to justice and subsequently deporting them is immediately set into motion.

What Syrians Can Expect in Petersburg
Officially, Syrians are entitled to temporary asylum for one year, but that does not always work out, especially in the big cities like Moscow and Petersburg. In Ivanovo, for example, it proved much easier to receive temporary asylum. There it was possible for people who in Petersburg had been turned down even when they asked to start the procedure of granting asylum. In contrast to Ukrainians, no zero quotas for granting asylum to Syrians exist. [Not only have Ukrainians not been granted temporary asylum, but immigration authorities have also refused to take their applications, citing the absence of a quota for Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Region — Paper.]

Syrian refugees often come to big cities. Over a dozen people have turned to us for help in the last three months. In Petersburg, however, there are many more such people. It is just that people turn to our organization only when they are already going through the deportation procedure or cannot get asylum.

Asylum claims are rejected for many reasons. In a number of cases, the authorities refuse to accept claims because people have been in the Russian Federation illegally for some time. If people do not have a valid visa, residence registration, and a job, they are denied asylum and told they are violating Russian law. But here a contradiction again arises. There are refugees who because of the war have simply been unable to return to Syria and renew their student visas, for example. They were forced to break the law. The authorities also attempt to expel them, and the situation known as refugee sur place arises. Others are rejected because they reported false information or they failed to apply on time, although they might simply not have known when and where to apply.

Russian Laws and the European Court of Human Rights
We have managed to bring several attempts to deport Syrian refugees from Russia before the European Court of Human Rights. Only then did the Leningrad Regional Court overturn the decision to deport several people from Aleppo to a military conflict zone. Then, the ECHR asked a crucial question: whether the military situation in Syria had been taken into account when the decision was made. Typically, this issue is not discussed at all by courts either in the case of Syrian refugees or displaced people from Ukraine. It is necessary, however, to take into account the social and political situation in the country of origin and explore the issue of whether it will be safe for asylum applicants to return.

People awaiting deportation are placed in special facilities in Krasnoe Selo. The local conditions of detention were also examined by the ECHR as part of the case of Kim v. Russia. In June 2014, both the ECHR and the Government of the Russian Federation deemed the conditions of detention inhuman and in violation of Article 3 of the Europe Convention on Human Rights. However, they have virtually remained unchanged since then. Moreover, there are no temporary accommodation centers for refugees who have qualified for temporary asylum either in Petersburg, Leningrad Region or Moscow.

How Society Treats Refugees
Now Russians are negatively disposed even towards their “native” Ukrainian refugees, although earlier there was support for them. They say, What do we need these refugees for? We have enough problems of our own. They take our jobs and put an additional burden on infrastructure.

The attitude to Syrian refugees is even worse. These are people from a completely different culture and religion. They might look differently, and they speak a different language. People tend to associate Syrians with ISIL and suspect them of being terrorists. If people are afraid of the refugees from Ukraine, finding volunteers to work with Syrian refugees seems completely unreal in Petersburg and Russia generally. Some people manage to find shelter through churches, but this happens quite rarely. Society does not understand why it should provide protection to Syrian refugees and refugees in general.

Translated by the Russian Reader