Click on the Button and Get a Sentence
Latest “Extremist” Reposting Case Goes to Court
October 14, 2015
The first hearing on the merits of the criminal case against Ekaterina Vologzheninova, who has been accused of extremism for reposts she made on the social network VKontakte, will take place on October 27. In addition to distributing “inflammatory” matter (consisting, in fact, of pictures and poems, supporting Ukraine, that are freely available on the Web), the 46-year-old single mother [from Yekaterinburg] has been accused of associating with “undesirable persons,” which included activists from Memorial and International Amnesty.
Vologzheninova has been charged under Article 282.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity”). The authorities began pursuing Vologzheninova after she shared several items on VKontakte. These items, we should note, have not been included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials.
Experts from the SOVA Information and Analysis Center have commented on the case against Vologzheninova on their website.
“The poem ‘Katsaps,’ whose main idea is that Ukraine’s ethnic Russians will defend it from Russia, contains accusations that the Russian authorities have attacked Ukraine, but there are no aggressive appeals in it. As for the poster, it obviously calls on Ukrainian citizens to defend the country from occupation.”
As usual, the preliminary hearing in the case was held in closed chambers.
“The prosecutor read out the indictment. But she read it out in an interesting way, omitting the most absurd paragraphs,” Vologzheninova’s attorney Roman Kachanov told Novye Izvestia.
During the hearing, the defense moved to send the case back to the prosecutor’s office, since, according to Kachanov, the indictment did not meet the requirements of the law. It did not make clear what the charges were.
“The conclusion states that [Vologzheninova] committed acts aimed at inciting hatred and enmity on the basis of race, ethnicity, and origin. As for race and origin, we did not understand that at all. But as for ethnicity, the indictment turns on the social group ‘Russians,’ although in the items at issue, ethnic Russians, on the contrary, are assessed positively; it is argued that it is wrong to oppose Russians to Ukrainians. In one text, Russians fighting in the Armed Forces of Ukraine are mentioned proudly,” Kachanov told Novye Izvestia.
According to Kachanov, the indictment accuses Vologzheninova of inciting hatred toward the social group “Moscow occupier” [sic]. It also features the phrase “ethnic hatred and enmity toward the public authorities.”
Earlier, during the investigation, Vologzheninova had also been reproached for associating with “undesirable persons,” human rights activists from Memorial and Amnesty International.
“Formally, such charges were not brought against her, because there is no such crime. At the very end of the investigation, however, [Vologzheninova was interrogated] by a FSB field officer by the name of Khudenkikh. And he, apparently wanting to generate a negative psychological atmosphere, accused her of having dealings with Memorial, which is a ‘foreign agent,’ and with Open Russia, which is funded from the west,” Kachanov told Novye Izvestia.
According to him, on the eve of the court hearing, it transpired that Vologzheninova’s bankcard had been blocked.
“The situation is this. By law, if a person is suspected of extremist or terrorist activities, his or her name is put on Rosfinmonitoring’s black list. A court sentence is not needed for this. But it does not always happen this way. I know people convicted of extremist crimes who have continue to have use of their bank accounts,” the lawyer explained.
According to him, a person who goes on the Rosfinmonitoring list stays there practically in perpetuity. For example, the slain terrorists Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev are still on it. And since the list is openly accessible, for “extremists” like Vologzheninova it is an additional humiliation. As Novye Izvestia ascertained, Ekaterina Vologzheninova is indeed listed among terrorists and extremists on Rosfinmonitoring’s website.
Svetlana Mochalova, a linguist with the FSB’s crime lab in Sverdlovsk Region, performed the forensic examination in the case. As Novye Izvestia reported earlier, a whole string of verdicts in controversial “extremism” cases in the Urals have been based on her findings. Among them is the verdict in the case of Pervouralsk resident Elvira Sultanakhmetova, who was sentenced to 120 hours of community service for calling on Muslims not to celebrate New Year’s because it was, in her opinion, a pagan holiday. Mochalova identified “incitement of hatred and enmity towards persons who do not celebrate New Year’s, whose customs and festivals are manifestations of a lack of faith” [sic] in what Sultanakhmetova had written. In 2010, Mochalova found “statements calling for social strife and the violent overthrow of the Russian Federation’s constitutional order an integrity” in the article “Patriotism as a Diagnosis,” written by the attorney Stanislav Markelov, who had been murdered [by Russian neo-Nazis] a year earlier. The article was examined as part of the proceedings against civic activist and Tyumen State University lecturer Andrei Kutuzov. He was prosecuted for, allegedly, handing out leaflets calling for an end to political crackdowns. According to Mochalova, these leaflets incited hatred against the authorities and aroused social discord. Mochalova refused to reveal her examination procedure to the court on that occasion, claiming that it was marked “for official use only.”
In July, teacher Alexander Byvshev, who had posted a pro-Ukrainian poem on a social network (unlike Vologzheninova Byvshev had written the poem himself), was sentenced to 300 hours of community service in the Oryol Region. Sentences for “likes” and reposts have practically become the norm this year. Thus, on September 28, Chelyabinsk blogger Konstantin Zharinov, who had reposted material from the banned Right Sector, was found guilty and immediately pardoned. On September 15, Krasnodar activist Sergei Titarenko was fined 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,400 euros] for reposting a political post. On September 17, the Lenin District Court in Cheboksary sentenced Parnas opposition party activist Dmitry Semyonov [and immediately pardoned] for reposting a caricature of Dmitry Medvedev.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda
A Currenttime.tv report about the criminal case at Yekaterinburg resident Ekaterina Vologzheninova, accused under Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code of inciting ethnic hatred and enmity against the Russian public authorities, residents of Southeast Ukraine who do not support modern Ukraine’s political course, volunteers from Russia fighting on the side of the Donetsk People’s Republic, and other absurd things. Posted on October 17, 2015. Thanks to Sergey Chernov for the heads-up
Wikimapia euphemistically refers to the bridge, pictured above, as a “new bridge over the Okkervil River” and claims that “construction is underway at present.”
When, the other day, some friends and I strolled from the Dybenko Street subway station to the now-thriving former village of Kudrovo, just across the city lines in neighboring Lenoblast (Leningrad Region), we took a short cut through this semi-wild scrub land, transversed by the Okkervil River. The maps identify this place, just as euphemistically, as Ingria Technopark.
One of our companions was a local. He recalled when Ingria Technopark was a forest, and he went there with his school class to do orienteering, map and compass in hand.
He claimed, perhaps facetiously, that the village of Kudrovo was all that remained of the ancient Kudrian civilization. The Kudrians had been defeated by the more aggressive Petersburgians from the west, but had not entirely succumbed to their dominion. The strange semi-circular pattern you see in the lower left corner of the map, above, was imprinted there by a giant Kudrian megalith, he ventured. Bits and shards of this now-vanished sacred complex were scattered all over the barren urban wilderness we were crossing.
It seemed as if the developers now lazily developing (or no longer developing, probably) Ingria Technopark had tried to lay out a road on the template left by the megalith.
Finally, after an hour or so of ditch jumping and bushwhacking, and with the help of some timely advice given to us by a young couple with a feisty pit bull grilling shashliki in the woods, we emerged from the outer darkness into the village of Kudrovo. In the last few years, the once-sleepy village has been transformed into a series of eye-poppingly bright new housing estates.
According to the Real Estate Bulletin, New Kudrovo was originally conceived as a new administrative center for Lenoblast. Somewhere along the way, that scheme was scrapped, and in 2009, developers Setl City announced they would transform Kudrovo into a series of “European”-inspired housing blocks collectively dubbed Seven Capitals.
In the event, Setl City managed to build the first of the Seven Capitals, Vienna, and is scheduled to complete the second block in the project, London, in the third quarter of 2017. But it has ceded development of the rest of New Kudrovo to eight other developers, who are in the midst of building eleven other estates, with names as varied as New Okkervil, Austrian Quarter, Progress, Capital, Spring, and Kudrov House.
All of these estates should be completed between 2016 and 2017. Prices for flats in the blocks (including resold units) range from 62,000 rubles to 125,00 rubles per square meter (i.e., between 880 and 1,770 euros, approximately).
There are many advantages to living in New Kudrovo. The new estates are literally a stone’s throw from MEGA Dybenko, an IKEA-centered shopping mall that opened in 2006. (The mall used to look quite out of place next to the then-distinctly rural-looking village of Kudrovo.)
New Kudrovo is also a brisk fifteen minutes’ walk or a very short marshrutka ride from the Dybenko Street subway station, whence you can get to central Petrograd in something like fifteen or twenty minutes. And it literally abuts on the KAD, the Saint Petersburg Ring Road, which opened in 2011.
But the place is still lacking in some essential infrastructure, given its ever-burgeoning population. According to the Real Estate Bulletin, the New Okkervil estate has a commercial kindergarten, with capacity for 230 children, and a municipal school and kindergarten with room for 1,600 pupils are set to open soon. In New Kudrovo’s southern blocks, there is only one kindergarten, with capacity for 110 children, but by the end of the year there should be two more kindergartens and a school in the Vienna estate.
More seriously, it appears that the New Kudrians will not be getting a subway station of their own until 2026, although our local companion claimed that the tunnel from Dybenko Street to the new station, tentatively dubbed Narodnaya, had more or less been dug already and the station platform itself had been built. All that was lacking was an aboveground pavilion or lobby and the shaft for the escalators down to the station. But since Kudrovo is outside the city limits, in Lenoblast, it is, apparently, not a priority for the city, which runs the subway system, to open a new station there. Although Deyvatkino station, the northern terminus of the First Line, which has been happily operating since 1978, is also located across the city lines in Lenoblast.
In any case, as we made our way to the Okkervil River, Ingria, and Kudrovo, we passed this sign, indicating that some kind of subway construction was underway in the neighborhood. The sign promised a 2017 completion date.
Whatever else it might lack, New Kudrovo has three things in spades. The first is splashy façades, something utterly untypical in the Northern Venice and environs.
The second thing that meets the eye are the slightly over-the-top Viennese-themed murals in the Vienna estate.
The third thing in no short supply in New Kudrovo, oddly enough, is pleasant hipsterish drinking establishments, all of them manned by extremely friendly bartenders, serving top-shelf Belgian beer.
Since our little band of amateur urbanists was neither looking to get drunk nor go broke, we asked the bartenders to split half-liters of their finest brews four ways, a request they were all perfectly happily to oblige. We were thus able to sample Mort Subite, which was on the menu in all three bars we visited, and Duchesse de Bourgogne, which some of us found a bit too sour. (I thought it was fabulous.)
So if Will Sheff & Co. ever do decide to visit their spiritual homeland, here is what I would suggest. First, a big, open-air concert, amplifiers blaring, in Ingria Technopark, with the unfinished bridge serving as the bandstand. Then, the next day, an acoustic set in one of Kudrovo’s fine Belgian beer halls.
It has to happen someday.
All photos by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrades AS, MR, and DV for the company, and Comrade RF for suggesting that we trek to Kudrovo.
Maykop Contract Soldiers Who Refused to Go to Donbass Sentenced to Prison
October 13, 2015
Contract solders from Military Unit No. 22179, located in Maykop, have been sentenced to prison terms. Anatoly Kudrin has been sentenced to six months in an open penal settlement, while Alexander Yevenko, Ivan Shevkunov, Alexander Yenenko, and Pavel Tynchenko received one year each. Alexander Yenenko, who communicated most actively with the press, got the longest sentence [sic].
“It is disgusting,” says Svetlana Kimnatnaya, Ivan Shevkunov’s mother. “All the character references were positive, tons of peoples vouched for my son, and many people from the unit supported him. We had been hoping for probation.”
In autumn 2014, soldiers from Military Unit No. 22179 in Maykop were transferred to the Kadamovsky Firing Range in Rostov Region [eighty kilometers from the Ukrainian border]. Subsequently, contract soldiers left the range in large numbers. Many filed letters of resignation, which were not given due consideration by the unit’s commanding officers. The contract soldiers complained of poor living conditions and feared they would be sent to fight in Ukraine.
Regarding the conditions of their military service, the contract soldiers said they had been forced to sleep on boards, and there had often been no electricity and proper food. The topic of Ukraine had surfaced because separatists from the Donetsk People’s Republic were encamped near the Kadamovsky Firing Range. According to the soldiers’ parents, the separatists had agitated among the soldiers, offering them money to go fight in Donbass.
Subsequently, a group of soldiers was charged under Article 337.4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (absence without leave for over a month). It later transpired that among other things they had not been paid the money due to them for temporary duty travel. One of the men, Alexander Yevenko, a veteran of the conflict in Chechnya, was ultimately paid thirty thousand rubles.
During the course of the investigation, another soldier, Alexander Yenenko, repeatedly informed Novaya Gazeta about illegal investigative methods, the use of psychological coercion, and threats. To verify this information, Novaya Gazeta sent a request to the Chief Military Investigation Department of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee. According to their reply, they cannot comment on the matter.
Alexander Yevenko (not to be confused with Alexander Yenenko) has said he intends to appeal the decision of the Maykop Garrison Military Court. The appeals hearing in his case will take place October 22 in the North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos by Yevgeny Titov. See his previous article on this conflict, “Why Are Maykop Contract Soldiers Resigning?” from the July 15, 2015, issue of Novaya Gazeta (in Russian). See also “Prison terms for Russian contract soldiers who refused to fight in Donbas,” Belsat TV, October 14, 2015 (in English).
A residence permit on Lermontov Street: why a human rights activist from Obninsk violates the laws of the Russian Federation
October 3, 2015
Human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar, who has registered over a thousand immigrants at her home, is on trial in Obninsk. DW got to the bottom of the case.
The latest hearing in the case of human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar, on Friday, October 2, at the Obninsk Magistrate Court, began with a surprise. It transpired that the judge hearing the case had resigned a mere two days earlier.
“I wonder if there is an article in Criminal Code for causing a judge to resign?” joked defense counsel Illarion Vasilyev.
He does not rule out that the resignation was connected to the Kotlyar case. Earlier, 43-year-old Judge Svetlana Baykova sent the case back to the prosecutor’s office because new circumstances had come to light: the list of immigrants the defendant had been accused of having registered in her “rubber” flat had changed. Along with the new circumstances has come a new judge, Dmitry Trifonov. Now everything has to begin again, complains Vasilyev, although, during the previous phase, examination of the witnesses alone lasted two months. Since none of the witnesses was present at the October 2 session, a substantive consideration of the case was postponed until October 12.
The substance of the case
Former Obninsk City Assembly deputy Tatyana Kotlyar does not deny that she has registered over a thousand people in her three-room flat on Lermontov Street. She registered them deliberately and made no secret of the fact, even mentioning it in an open letter to President Putin. Former residents of such different countries as Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Germany, Israel, and even Brazil are registered in Kotlyar’s flat.
“There were Old Believers from Brazil, who had decided to return to Russia seventy years later,” recounts Kotlyar. “They sold everything and left. When they showed up on my doorstep in their old-fashioned caftans, I thought a folk music ensemble had arrived. Now they have received land in rural areas, they have received Russian passports, and they are fine.”
Most of Kotlyar’s wards arrived in Russia under the state program for the resettlement of compatriots. In operation since 2006, the program involves a simplified procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for people “brought up in the traditions of Russian culture, [and who] speak Russian and do not wish to lose touch with Russia.” Kaluga Region is one of the regions participating in the program. In these regions, new residents of the Russian Federation are supposed to get full support from the state, including assistance finding employment and even relocation expenses.
“But no one warned them that the first thing they would need to do would be to register themselves at their place of residence,” complains Kotlyar. “Without registration [propiska] it is impossible to draw up documents, send children to school, and register for care at a local health clinic.”
“She didn’t take a kopeck from us”
This was the problem faced by Diana Tigranyan, who moved with her family from Yerevan to Obninsk.
“At the Russian consulate in Armenia they promised us mountains of gold! No one said we would need a residence permit,” recounts Tigranyan. “But here it turned that the owners of the flat we rented were afraid to register strangers. There are firms that charge 15,000 rubles a person for this service. But I have a husband, parents, and two children. Where would I get this money?”
It was not just anyone who advised Tigranyan to turn to Kotlyar, but the Federal Migration Service itself.
“The female employee who was processing my documents said, ‘I cannot help you in any way, but out in the hallway there is a woman. Try approaching her.'”
At first, Tigranyan thought Kotlyar also made money from residence permits.
“I offered her money, and she turned it down. When we told about this in court, no one believed it. But she really is a saint. She didn’t take a kopeck from us.”
Tatyana Kotlyar became an offender on January 1, 2014, when the so-called law on rubber flats came into force. It makes registering a person somewhere other than their place of residence a criminal offense. Criminal charges were filed in March 2014. Kotlyar was charged under Article 322.2 of the Criminal Code (“Fictitious residence registration of foreign citizens in residential accommodation in the Russian Federation”) and Article 322.3 (“Fictitious local registration of a foreign citizen in residential accommodation in the Russian Federation”). Interestingly, on the list of twelve names entered into evidence by the prosecution, there are two people whom Kotlyar has never seen herself.
“Apparently, some woman at the passport office or post office who handles registration knew about my flat and just registered some more people there, for money or as a favor.”
In recent months, Kotlyar has registered several hundred Ukrainian citizens.
“They come to see me every day. They include both refugees from hot spots and men from other regions who are threatened with being drafted into the army in Ukraine. The Russian government has promised to help, but ultimately these people face the same problem as all immigrants.”
Kotlyar is certain that the law on rubber flats violates human rights.
“This did not happen even under Stalin. Then they sentenced people to camps for residing without a passport or residence permit, but at least they didn’t punish the landlord.”
According to Kotlyar, the government is trying to fight the effect rather than the cause.
“Where there is demand, there will always be supply. The problem is not rubber flats, but the very institution of the residence permit. It should be a matter of simple notification, and its presence or absence should in no way affect the provision of civil rights.”
She helped solved the crime
Illarion Vasilyev, Kotlyar’s attorney, understands that the human rights activist has deliberately put herself in the way of the new law to draw attention to the problem.
“Yes, it’s her civic stance. She knows she will be held liable, and she has issued a challenge,” says Vasilyev in an interview with DW. “Has she harmed anyone? Yes, she probably has. The service of legalizing compatriots costs a lot of money, and Kotlyar constitutes competition for the firms that make money on this. But the people who are questioned as prosecution witnesses at the trial bow at her feet and say thank you.”
Article 322.2 of the Criminal Code stipulates a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 rubles or imprisonment for up to three years for fictitious registration. The article, however, contains an important proviso.
“A person who commits an offense under this article shall be exempt from criminal liability if he helped solve the crime and if his actions do not constitute another crime.”
According to Vasilyev, no one has helped solve the crime as much as Kotlyar herself has.
Translated by the Russian Reader
Semi Knockdown Disassembly
Why are Russian automotive giants dreaming of shrinking?
Irina Smirnova | Leningrad Region
October 9, 2015
An independent workers union has held a rally protesting layoffs at AvtoVAZ, which is planning to cut 15,000 of its 49,000 workers in the near future. No one has officially voiced these figures, but trade unionists managed to sneak a peak at the lists of “superfluous” people. Layoffs are also anticipated at two subsidiaries, AvtoVAZagregat and Volga Machinery Plant (VMZ). Until recently, 2,000 people were employed at the first plant, which is a major supplier of car seats. Now the plant is undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, and its workers have not been paid for three months. The prosecutor’s office has filed 800 lawsuits to recover back pay, and activists at the plant have gone on hunger strike, but what is the point?
AvtoVAZ had conducted mass layoffs last year. 12,000 people left the company then. AvtoVAZ’s president, Bo Andersson, claimed the company was not planning mass layoffs of workers in 2015, but would part only with 1,100 apparatchiks. But workers anticipate a new round of layoffs, and trade union activist Vyacheslav Shepelyov has been fired for taking part in the hunger strike.
AvtoVAZ is not simply a big factory, but an indicator of the situation in Russian industry. Strategic decisions regarding the auto-manufacturing giant are made at the government level. And here, it seems, a social explosion is brewing.
“Who told you about an explosion? Those are tall tales!” says Alexei Etmanov, chair of the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (ITUWA) and a deputy in the Leningrad Regional Legislative Assembly.
As always, Etmanov does not mince his words.
“A thousand people came out and made a little racket, and what of it? Hunger strikes? Even if everyone starves to death, people will still get laid off. They have got used to spoon-feeding a toothless trade union, so now they can take it on the chin.”
Etmanov believes that AvtoVAZ inevitably faces a restructuring under which its non-core assets will be cut loose. But layoffs can and should be resisted.
“Look at Air France. The company management there was nearly torn to shreds: they had to run to escape from enraged employees. As a result, management came to the opinion that layoffs might not be so inevitable, that they were negotiable. But management grows fat on our problems in Russia. AvtoVAZ employees are not even willing to join a [militant] trade union. How will they defend themselves? The people gobble up anything the boss brings them in his beak.”
But isn’t AvtoVAZ part of your trade union?
“They are an entire eighty ITUWA members among a workforce of 49,000. We are not a mass force there capable of protecting workers. The workers will not be able to achieve anything for themselves within the official trade union. Alas! They will go to work as janitors, leave the country for a better life or drink themselves to death. Our people have no experience of fighting for their own interests. They are intimidated and broken. I blame myself as well. I have done little to ensure that working people show more solidarity. That is our main concern: to teach them solidarity. We live under the harshest capitalism, and it is simply naïve to expect mercy from above.”
Although, as Etmanov stresses, protesting is not the only way to fight for jobs.
“For example, the government of Leningrad Region has passed a law reducing Ford’s property tax by 50%, which amounts to 160 million rubles. For a small plant, that is substantial assistance. The federal government, of course, has greater means of this kind than local authorities. The ITUWA is preparing a package of measures to save the Russian car industry, measures that were applied in Brazil, Germany, and other countries during the 2008 crisis. Although certain State Duma deputies shout, ‘Why help American automotive giants?’ They don’t understand that [companies like Ford and Nissan] have long become part of the Russian automotive industry. The plants pay taxes in the Russian Federation, and our people work there.”
But after the collapse of the ruble aren’t Russian-made cars more competitive? They are now cheaper than their foreign counterparts.
“In fact, they are not cheaper,” objects Etmanov. “The difference in the currency exchange rate devoured the entire profit margin, since AvtoVAZ imports most of its parts from abroad because Russian suppliers cannot provide the high-quality product that a normal car industry needs. Car production in Russia is unprofitable; there is no margin. And the question of the day is whether there are enough of these companies that adhere to quality standards and do not want to manufacture bad cars. Now they are working at a loss.”
Translated by the Russian Reader. Images courtesy of the Moscow Times and Soviet Russia Today
October 2, 2015
Inflation: 14-17% in rubles.
Consumer basket inflation: 25-70% in rubles (depending on the specific consumer basket).
Currency devaluation: 50%. The value of foreign currency has risen 100%.
The government has decided to index pensions for inflation only by 4% in 2016.
Pensioners vote for Putin.
Putin has stoked and burnt their money in Crimea, Donbass, and Syria, and on an insane military and security services budget, and has stolen trillions right from the same budget.
Pensioners vote for Putin.
Putin has lucked out with pensioners.
And yet a little over ten years ago, it was the old-age pensioners (rather than portfolio investors like Mr. Rabinovich or the “rising middle class”) who mounted the first serious, massive grassroots challenge to Putin’s policies and his rule.
Maybe the old-age pensioners have gone silent now and no longer want to mount such challenges to Putin’s rule. But it is quite amazing to observe so many able-bodied and mentally competent folks in the prime of their life engaged in casting around for whole (mostly imaginary, mostly disempowered, mostly lower) classes of people to blame for Russia’s slide into totalitarianism lite. What sense does it make to say that any whole class of people “votes” for Putin and constitutes his “base,” when we know that elections in Russia are rigged six ways to Sunday?
This is not say that Russia’s old-age pensioners shouldn’t be distressed by their deteriorating economic fortunes, as reflected in the distressing and real figures cited by Mr. Rabinovich, above, but the search for the “rubes” who have buttressed Putin’s rise to minor godhood should start with the classes of Russians who have really benefited from his rule. It has most signally not been the mass of old-age pensioners who have made out like bandits, although they may be more vulnerable, in some instances, to Putin’s propaganda machine and, at the local level, to the blandishments offered by the United Russia electoral machine.
If anything, my own (albeit limited) experience of grassroots protest campaigns in Petrograd has shown me that, more often than not, retirees and oldsters do more than their fair share of shouting, tussling, and scrapping with the powers that be.
But it must be nice for Russia’s worldly and well-heeled urban hipsters, thirty- and fortysomethings, and go-getters (whose brains, again in my limited experience, are no less addled by the popular prejudices of the Putin era, and whose bodies are no less averse to putting themselves in harm’s way) to imagine that Putin’s “base” is made up of old-age pensioners, the chronically poor, blue-collar workers, and residents of the Russian hinterlands.
Putin Reforms Greeted by Street Protests
Steven Lee Meyers
January 16, 2005
New York Times
KHIMKI, Russia, Jan. 15 – Mikhail I. Yermakov, a retired engineer, has never before taken to the streets to protest — not when the Soviet Union collapsed, the wars in Chechnya began, the ruble plummeted in 1998 or President Vladimir V. Putin last year ended his right to choose his governor.
On Saturday, however, he joined hundreds of others in the central square of this gritty industrial city on the edge of Moscow in the latest of a weeklong wave of protests across Russia against a new law abolishing a wide range of social benefits for the country’s 32 million pensioners, veterans and people with disabilities.
Demonstrations were held in at least three other cities in the Moscow region, in the capital of Tatarstan and, for the fourth straight day, in Samara in central Russia. In St. Petersburg, several thousand demonstrators blocked the city’s main boulevard, with some calling for Mr. Putin’s resignation.
Taken together, the protests are the largest and most passionate since Mr. Putin came to power in 2000. They appear to have tapped into latent discontent with Mr. Putin’s government and the party that dominates Parliament, United Russia.
“It is spontaneous, and this is the most dangerous thing for the authorities,” said Mr. Yermakov, 67, as speakers denounced the government from a step beneath a hulking bust of Lenin. “It is a tsunami, and United Russia does not understand that it is going to hit them.”
The law, which took effect on Jan. 1, replaced benefits like free public transportation and subsidies for housing, prescriptions, telephones and other basic services with monthly cash payments starting at a little more than $7.
In a sign of bureaucratic inefficiency, some of those eligible have yet to receive any payments.
Mr. Putin and United Russia’s leaders have defended the law as an important reform ending a vestige of the old Soviet Communist system, but they clearly failed to anticipate the depth of opposition from those who relied most on the subsidies: millions of Russians living on pensions of less than $100 a month.
The protesters have denounced the payments as insufficient to cover the cost of the benefits and as miserly for a country that recently reported a budget surplus of nearly $25 billion.
As the protests unfolded in city after city across Russia, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksei II, who typically allies himself with what is known here as “the party of power,” questioned the law and the government’s handling of it.
“What counts is that this policy should be fair and effective,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “It should be met with understanding by the people. The latest events show that these principles are not observed in full.”
Aleksei P. Kondaurov, a Communist member of the lower house of Parliament, said the law and the protests underscored the shortcomings of the political system that had evolved under Mr. Putin, one dominated by United Russia, which has refused to debate with opposition parties, let alone compromise with them.
“It was clear that it was not carefully calculated,” Mr. Kondaurov said of the new law in an interview.
Mr. Kondaurov predicted the protests would grow and spread to other pressing social issues, which he said Mr. Putin’s government and United Russia were ignoring.
At a minimum, the protests have raised doubts about Mr. Putin’s other proposed reforms, including those in banking, housing and electricity, which were supposed to be the centerpieces of his second term.
“It’s not going to be like Ukraine,” Mr. Kondaurov said, drawing a parallel, as some have here, to the far larger demonstrations that overturned the election there for president in November. “But it is clear to me that a political and economic crisis is taking shape in Russia.”
After first brushing off the protests, United Russia’s leaders have begun scrambling to respond. They have accused the Communists and other parties of inflaming tensions and have tried to deflect blame to regional governments, which they say are responsible for implementing the benefit changes.
Some local governments, most prominently the Moscow city administration, have vowed to reinstate the benefits stripped at the federal level, but few other regions are wealthy enough to afford to do so.
On Friday, the chairman of Parliament’s social and labor committee, Andrei N. Isayev, said that next week, lawmakers would consider raising pensions by 15 percent in February, rather than 5 percent in April, as now planned.
Others in United Russia have also tried to distance themselves from Mr. Putin’s new government, which has been in place for only 10 months. The deputy speaker of Parliament, Lyubov K. Sliska, said Friday that she did not rule out the dismissal of Prime Minister Mikhail Y. Fradkov and his cabinet.
But the protests have continued to grow. They began quietly, with a rally organized by the Communist Party in Solnechnogorsk, near Moscow, on Jan. 9, the 100th anniversary of the 1905 uprising.
A day later, here in Khimki, several hundred people briefly blocked the main highway to St. Petersburg in what several of those involved called a spontaneous uprising. After a scuffle with the police, 12 elderly protesters were arrested, but initial threats to prosecute them were quickly dropped.
Since then the protests have erupted in at least a dozen other cities, drawing thousands. In Tula, 110 miles south of Moscow, aging protesters clashed with bus conductors who refused to allow them to board city transport without paying, prompting the city to post police officers on the buses.
In Novosibirsk, in Siberia, a dozen pensioners mailed their cash payments for transit — the equivalent of a little more than $3 — to Boris V. Gryzlov, the leader of United Russia and parliamentary speaker, according to the Regnum news agency.
The protesters here in Khimki’s central square on Saturday represented those who have fared the worst in Russia’s post-Soviet transition.
Mr. Yermakov’s monthly pension equals roughly $85 a month. As a resident of the Moscow region, a separate administration from that of the city government, he qualified for a supplement of $7 to replace the subsidies lost under the new law. The bus fare for three trips to the small tract of land he is allowed for planting a vegetable garden, four miles away, will take nearly half that amount.
Vladilena T. Berova, whose given name is an homage to Vladimir Lenin, served at the end of World War II as a corporal in Soviet intelligence and went on to work as a psychotherapist for five decades in Moscow. Now 78 and widowed, she survives on 2,000 rubles a month, about $71.
“The fascists took my youth,” she said, referring to the war. “And now these people are taking away my old age.”
The protests have included something still rare in today’s Russia: personal criticism of Mr. Putin, who has remained popular by projecting an image of stability, one carefully protected by officials and state television.
“Instead of listening to us, he is listening to an organ,” Mr. Yermakov said, referring bitingly to Mr. Putin’s participation in the unveiling of a newly restored organ in St. Petersburg on Friday with Germany’s president, Horst Köhler.
The benefits law has already been credited, at least in part, with a slip in Mr. Putin’s ratings, as well as a general decline in the public’s mood.
A poll by the Levada Center, released on Saturday, said that only 39 percent of Russians considered Mr. Putin the most trusted politician. That is still higher than anyone else, but a drop from 58 percent a year ago.
Sergei Y. Glazyev, a member of Parliament who challenged Mr. Putin during the election for president last year, said in an interview that “the people’s struggle for social rights” should be decided in a national referendum, rather than imposed by the Kremlin and its governing party. Voters, he said, had been fooled.
“A majority of those who voted for Putin,” he said, “had a quiet different expectation of what they would get.”
Mr. Rabinovich’s Facebook post translated by the Russian Reader. Image, above, courtesy of the Moscow Times