Vyborg Rally Looms over Authorities
March 7, 2016
Vyborg residents sacked Gennady Orlov, head of the Vyborg District, right at Peter’s Square. He was given a vote of no confidence for a rise in the cost of heating bills. Local boss Alexander Petrov was chided over his son. But the authorities did not come out to talk to the people.
On Sunday, March 6, eighty-thousand-strong Vyborg got ready to vent its feelings. On Peter’s Square, on the outskirts of the historic center, a rally protesting twofold and threefold increases in heating bills was scheduled.
When 47News asked a taxi driver leaving the train station whether he knew about the upcoming event, we got an unexpectedly long response.
“The heating bill has increased by 7,000 rubles [approx. 88 euros]. It isn’t clear who is running the city. People should go to the rally. I can’t, but I’m taking the wife,” he said.
Another taxi driver, whose bill had increased by 6,000 rubles in a single go, also promised to send his wife.
When city hall was in the process of authorizing the rally on Peter’s Square, its main consideration was the distance from downtown. The protesters were excommunicated from the more convenient Red Square because of an event more interesting to the people in charge: an event congratulating women on March 8, International Women’s Day.
But officials accidentally provided the TV channels and photographers with a luxurious picture. While Red Square is dominated by a three-meter-high, wretched green, bird dropping-bespattered statue of Lenin, the people who gathered on Peter’s Square got visual backing from the Vyborg Castle. The 700-year-old hulk gloomily complemented any shot.
At 2:30 p.m., half an hour before the event, there were almost no protesters on Peter’s Square. Fifty people or so, including policemen, journalists, and a German shepherd, allegedly there to sniff out explosives, dilly-dallied on the pavement. At a quarter to three, one individual in uniform shouted to another, “Close it up!” and people could no longer enter the square from just anywhere. New arrivals were admitted onto the square at a couple of points, and each was searched for prohibited items.
“That’s what our people are like: keen to complain, but when it’s time to act, no one’s in sight. I got a bill for 11,600 rubles, and my monthly pension is 8,000. Two of my children are registered in my flat, so I can’t count on a subsidy. Soon they’ll be bringing us bills for 20,000 rubles. They’ll weep a bit and the chew the fat a bit over it, but that will be the end of it,” muttered an old women in a bright green jacket. She told us all her neighbors agreed with her, but had not supported her with their feet.
In the following eight minutes, the situation changed dramatically. As soon as we turned our backs, the center of the square filled up with people. The bulk were residents of various ages, and journalists learned that among them there were activists even from Svetogorsk. There were no officials in sight, except for Alexander Lysov, head of the district’s internal policies committee (not to be confused with the head of the district council of deputies), who was spotted by locals. Dmitry Solovyov, a LDPR deputy in the regional legislative assembly, stood in the corner.
Activist Nadezhda Budarina, who had applied to hold the rally along with her spouse Alexei Kuzmin, moderated the event. At the very beginning of her speech, your correspondent hesitated as to which side she was on, because Budarina quoted our publication for some reason.
“In one of its articles, 47News wrote, ‘An unorganized mob, cut to the quick by an attempt to pinch kopecks from their purses, plans to take to the square.’ Let’s show 47News that Vyborgians are not just a mob, but citizens voicing their own stance,” said Budarina from a makeshift podium set up on the porch of a building facing the square.
Your correspondent had to stay in the middle: not standing with the mob, but not with the organizers, either.
Around this point it was possible to count at least five hundred protesters, a third of the fifteen hundred attendees officially slated to attend. But people kept arriving from the castle, walking over Castle Bridge. Standing at a certain angle, one might have thought the castle was spewing them out.
The number was a subjective calculation on your correspondent’s part. Anyone who is interested can make their own conclusion about the number of attendees by looking at the photos and videos featured in this article.
Budarina’s speech was not chockablock with catchy quotations.
First of all, she reminded Gennady Orlov, head of the Vyborg District, of the words he had said (again, as quoted on our website) about the possible political bias of the protesters.
“Yes, we’re politically biased. We’re biased by our unwillingness to pay the bills of a dubious business and the Property and Utilities Management Company, which sends us the bills, said Budarina.
People stood silently. Or rather, they expressed neither agreement nor displeasure with what they heard. In the crowd, you could see signs emblazoned with slogans such as “Stop robbing your own people,” “It’s time to take power into our own hands,” “We’re for low prices,” “A deferral is a spit in the face,” and “I’m poor and hungry.”
But there were no party symbols.
According to Budarina, the district prosecutor had thrown up his hands and could not do anything with the Property and Utilities Management Company. Sergei Kuzmin, chair of the housing oversight committee, “brazenly talks about the absence of violations,” while Leningrad Region Governor Alexander Drozdenko has “set his mind at rest by explaining that it was not the rates for heating that were so expensive, but the payments system that was not transparent.”
“[Drozdenko] only gave a recommendation to explain to citizens why the prices are what they are. It transpires that an informed citizen is calmer than one with a full belly,” said Budarina, eliciting a first rumble of applause on the square.
“They are forcing us to live on loans,” Budarina claimed at another point, garnering another portion of support from the crowd.
“The governor argues what is happening in the Vyborg District is a systems error, but in none of his statements has he ordered anyone to get to the bottom of the legal aspects of the situation,” said Budarina, again setting off an energetic round of clapping.
The main hero of the day was neither the governor nor even the housing and utilities bloc in the government as such, of course. Over the past three weeks, so much has been written and said about high payments that demands to lower them already sound mundane, and it is difficult to find anything new to say about the conflict between society and officialdom over this issue.
The revolutionary nature of the moment was felt when Vyborg city councilman Alexander Petrov was mentioned. Petrov is considered the city’s unofficial boss, and any mention of his surname on Peter’s Square had a fascinatingly symbolic tinge to it.
Activist Budarina quoted our publication for a third time, reminding the crowd that 78% of the Property and Utilities Management Company belongs to Svetogorsk city councilman Sergei Isayev, considered a close associate of Petrov’s.
Here we should note the speaker’s inaccuracy, for, as 47News has written, according to the Unified State Register of Legal Entities, the Property and Utilities Management Company is wholly own by the government of the Vyborg District.
The crowd roared “Oooooh!” at this point.
Petrov was read the riot act on Sunday.
A woman in a purple jacket, also an activist, whose surname was Alexandrova, recalled that Petrov had been in power for more than ten years.
“Where does the money go? It has been going to Petrov for ten years, but the people have been starving. We are hostages of an executioner, our administration. We have been enslaved by criminals,” Alexandrova pontificated.
A minute later, she encroached, it would have seemed, on the holy of holies. No, not Vyborg Castle, but Formula One driver Vitaly Petrov, Alexander Petrov’s son.
“No other town in Leningrad Region could afford Formula One, but we could. Who paid for little Vitaly Petrov to race in the championships? We paid,” said Alexandrova.
People applauded constrainedly, but with a timidity that could instantly turn into desperation.
Speakers called for the clock to be wound back eleven years and for the emergence of the Property and Utilities Management Company as such to be investigated. In particular, had the tire to real estate worth sixty million rubles been legally transferred to the company? According to the speakers, in 2005, the district administration had illegally handed over property to the company’s management and had also turned the monopolist into an energy supplier without conducting a proper bid.
The only person who could compete with Petrov in terms of the number of times he was mentioned on Peter’s Square on Sunday was, of course, Konstantin Patrayev, head of the Vyborg District until 2012, and first deputy governor of Leningrad Region until November 2015.
“Sometimes you can see him on TV next our Governor Alexander Drozdenko. It was Patrayev who transferred the property. He signed the decree to put our property in this company,” pontificated activist Alexandrova, drawing a little support from the crowd.
Apparently, Patrayev has become a symbol of the regime in Vyborg, since activists could not get through this rally without mentioning him. And yet in 2005 he was not yet in charge of the district (then headed by Georgy Poryadin): he took office only in 2006. And if it is possible to see him on TV, then probably on specialized programs.
Perhaps it is not so much a matter of factual errors as it is the unconscious desire of any people to have a strong, charismatic leader. Patrayev certainly was such a leader for Vyborg, but Georgy Orlov has obviously not become one. Maybe it has something to do with the fact Patrayev’s image has already acquired immortality, just has happened with Count Dracula in back in his day.
The next forty minutes of the event were boring for laymen.
Nikolai Rachinsky, ex-chair of the Vyborg City Executive Committee and now an old-age pensioner, repeated much of what he had said at a meeting of residents and officials at the local Palace of Culture about illegal tariffs and the fact residents pay for investments: so the authorities were wrong to credit themselves with this. A women from Primorsk discussed the problems of registering the town’s property. A man in a green jacket recalled how clean the streets had been in the Soviet Union.
Around half past five, Budarina read out the rally’s draft resolution.
Those assembled noted “the dangerous and catastrophic system in housing and utilities in the Vyborg District.” They believe that “the local authorities, instead of supporting the people, have made no efforts to improve social conditions and equity in the city and district,” that “the rates for resources, as set by the Leningrad Region Rates Committee for the Property and Utilities Management Company are illegal and baseless,” that “provision of housing and utilities services is not in compliance with the Housing Code,” and that the “residential housing stock has been brought to a critical condition.”
In this regard, they demanded that checks be carried out on the legality of the creation of Property and Utilities Management Company, the legality and grounds for the rates set for it, and on its licensing.
The most important point came at the end of the resolution.
“We voice our total and profound lack of confidence and demand the resignation of the heads of the Vyborg District and its council members in connection with their loss of our trust. If our demands are not met, we will hold another, more heavily attended rally whose resolution will be, ‘We demand a personal meeting with President Vladimir Putin.'”
When the part of the resolution calling for the resignations of Gennady Orlov and Alexander Lysov was read out, the protesters repeatedly applauded and shouted “Hurrah!”
Seven minutes or so later, the square was nearly deserted.
The resolution will be dispatched to many officials, including Governor Drozdenko.
By the way, such things never happened under Patrayev.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo and videos courtesy of 47News. Thanks to Comrade SY for the heads-up.