How the Partisans of Suna Have Spooked Karelian Officials
Valery Potashov Bilberry (Muistoi.ru)
February 7, 2017
It seems the Presidential Human Rights Council’s visit to Karelia, scheduled for February 8, has frightened the republic’s authorities so much that they have made every possible effort, if not to disrupt the council members’ meeting with the defenders of Suna Forest, who for several years running have been trying to assert their constitutional right to a healthy environment, then, at least, to discredit their better-known activists. Several days before the HRC’s on-site meeting, Karelian news websites loyal to the republic’s leadership published articles, written under pseudonyms, meant to persuade the council members that the conflict over Suna Forest had been “sparked” not by the pensioners from the village of Suna, who are opposed to clear-cutting to make way for a sand and gravel quarry in a forest where villagers have traditionally harvested mushrooms, berries, and medicinal herbs. And during a February 6 meeting with members of the Karelian Legislative Assembly, Alexander Hudilainen, head of the republic, stated outright it was not the village’s pensioners who were standing watch in the forest in winter, but young people whom someone had supposedly “stimulated.”
Actually, we could expect nothing else from the current governor of Karelia. Several years ago, when a grassroots campaign calling for his resignation kicked off in the republic, Mr. Hudilainen saw the machinations of “foreign special services” in the mass protests of the Karelian people. However, when a resident of the town of Kondopoga phoned the governor live on Russian Public Television (OTR) and asked him what solution he saw to the issue of Suna Forest, Hudilainen promised to “sort out” the situation.
“We will not allow the environment and the residents to be hurt,” the head of Karelia told the entire country.
In the intervening two and a half months, however, neither Mr. Hudilainen nor anyone from his inner circle has found the time to visit the Suna Forest and see for themselves who exactly is standing watc in the minus thirty degree cold in a tent to stop the clear-cutting of a forest the village’s old-timers call their “provider” and “papa forest.” Moreover, when it transpired that members of the Presidential Human Rights Council planned to meet with the defenders of Suna Forest, Karelian officials attempted to move the meeting to the administration building of the Jänišpuoli Rural Settlement, which includes the village of Suna. But the so-called partisans of Suna insisted council members come to the forest and see what the village’s pensioners have been defending.
“Why should we meet in the administration building? We have been standing vigil in the forest for over six months, in the rain and the frost, and we will stay here until the bitter end,” said pensioner Tatyana Romakhina, one of Suna Forest’s most vigorous defenders.
Romakhina also told Bilberry that the day before she had got a call from the Kondopoga District police department, and a man who identified himself as Captain Viktor Korshakov had cautioned the old-age pensioner against unauthorized protest actions during the visit by the Presidential Human Rights Council. Romakhina regarded the phone call as yet another attempt to put pressure on the defenders of Suna Forest, noting the partisans of Suna had long been ready for anything.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up
Residents of the Village of Suna Address President Vladimir Putin (October 2016)
“Have you heard they want to merge the Russian National Library with the Lenin Library in Moscow?” Boris Kolonitsky, a senior researcher at the St. Petersburg Institute of History (Russian Academy of Sciences) asked passerby.
Most bystanders heard about these developments for the first time. But after a short briefing, passersby agreed it would be wrong to merge one of the country’s most important academic and cultural institutions.
“It is not so much the library, St. Isaac’s or anything else that causes people to protest, as it is the fact that no one reckons with them,” Viktor Voronkov, director of the Centre for Independent Social Reseach, explained to Novaya Gazeta. “Why is everything being centralized? To make it was easier to control. The entire country is being formed up into a [power] vertical, and it is the same way in every field.”
“It matters that people from the outside, people who don’t work at the library but understand its value, speak out,” said journalist Daniil Kotsiubinsky, who organized the rally.
“The people who came here today are not random, but one of a kind. Petersburgers should listen to them.”
As the rally was drawing to a close, the overall enthusiasm was disturbed by a police officer.
“We’ve got a solo picket here,” the guardian of order reported on his cell phone, asking the picketers to show him their papers.
“It’s an A4-sized placard,” the policeman reported. “What does it say? ‘A great city deserves a great library.'”
There are different means of combating inequality, including progressive taxation and raising unemployment benefits. But as soon as someone proposes a solution to the problem, he is immediately dubbed a populist.
This fate has befallen Alexei Navalny. In his presidential election program, he proposed setting a minimum wage of 25,000 rubles a month [approx. 400 euros at current exchange rates].
Is This Populism?
Let’s see how the structure of Russia’s GDP would change if this measure were implemented under current macroeconomic parameters. And let’s compare Russia’s GDP with the GDPs of the G20 countries.
GDP is the market value of all goods sold and services rendered in the country during the year. Costs are always someone’s income, so GDP can be calculated not only in terms of consumption, investment, government expenditures, and net exports but also in terms of income.
STRUCTURE OF RUSSIAN GDP IN TERMS OF INCOME IN % (PER ROSSTAT)
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT
Compensation of employees, including wages and mixed income not captured by direct statistical methods
Net taxes on manufacturing and imports
Gross economic profit and gross mixed income
There are three types of income:
Compensation of employees, includes expenditures on insurance and pensions.
Net taxes on production and imports. Essentially, this is revenue from the extraction of natural resources and their subsequent import abroad.
Business income: company profits, capital gains, incomes of individual entrepreneurs.
The table shows that business income is nearly equal to the income of all employees.
Indirect taxes (e.g., income tax and VAT) are not included in GDP in order to avoid duplication, since they are based on the same profits and wages.
This is what average income distribution looks like in the G20 countries:
The labor share in Russia is 6–7% lower than the average for the G20 countries. The reason for the difference is the weakness of democracy and civic institutions in Russia. Election results do not depend on the opinion of the populace, trade unions are weak, and protests against social policy are far and few between. So it makes no sense to redistribute incomes to benefit employees.
How Much Would We Spend?
72,323,000 people are employed in Russia. We have to subtract entrepreneurs [i.e., the self-employed] from this figure. According to the Unified State Register of Individual Entrepreneurs (EGRIP), they amount to approximately 3.5 million people. We also have to subtract those people who work part-time: according to Rosstat, there are around one million such people, if we discount those involved in small business. So the upper limit of full-time employees in Russia is 67,820,000 people. Within this group, 50.3% earn less than 25,000 rubles a month.
However, 1.4% of employees earn between 5,000 and 5,000 rubles a month, and 20.9%, between 17,000 and 25,000 rubles a month. Another 50 percent of employees receive an average monthly wage of 15,329 rubles [approx. 240 euros].
Accordingly, the poorest wage earners would benefit most of all from the introduction of a mandatory minimum wage. On average, every employee currently earning less than 25,000 rubles a month would be paid an additional 9,671 rubles (i.e., 25,000 rubles – 15,329 rubles = 9,671 rubles ).
We would thus have to reallocate almost 3.96 trillion rubles annually: 9,671 rubles (the average pay rise) x 67,820,000 (the number of employees) x 50.3% (the share of those currently earning less than 25,000 rubles a month) x 12 (months) ≈ 3.96 trillion rubles.
Let us add in insurance premiums and pension contributions, which amount to 30.2%. The overall total would be around 5.15 trillion rubles (3.96 trillion x 1.302).
Russia’s GDP in 2015 was 83.23 trillion rubles. If we reallocate 5.15 trillion rubles from profits to wages, we arrive at the following ratio.
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT
83.233 trillion rubles
Compensation of employees
37.471 trillion rubles
42.621 trillion rubles
Net taxes on manufacturing and imports
9.272 trillion rubles
9.272 trillion rubles
Gross economic profit and gross mixed income
36.489 trillion rubles
31.339 trillion rubles
In the resulting structure, the share of labor income is slightly higher than the average figure among the G20 countries.
Obviously, many people would lose their jobs after a minimum wage of this kind was introduced, primarily those people who dig pits with a shovel where an excavator should be doing the work. These jobs are safe nowadays only because you can pay people almost nothing in Russia.
In turn, employers would seek to maintain profits by increasing prices for finished products. In aggregate, these effects would shape an economy typical of developed countries.
What Do We Risk?
Many people fear inflation. Let’s evaluate the risks. To introduce a mandatory minimum wage of 25,000 rubles a month, according to the structure indicated above, we would have to increase wage costs by 13.7%. The share of labor costs in the economy is 45%. Accordingly, to cover the increased costs, the price of finished products would have to be increased by 6.165% (13.7% x 45% = 6.165%). That would be the upper limit of possible inflation.
In reality, however, a rise in prices decreases consumption and forces prices to creep downwards. In addition, unemployment and inflation are inversely proportional to one another, meaning the higher the unemployment rate, the lower the rate of inflation.
Additional inflation would be two or three percent, and for the most part it would be spread out over the whole of society, meaning that people who earn a lot would forfeit this percentage of income, while the incomes of the poorest workers would increase significantly.
Of course, such a drastic rise in wages is a rather radical measure, given that the minimum wage is currently even below the subsistence level, and it is bound up with a variety of social benefits that would also automatically increase. But the tenor of the reform is absolutely correct and corresponds to successful examples in world practice.
The introduction of a statutory minimum wages in Germany has lead neither to inflation nor unemployment. In the US, increases in the minimum wage have increased the salaries of low-paid workers while maintaining employment.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Alexei Gaskarov for the heads-up. For another take on the Russian economy’s performance and the figures provided by Rosstat, see yesterday’s featured post, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics,” a translation of an op-ed piece by liberal economist Sergei Aleksashenko.
Instrument Failure: Why It Is Hard to Trust Rosstat’s Data on the Recession’s End
Sergei Aleksashenko RBC
February 6, 2017
Over the last year, Rosstat has ceased publishing a number of important indicators for judging the economy’s real performance.
The other day, Rosstat published its updated assessment of the Russian economy’s performance over the past two years. Strictly speaking, there is nothing surprising about the fact that Russia’s official statistics agency amends its previously published assessments. It happens constantly in other countries, too. The fact is that the initial assessments, which are released a month or a month and a half after the the end of the latest quarter, are derived from on-the-spot information that is subsequently corrected.
A Rubik’s Cube
But what is really surprising is that, according to the updated view of Rosstat’s statisticians, the economy’s performance over the last two years was significantly better than had been thought. Rosstat now claims that, in 2015, Russia’s GDP decreased only by 2.8%, rather than 3.7%, as indicated in earlier assessments, and that 2016 basically saw no decrease whatsoever. This new take has been a surprise to everyone, including the Economic Development Ministry, whose experts have said they don’t understand why Rosstat has so radically revised its own assessments. They have been seconded by experts at Vnesheconombank (VEB), which nowadays employs a large team of macroeconomists led by ex-deputy economics minister Andrei Klepach. Rosstat’s assessement has also been a surprise to the prime minister and president, who have expressed no joy the economy had been doing much better than they thought only a couple of weeks ago.
As in many other cases, the different indicators in GDP figures do not exist in isolation from one another. They are closely linked, and it is almost never possible to change one of them without changing another. In very simple terms, it looks like this. GDP is the sum of the added value produced in different sectors of the economy, such as industrial manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, finance, etc. If the figures for manufacturing have suddenly improved or deteriorated, then, with all other things being equal, the figures for GDP should change just as much. But in addition to a manufacturing element in GDP, there is an end use element in GDP, which shows the level of demand for what the economy produces. In this case, the factors of demand are the populace, the state sector, nonprofit organizations, accumulation (investment and inventories), and net export (the difference between exports and imports). If the figures for manufacturing have deteriorated, not only should the total amount of GDP change but one of the components of demand should change as well, meaning we should be able to understand not only what manufacturing sector produced more added value but also who paid for it.
But that is not all. There is a third component of GDP, sources of income: added value divided by household income, net taxes (on manufacturing and imports), the gross operating surplus, and mixed income. That is, after we have determined from GDP figures for manufacturing who has produced more, and from figures for use who has bought what has been produced, the figures on sources of income tell us who earned money from this. It is a kind of Rubik’s Cube, which has only one correct (objective) combination. We see it clearly at once, just as see clearly when the cube has not been put together correctly.
The Quarterly Maze
There are other subtleties in GDP figures. For example, one of the big problems is calculating GDP in real terms, that is, adjusting it for inflation. Rosstat publishes deflators for individual sectors and, naturally, when they are used with sector-specific nominal data, the grand total should converge. So everyone has a good sense of the state of the economy, Rosstat should assess each quarter’s GDP performance in terms of the previous quarter. We are well aware that the first quarter, in which half of the month of January is taken up by holidays, and cold weather puts a halt to many kinds of work, bears no resemblance to the third quarter, when the weather is warm and the harvest is underway in the countryside. Nor does it bear any resemblance to the fourth quarter, when builders are trying to bring on line as many completed (or almost completed) buildings as possible, and the government spends at least twice as much money from the budget as in other months. When all these things are factored out, we arrive at the most important indicator, which tells us how things stood in the previous quarter.
Don’t laugh, but Rosstat has not published this figure since April 2016. At the recent Gaidar Forum, I needled one of the heads of Rosstat to find out why this had been happening. For fifteen minutes, he tried to persuade me I had simply not been able to locate the right table on his agency’s website. Rosstat’s website leaves a lot to be desired, of course. To fish out the right information, you sometimes have to spend an hour or two figuring out the poorly organized databases. In this case, however, I insisted the information was simply not there. A couple of days later, I received a letter from Rosstat saying that, indeed, Rosstat did not calculate this figure and did not know when it would be doing so again.
That alone is enough to take Rosstat’s published data about the Russian economy’s improved performance at less than face value. If we add to this the fact that Rosstat stopped publishing monthly investment figures in the spring of last year, and announced in November that revised figures for the manufacturing sector’s performance (figures that would, of course, be revised upwards) would be published only in the spring, it becomes obvious that Russia’s official statisticans cannot actually put the Rubik’s Cube together, and they don’t really know what is going on with the Russian economy. Meaning that all the instruments that should be telling us where the ship of our economy is sailing and how fast it is sailing there have failed.
The Secret GDP
I don’t want to argue the problem I want to touch on in my conclusion prevents Rosstat from adding everything up correctly. I suspect there are many more problems, and I fear that even the heads of Rosstat are not aware of all of them. But we cannot avoid talking about the fact that vast amounts of data relating to the work of the military-industrial complex and the security agencies are classified.
In fact, if this secrecy keeps anyone from understanding anything, it is the Russian authorities and Russian society. When it receives classified information, Rosstat has to hide it amidst its tables in such a way that not a single spy will guess it is there. To do this, Rosstat inevitably distorts the performance indicators for different sectors, adding something here, and trimming something there. But since hiding the truth from spies is much more important than telling the truth to Russian society, don’t shoot the piano player, as they say, for the poorly assembled Rubik’s Cube. He is playing as well as he can.
If you think about it, it is obvious the financial figures for the military-industrial complex’s performance are no state secret. The technical specs of weapons, the technology used to produce them, and, maybe, their locations can be secrets, but not the amount of money spent on their procurement (the classified section of the budget) or the amount of added value generated by the military-industrial complex.
I am confident that under the current Russian president we should not expect any progress in declassifying these figures. That was not what he was taught at the Higher School of the KGB. Since that is so, we are unlikely to find out in the coming years what is up with the Russian economy.
On February 7, 1952, the closed trial of members of a Moscow young people’s literary club was held in Moscow. They were accused of disseminating leaflets, produced on a hectograph, about the undemocratic Soviet electoral system. A total of sixteen schoolchildren and university students stood as defendants in the case. They were charged with treason and planning the murder of [Politburo member and Stalin henchman Georgy] Malenkov. The group’s three organizers were sentenced to death. Three other members were sentenced to ten years in the camps, while the remaining ten members were sentenced to twenty-five years in the camps. In addition, Susanna Pechuro was accused of acting as a liaison between youth organizations and Jewish Zionist organizations.
At the end of World War II and shortly after, Malenkov implemented Stalin’s plan to destroy all political and cultural competition from Leningrad, the former capital of Russia, in order to concentrate all power in Moscow. Leningrad and its leaders earned immense respect and popular support due to winning the heroic Siege of Leningrad. Both Stalin and Malenkov expressed their hatred to anyone born and educated in Leningrad, so they organized and led the attack on the Leningrad elite. Beria and Malenkov together with Abakumov organized massive executions of their rivals in the Leningrad Affair where all leaders of Leningrad and Zhdanov’s allies were killed, and thousands more were locked up in Gulag labour camps upon Stalin’s approval. Malenkov personally ordered the destruction of the Museum of the Siege of Leningrad and declared the 900-day-long defense of Leningrad “a myth designed by traitors trying to diminish the greatness of comrade Stalin.” Simultaneously, Malenkov replaced all communist party and administrative leadership in Leningrad [with] provincial communists loyal to Stalin.
Susanna Solomonovna Pechuro (22 July 1933, Moscow—1 January 2014, Moscow) was Soviet dissident, political prisoner, and historian.
In 1950, while still a schoolgirl, she became involved in the underground youth organization Union of Struggle for the Revolution (SDR), formed by several 16- and 17-year-olds who had met in a literary club at the Moscow Young Pioneers House. The SDR tasked itself with returning Soviet society and the Soviet state to Leninist principles of organization, which, in their opinion, had been perverted by Stalin’s Bonapartist regime.
On January 18, 1951, Pechuro was arrested along with the organization’s other members. On February 13, 1952, the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court sentenced Pechuro to 25 years in labor camps on charges of treason and planning the murder of Georgy Malenkov[.] The organization’s three leaders, Boris Slutsky (born 1932), Vladlen Furman (born 1932), and Yevgeny Gurevich (born 1931) were shot.
Pechuro served her sentence in various Gulag camps, including camps in Inta, Abez, and Potma. In 1956, the group’s case was reexamined. Pechuro’s sentence was reduced to five years and she was released.
Although she passed the entrance exams to Moscow State University’s history department, she was not enrolled. She graduated from the Moscow State Historical Archives Institute.
At the Historical Archives Institute, Pechuro researched the purges during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Her work was published in the Proceedings of the Moscow State Historical Archives Institute. In 1961, she successfully defended her thesis, “The Decree Books as a Source on the History of Ivan the Terrible’s Zemshchina,” with Alexander Zimin as her advisor.
Pechuro worked in the Archive of Ancient Documents at the Institute for African Studies.
She was rehabilitated only on July 18, 1989, by the Plenum of the USSR Supreme Court.
The Union of Struggle for the Revolution (SDR) was a radical left-wing anti-Stalinist underground youth organization that existed between 1950 and 1951.
The Union of Struggle for the Revolution (SDR) was organized in Moscow by university students Boris Slutsky, Yevgeny Gurevich, and Vladlen Furman in 1950. The organization drafted a program and manifesto that spoke of socialism’s degeneration into state capitalism, described the Stalinist regime as Bonapartist, and noted the lack of civil liberties, the farcical elections, the imperial nature of [Soviet] foreign policy, and the disastrous state of agriculture. The members of the organization reproduced the documents on a hectograph.
The members of the organization were arrested by the MGB in January and February 1951.
On February 13, 1952, the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court issued a verdict in the case. The verdict stated that a group of Jewish nationalists had established a treacherous terrorist organization whose members had tasked themselves with overthrowing the current Soviet regime by means of an armed uprising and terrorist acts against the leaders of the Soviet government and Communist Party. The only SDR member who did not plead guilty was Maya Ulanovskaya. Slutsky, Gurevich, and Furman were sentenced to death. Ten members of the organization were sentenced to 25 years in prison, and three more, to 10 years. The three leaders of the SDR were shot on March 26, 1952, and their ashes were buried at Donskoe Cemetery. The surviving defendants were released from the camps after a retrial in 1956. In 1989, all the defendants in the case, some posthumously, were rehabilitated “for lack of evidence of a crime.”
Sentenced to death: Yevgeny Gurevich (born 1931) Boris Slutsky (born 1932) Vladlen Furman (born 1931)
Sentenced to 10 years in prison: Tamara Lazarevna (born 1932) Galina Smirnova (born 1931) Nina Uflyand (born 1934)
Sentenced to 25 years in prison: Irena Arginskaya (born 1932) Ida Vinnikova (born 1931) Felix Voin (born 1931) Grigory Mazur (born 1931) Vladimir Melnikov (born 1932) Yekaterina Panfilova (born 1932) Susanna Pechuro (born 1933) Alla Reif (born 1931) Maya Ulanovskaya (born 1932) Inna Elgisser (born 1930)
In 1949, after graduating from high school, Ulanovskaya enrolled in the Moscow Food Industry Institute. There she joined the underground anti-Stalinist youth organization Union of Struggle for the Revolution (SDR).
On February 7, 1951, Ulanovskaya was arrested by the MGB. On February 13, 1952, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison. She served her sentence in Ozerlag.
In February 1956, the case was reviewed, Ulanovskaya’s sentence was reduced to five years, and she and her accomplices were released under an amnesty.
The same year, she married Anatoly Yakobson. In 1959, she gave birth to a son, who later became a historian, journalist, and politician.
In 1973, she emigrated with her husband and son to Israel. In 1974, she divorced her husband.
Ulanovskaya worked at the National Library in Jerusalem. She has translated several books from English (including books by Arthur Koestler), Hebrew, and Yiddish. She and her mother co-authored a memoir entitled The Story of One Family, published in the US in 1982 and later reprinted in Russia. She is author of the book Freedom and Dogma: The Life and Work of Arthur Koestler (Jerusalem Publishing Center, 1996).
Hunger Strike, Strike, Pressure on Workers: Protest by Workers at Moscow Restaurant Chain Grows Novoprof
February 3, 2017
Workers at the fastfood chain Pizzeria (formerly known as Sbarro) who have not been paid continued their hunger strike for the third day in a restaurant on Krasnoprudnaya Street in Moscow. All the tricks played by the “strange” management to make the workers flinch and stop their protest have failed.
Other restaurants in the chain have joined the protest of their comrades on Krasnoprudnaya. Workers at Pizzeria in the Vegas Shopping Center on Kashirka have not worked for three days since joining the trade union. Novoprof has taken calls from a number of other restaurants in the chain, as well as from restaurants in the Yolki-Palki chain.
The workers are desperate because they do not know how to get their hard-earned money. They have been kicked out of rented flats and have no way to pay back their debts, and there is no one and nowhere they can borrow any more money.
Instead of doing everything they can to pay the money they owe their workers, the real employers have been hiding behind “strange” managers. Practically speaking, there is no one with whom workers can negotiate. Trade union members suspect the Yelashvili brothers (Murab and Georgy) are still the actual proprietors of the chains. Instead of solving the problems that have arisen at the restaurants, management has attempted to divide workers by paying out tiny sums on their bankcards, but not everyone’s. They have been trying to throw them a bone, as it were, thus making the workers shut up and return to work. There have also been attempts to mentally coerce the workers who are on hunger strike.
We have found out that the former Sbarro, Yolki-Palki, YamKee, and other chains have been re-registered as new legal entities with names like Italian Eatery, Ltd., One-Stop Service, Ltd., and so on. These legal entities have different executive directors, but surprisingly they have the same official address. They do not have their own websites. Similarly, we have been unable to find a website for Rus RST Holding Company, which, allegedly, had taken over management of the restaurants from the Yelashvili-owned G.M.R. Planet of Hospitality.*
Novoprof will continue to support the protesting workers with all their their might, uniting them in the fight for their hard-earned money.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks again toComradeIvan Ovsyannikov for the heads-up. Novoprof is short for the New Trade Unions Interregional Trade Union. It was founded in 2011 by brewers from the Baltica plant in Rostov-on-Don, and printers and heating plant workers in Petersburg. Photos courtesy of Ivan Ovsyannikov and Novoprof
* Merab Yelashvili
Born in the Georgian village of Kulashi in 1974 to the family of a Georgian Jewish community leader. At the age of 19, he came to conquer Moscow, where, with his brother Georgy Yelashvili and brother-in-law Roman Shamilashvili, he founded GMR, which distributes products by leading European producers, in particular, Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs. He then moved into real estate. In 1997, he persuaded American franchisors to give him a master franchising agreement to open Sbarro pizzerias in Russia. Since 2007, he has been president of the company G.M.R. Planet of Hospitality.
In September 2008, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, he and his relatives opened a Sephardic synagogue in the Triumph Palace residential complex in the north of Moscow. In April 2016, Yelashvili set tongues wagging when he organized the wedding of his eldest daughter Anna in Tel Aviv. The two thousand guests who attended the festivities were entertained by Nikolay Baskov,Soso Pavliashvili, and American rapper Ryan Leslie. A year earlier, Merab’s brother and business partner Georgy had celebrated the wedding of his son in the Moscow Manege, inviting over one and a half thousand people.
Dynamo Stadium Builders Getting the Round Around MPRA
February 6, 2017
Workers at StroyProf, Ltd. (aka SMP, Ltd.) have been on strike since January 9. The firm has done electrical work in the Moscow subway, Dynamo Stadium, and other facilities. StroyProf is yet another example of the fraud thriving in the Moscow construction industry.
Like workers at other construction companies such as SMU-77, Ingeocom, and Horizon, workers at StroyProf have been hoodwinked. Instead of the 30,000 to 40,000 rubles a month they were promised, they have been issued 500 to 2,500 rubles from time to time for food and travel expenses. This has been going on since November 8, 2016. In early January, StroyProf owed different workers between 30,000 and 60,000 rubles.
StroyProf skimps altogether on working conditions and occupational safety.
“One day, the foreman tried to restrict our lunch break to ten minutes. We replied we wouldn’t be eating lunch for an hour. It wouldn’t be ten minutes, either, but as long as we needed. […] On November 14, we went to work at Dynamo Stadium. We were installing ducts. On the first day, we expected the uniforms and shoes required for safety. We were only offered the uniforms and shoes of workers who had the day off. We turned them down, since that doesn’t meet sanitary requirements,” the workers recalled.
In addition, management attempted to force the electricians to work alone on jobs that, according to work safety rules, can be done only by two workers.
On January 9, the workforce downed tools. The strikers contacted the MPRA trade union that had already been coordinating the campaign mounted by workers at SMU-77 and Horizon. On February 9, Horizon and StroyProf workers plan to pay a collective visit to the Moscow office of the Investigative Committee.
The Investigative Committee has become actively involved in the search for Anzor Khubuluri, head of SMU-77, which owes back wages to subway construction workers. Criminal charges have been filed.
The situation with Horizon’s workers, who had been working without contracts, is not as hopeful. The company has officially claimed the workers demanding back pay did not work for them, but off the record they have offered to pay back part of their debt, using the Tajik Migrant Workers movement as mediators.
StroyProf management has also been trying to avoid accountability for their actions. They have threatened workers they will be charged with extortion for demanding payment of wages. However, the example of the subway construction workers, who with MPRA’s help have achieved an appropriate response from law enforcement agencies, has given hope to other groups of hoodwinked workers.
Based on reporting from MPRA Moscow and Moscow Region
Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression, lying everywhere on the masses of the people, who are oppressed by eternal work for others, need and isolation. The helplessness of the exploited classes in their struggle with the exploiters just as inevitably generates faith in a better life beyond the grave as the helplessness of the savage in his struggle with nature produces faith in gods, devils, miracles, etc. To him who works and is poor all his life religion teaches passivity and patience in earthly life, consoling him with the hope of a heavenly reward. To those who live on the labor of others religion teaches benevolence in earthly life, offering them a very cheap justification for all their exploiting existence and selling tickets to heavenly happiness at a reduced price. Religion is opium for the people.
Milonov No Hindrance to Atheists
Svyatoslav Afonkin ZakS.Ru
February 5, 2017
The ninety-ninth anniversary of the 1918 Bolshevik decree separating church and state was marked by a small group of ardent leftists protesting the current clericalization of the Russian state and Russian society. On February 5, over a hundred people attended a picket on Chernyshevsky Square in southern Petersburg. For two hours, they fiercely criticized both the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the relationship that has been built between the ROC and the Putin regime.
Members of various low-profile leftist movements gathered at the monument to Russian philosopher and revolutionary Nikolai Chernyshevsky. The protesters held the flags of the Rot Front, the United Communist Party, the Workers Revolutionary Communist Party, and Communists of Russia. Even truckers from the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) came to condemn the ROC’s increasing appetite for property. Members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, which holds seats in the municipal, regional and national parliaments, ignored the event, for which they were roundly condemned by their non-systemic counterparts on the podium.
For ten minutes, Ivan Lokh, leader of the Witnesses of Foucault’s Pendulum, an atheist community, fiercely and emotionally denounced the ROC’s desire to exterminate science and culture. He then quoted Chernyshevsky, whose monument was the focal point of the entire rally.
“Religion’s purpose is to inure the unfortunate and hungry to the notion they must perpetually be hungry and rejoice in their plight. That’s what religion is!” proclaimed the activist.
ROC leaders are themselves not inclined to the asceticism they popularize among the oppressed classes, and this can only indicate that the highest ranks of ROC clergymen do not believe in God, said Lokh.
“We see the indecent luxury in which ROC hierarchs live. They do not fear their own God. They don’t fear Him, because they know for certain He doesn’t exist. This is the most obvious proof He really doesn’t exist!” the activist shouted to the applause of the crowd.
During breaks between speakers, the rally’s organizers asked protesters to carefully observe those in attendance in order to weed out provocateurs. The event’s moderator explained to ZakS.Ru that anti-clerical rallies have frequently been visited by people wanting to disrupt them. In addition, MP Vitaly Milonov’s public promise to interfere with the picket had forced protesters to be vigilant.
Semyon Borzenko, a member of the city committee of the unregistered United Communist Party’s regional branch, thrilled the crowd when he called for abolishing the federal law on transferring property to the ROC, which has led to the destruction of numerous museums. Borzenko also said atheists should campaign for the adoption of two law bills, drafted by local municipal deputy Irina Komolova during the previous sitting of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. The first would protect the feelings of atheists, while the second would strip the ROC of its “totally unjustified tax breaks.” According to Borzenko, the “indecent luxury” mentioned by Ivan Lokh was a consequence of the fact the ROC did not pay taxes, unlike every other organization.
Nikolai Perov, leader of the regional branch of the Communists of Russia, focused his criticism on the “Zyuganovites,” who had welcomed the possible transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the ROC.
“It’s a crying shame that certain members of the communist movement, who sit in parliament, have retreated from the [Bolshevik] decree and Leninist principles. Shame on Zyuganov! Shame on [CPRF Petersburg Legislative Assembly member] Alexander Rassudov! Shame on [State Duma member and filmmaker] Vladimir Bortko! There’s not a single scientifically minded person left in the CPRF!” stated Perov.
Despite the concerns of organizers, the rally came off without any provocations or crackdowns on the part of law enforcement. Towards the end of the rally, human rights activist Dinar Idrisov (recently denounced by “soldier of Christ” and city parliament speaker Vyacheslav Makarov for insulting the feelings of believers) handed out pamphlets entitled “The Museum Belongs to the City.” Like a week ago, opponents of transferring St. Isaac’s to the ROC had their pictures taken, placards in hand, this time standing next to the monument to Nikolai Chernyshevsky.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy ofZakS.Ru
P.S. Thank God for the truly militant godless, Russian society’s only real bulwark against the militant godless masquerading as god-fearing soldiers of Christ for the tax breaks, luxurious lifestyle, and other perks that come from collaborating with the regime to befuddle and disempower ordinary people. The other bulwark against the maskers is the fact, of course, that the vast majority of Russians are de facto godless, whatever they might say about themselves when surveyed by FOM or some other all-seeing blind eye of the de facto atheist pollocracy. TRR
Petersburg Municipal Hospital and Clinic Construction Program on the Skids
Svetlana Zobova Delovoi Peterburg
February 3, 2017
Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko has botched ex-Governor Valentina Matviyenko’s ambitious program of building 32 healthcare facilities at a cost of upwards of 30 billion rubles. The city lacks a force that could consolidate physicians and builders to campaign against construction delays.
DP has audited all the municipal healthcare facilities that have been built, are under currently construction or are in the planning stages. The circumstances surrounding them are far from ideal. In each specific case, we can speak of certain objective causes as to why a particular clinic has not been completed or is not yet treating patients. But if we look at the issue as a whole, it becomes clear our city has no system for overseeing and managing the sector. Accountability is split between two committees whose specialists, to put it mildly, are not very happy with each other.
Both doctors and builders tell obscene jokes about each other behind each other’s backs and complain of their opponents’ extreme incompetence and their unwillingness to compromise. They cannot work together to finish nearly any of the projects. But no one is ready for a showdown that could reverse the situation and establish new, functioning rules of the game.
The few examples when new hospitals and clinics have been successfully opened either conceal sad stories of protracted construction delays or were overseen by federal officials, and the degree of oversight and accountability were thus on a completely different level. Aside from federal facilities, this study did not take into account facilities that merely underwent renovations, only those that were slated for complete makeovers or new facilities.
DP received quite detailed replies from the city’s Construction Committee and Healthcare Committee about the causes of the delays at dozens of facilities and the complications with bringing operating facilities online. However, there was no answer as to why these processes have been implemented so poorly, with so much anguish and pain.
To equip the city with the three dozen modern medical facilities it so badly needed, the Matviyenko administration allocated around 30 billion rubles. However, under the current administration, construction companies have been paid less than 10 billion rubles from the budget, completing only a few facilities in fits and starts. Our sources in the Health Committee say the sector’s underfunding has been due to delays in construction.
In some cases, the quality of their work has caught the eye of the prosecutor’s office, while in other cases, expensive medical equipment has been ruined due to mistakes and miscalculations. Deadline overruns have been ubiquitous. It would be wrong to say that the only cause has been poor work on the part of builders and designers. The city authorities have kept on awarding new contracts even to those contractors who have attempted to turn over blatantly shoddy facilities to doctors and brazenly lied.
DP discussed the problem with a dozen head physicians and their deputies, as well as well as contractors and city officials. We got the impression Petersburg has not become Russia’s northern healthcare capital less because of the economic crisis and a lack of financing, and more because of bureaucracy and the complete absence of a genuinely efficient system for managing municipal construction projects. In several instances, it is obvious that if city officials had done nothing at all, it would have been much better, as was the case, for example, with the closure of the maternity hospital on Vavilovykh Street.
When she departed from Petersburg, Valentina Matviyenko left a legacy of numerous ambitious construction projects, including healthcare facilities. She had planned for the construction or reconstruction of 32 medical facilities by 2016, including new hospital wings, outpatient clinics for children and adults, dentistry clinics, ambulance stations, and specialized early treatment and prevention centers (as per Petersburg Government Decree No. 149, dated 10 February 2011).
As of late 2016, city authorities had built and opened only six facilities on the list. Another four facilities have been built, but their directors, the Construction Committee, and contractors have been bogged down in fierce arguments as to the quality of the construction. The other projected facilities have either been frozen or not assigned a contractor, and their designs are now outdated.
Initially, Governor Poltavchenko seemed inclined to keep improving healthcare in Petersburg. In 2012, he added several dozen future facilities to Matviyenko’s list. Design and construction work on the facilities was to have been completed in 2013–2014.
For example, the new governor promised to rebuild the morgue at the Bureau of Forensic Medicine, design a hospice, build several antenatal clinics, design new wings for the Kashchenko Mental Hospital, and build a TB prevention and treatment clinic in Kolpino.
A little later, Matviyenko and Poltavchenko’s plans were drafted as a program for the healthcare sector. The document originally promised that city officials would arrange for the construction or reconstruction of 29 ambulance stations and medical facilities capable of taking in 36,000 patients a day by 2015.
In reality, the healthcare facilities construction program has been the most disastrous line item in the city’s targeted investment program for several years running. In 2016, none of the medical facilities under construction used 100% of the funds allocated to them in the budget. Certain facilities did not touch literally any of the funds allocated to them.
The prosecutor’s office and the Audit Chamber have highlighted construction delays. The city’s vice-governors for construction policy and Construction Committee chairs have come and gone, but federal officials are still asking the same questions.
At our request, the Construction Committee listed all the medical facilities that have been either built or constructed in the last ten years. According to the officials there, from 2009 to 2011, the three years before Poltavchenko took office, eleven major facilities were brought online. After he arrived in the governor’s office, from 2012 to 2016, another eleven facilities were completed, according to officials, although two are still closed, and the others opened considerably later than they were completed.
The city’s Health Committee provided us with different information. Officials there calculated that 28 facilities had been completed between 2006 and 2016, although Poltavchenko’s program had stipulated either renovating or building 63 facilities from scratch. The difference in figures is due to the fact that officials from the two committees used different timespans. In reality, both lists show outright that the city has got worse at building medical facilities since Poltavchenko’s team came on board.
As health professionals who were well versed in the issues told us, city officials would always ask contractors the same questions during regular on-site debriefings. Why is the facility not under construction? You’ve been working here for five years, but you’re still at stage one. How much of your advance have you gone through? Who produced such a bad design?
Subordinates would be reprimanded, and contractors would be fined and have their contracts torn up, but nothing would change. Construction completion dates would be postponed, and cost estimates would be increased.
By 2016, the list of construction projects had been greatly reduced. Currently, the target invested program lists 14 medical facilities, almost all of them projects from the Matviyenko period that have been subjected to protracted delays.
The construction sector professionals we surveyed estimated that, on average, one and half years are needed to design a large medical facility, while it would take another three years to build the facility. A small ambulance station could be built in a year. In Petersburg, however, actual times to completion are many times longer. It takes five to 15 years to build many facilities.
The Causes Are Plain to See
The Smolny believes that the virtual breakdown of its grand social policy plans has been due to insufficient funding. Thus, in 2017, Petersburg’s most renowned delay-plagued construction project, the Zenit Arena, gobbled up nearly a billion rubles. But this is fibbing, for, in reality, line items for financing the building of facilities that have obviously been abandoned were simply stricken from the budget, because no one was spending any money on them.
In addition, according to the city hall officials we talked to, careless contractors are to blame for construction delays and poorly designed projects, and for not calculating their risks. As you might guess, in this way of seeing the world, officials bear no blame for the fact they are surrounded by bunglers and swindlers.
But there is a more complex view of the issue. A source at one of the city’s largest hospitals told us that the ceremonial communiques and press releases issued by city officials belie the serious friction between the Construction Committee and the Healthcare Committee, as well as between the relevant vice-governors. For while hospitals and clinics are still under construction, the Construction Committee’s budget is replenished. They even purchase medical equipment. But when hospitals start treating patients, the money for that is allocated via the Healthcare Committee. This does not mean, of course, that the Construction Committee deliberately delays building projects. Of course, they want to get delay-plagued facilities off their hands as quickly as possible. But Construction Committee staffers bear no personal accountability for missed deadlines and the poor quality of construction.
A senior official, who has worked in the Healthcare Committee since the Matviyenko administration, says during the past four or five years he and Vice-Governor Olga Kazanskaya have had to wage a “quite serious fight” with the construction bloc in the Smolny. Describing the state of affairs in the Construction Committee, the official spoke of confusion and complained about the frequent change of leadership.
A telling example occurred when we asked Igor Albin, vice-governor for construction, to explain why the Botkin Infectious Diseases Hospital, whichas far back as 2015 he had publicly promised would soon reopen, was still not treating patients. However, he gave us no explanation, shifting the blame for the situation on Healthcare Committee staffers. In turn, they said it was the Construction Committee who was responsible for construction at the Botkin. Off the record [sic], they told us about a long list of defects and unfinished work to which contractors wanted doctors to turn a blind eye, making them sign off on the facility even though it was unfinished. Of course, a dispute like this could go on indefinitely until someone takes responsibility for the entire project.
Our source in the medical community, who spoke out about the construction community in a somewhat biased way, argued that no one except medical professionals had any interest in bringing facilities online. As a consequence, officials failed to make purchase requests for equipment, did not calculate the costs of logistics, and fined the medical facilities.
“There is way too much politicking and money at each stage. Everything is bureaucratized and corrupt in the extreme. What matters is that everything looks right on paper,” said our source.
He was surprised that, under Poltavchenko, the Construction Committee did not “tremble” for failing to execute the annual budget. Under Matviyenko, he claimed, failing to spend funds allocated under the yearly budget was considered an extremely grave offense for officials to commit.
Another senior medical administrator sees the root of the trouble not in corruption per se, but, rather, in the overall “muddle” and the fact that “the system doesn’t function.”
“Every staffer needs to know his function and the consequences that await him in case of failure. Step left, step right, and you can step on a land mine and blow up. Now, though, there is basically no accountability for mistakes, and no one feels personally to blame.”
The Construction Committee has no specific department or expert responsible for medical facilities. A personal curator is usually appointed to oversee each of them. A considerable part of the work is overseen by the Fund for Capital Construction and Reconstruction, which is controlled by the committee. Its longtime head was Andrei Molotkov. It was Molotkov who was criticized by Igor Albin for the numerous missed deadlines and unscrupulous contractors. Ultimately, in April 2016, Molotkov resigned his post, a job that is still vacant.
The Healthcare Committee employs one senior professional builder, Igor Gonchar, head of the Office for Medical Facilities Development. However, he deals with repairing and rebuilding the facilities his committee oversees. Since 2014, the Healthcare Committee has also been tasked with designing healthcare facilities. It was a seemingly reasonable step, meant to reduce the risk of drafting projects that were not suitable for physicians and had to be redone on the fly. In the last three years, however, the Healthcare Committee has not spent nearly 40% of the money allocated to it for design, i.e., 158 million of the 250 million rubles allocated in its budget for survey and design work.
Gonchar gave detailed answers to our questions, explaining that, out of eight planned facilities, the design work had been completed for six of them. Problems had arisen around a large project, estimated to cost 100 million rubles: new wings for Children’s Hospital No. 1. Due to the fact that, last year, changes were made to the law on historic preservation, the specs for facilities adjacent to historic Pozhelayev Park had to be redrafted. Similar difficulties have arisen with another problematic facility, the Dunes Children’s Rehabilitation Center. However, the difficulties having to do with historic preservation were in that case aggravated by the bankruptcy of the design subcontractor, Oboronmedstroy.
One of the most unpleasant consequences of delaying when medical facilities are brought on line is the premature purchase of expensive medical equipment. For when a senior official says a hospital or clinic is about to open, his underlings will willy-nilly have to purchase CT scanners and MRI machines. But then no one is responsible for the fact they have to spend several years in a warehouse, where they are not only of no use to patients but also run through their warranties and sometimes even are damaged due to improper storage conditions.
According to medical professionals, premature equipment purchases are also part of a cynical calculation by officials. They can report the city has already purchased everything a hospital in the midst of construction needs and demand its administrators move into a poorly constructed building.
“In my opinion, the people running the city are not very interested in healthcare, because it involves more political questions,” says Lev Averbakh, executive director of CORIS Assistance LLC (Saint Petersburg) [a private ambulance company]. “I think there no political will for it. No one says, ‘Let’s finish them!’ as with the stadium, for example. Besides, they have begun reducing the number of hospital beds available while changing the regulations. Under the new rules, not as many beds are needed in Petersburg as were required under the old rules.”
Another professional from the field of private medicine argues that Olga Kazanskaya, now the ex-vice-governor for social policy, and Healthcare Committee Chair Valery Kolabutin lack medical training.
Sergei Furmanchuk, co-founder of Hosser [a Petersburg-based company specializing in the design and construction of medical facilities], argues that problems arise when design work is done by people who have never done design work, and they do the construction work as well. He believes that each case has to be examined individually. However, it has to be acknowledged that having a lot of experience and even medical training, unfortunately, is no guarantee of impeccable work, as, for example, in the case of Rosstroyinvest and the Botkin Hospital, Petrokom or Oboronmedstroy, which is currently undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, abandoning several large healthcare facilities unfinished.
Translated by the Russian Reader
P.S. This article, its author, and Delovoy Peterburg obviously have a heavy axe to grind more against one faction of Petersburg city hall (still referred to as “the Smolny,” the headquarters of the Bolsheviks during the 1917 October Revolution). Normally, I would not translate and post this kind of potential journalistic hit job, although it does describe an urgent problem—the collapse of Russia’s post-socialist free healthcare system—more or less objectively, a problem I have touched on elsewhere in my translations of less dodgy printed matter.
But the author does signally fail to point out the role of Putin’s infamous “power vertical” in encouraging the lack of accountability among local officials, whether in Petersburg or Vladivostok.
Petersburg’s current governor, Georgy Poltavchenko, was first appointed outright by President Putin after the latter “upmoted” the city’s previous governor, Valentina Matviyenko, to the Federation Council, which she now chairs, after she had become deeply unpopular for, among other things, trying to ram Gazprom’s infamous Okhta Center skyscraper down the throat of Petersburgers, and flagrantly failing to clean snow from streets and rooftops during one particularly snowy winter, leading to massive residential property damage and a cityscape described by many locals as resembling what the city looked like during the 900-day WWII Nazi Siege.
Poltavchenko was later “freely” “re-elected” to the governorship in an election marked, as usual, by irregularities, running against a field of sock puppets that had been preemptively purged of any real competition.
From the get-go he has seemed more concerned with the matters spiritual and ecclesiastical than really running the city, which has looked especially dingy this winter, when it has become apparent that the previous street maintenance and cleaning system has collapsed altogether, possibly for a lack of poorly paid Central Asian migrant workers to keep it “affordable.”
Is is fair, though, to blame all local failings on the almighty power vertical? Probably not, and that is why I devote so much of this blog to Russians doing it for themselves at the grassroots, often against daunting odds and in the face of outright police repression. But their efforts won’t make a dent in all the issues they are tackling until the country becomes a real federation and power is devolved maximally to the regions, cities, towns, and neighorhoods.
In this light, it amounts to cynical mockery to repeatedly refer to President Putin as a “strong leader,” as the new Fascist Pig in the Poke did during his campaign and now after he has occupied the White Pride House in Washington, DC. Putin is not a strong leader in any sense, but his weakness has been especially apparent in the myriad ways his regime has disempowered Russians at all levels, making it increasingly difficult for them not only to solve but also even discuss the problems that concern them most.
Finally, I should point out that the original article in Russian features a map of the city marked with all the hospitals and other medical facilities built, currently under construction or abandoned under the municipal program described, above, as well as a table with more detailed information about each of these real, abandoned or planned facilities. I was not able to include the map or table in this translation. TRR