Sergey Abashin: Reading about Migrant Workers

Central Asian migrant workers queueing to obtain work “patents” at the Russian Interior Ministry’s migrant workers processing center on Red Textile Worker Street in central Petersburg, March 10, 2017. Photo by TRR

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
March 19, 2017

Very few people are interested in reading about migrant workers in Russia. True, many people readily believe the myths and repeat them, but they don’t want to get to the bottom of things, even if you hand them the data on a silver platter. This apathetic attitude to figures and facts is also typical of how migration is regarded.

I wrote yesterday [see below] about the trends in the numbers of migrant workers from the Central Asian countries in Russia for 2014–2016. Let me remind you that the number of Kyrgyz nationals first fell and then began to grow, exceeding the previous highs by 10%. The figure is now about 0.6 million people. (I am rounding up). The number of Tajik nationals has decreased by 15–25% and has been at the same level, about 0.9 million people, for over a year, while the number of Uzbek nationals has decreased by 30–40%, to 1.5 million people.

Now let us look at the data on remittances, all the more since the Central Bank of Russia has published the final figures for 2016. In 2016, private remittances from Russia to Kyrgyzstan amounted to slightly more than $1.7 billion, which is 17% less than during the peak year of 2013, but 26% more than in 2015. Meaning that, along with an increase in the number of migrants, the amount of remittances has grown quickly as well, even at a faster pace. Remittances to Tajikistan amounted to slightly more than $1.9 billion in 2016, which is 54% less than the peak year of 2013. The amounts have been continuing to fall, although this drop has slowed as the number of migrant workers has stabilized. Remittances to Uzbekistan were slightly more than $2.7 billion in 2016, which is 59% less than in the peak year of 2013. Meaning the largest drop in the number of migrants has led to the largest drop in remittances.

*****

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
March 18, 2017

Data on the number of foreign nationals living and working in Russia has not been made public since April 2016, when the Federal Migration Service was disbanded. But this does not mean there is no such data. The figures exist, and they become available from time to time. For example, an article published in RBC [on March 16, 2017] supplies some data as of February 1, 2017. What follows from the figures?

The number of Kyrgyz nationals has increased since February 2016 by 5.6%, and since February 2015 by 8.9%, and amounts to 593,760 people.

The number of Tajik nationals increased by 0.7% over the past year, and by 13.3% over two years, and amounts to 866,679 people.

The number of Uzbek nationals has decreased over the past year by 15.2%, and by 31.7% over two years, and now amounts to 1,513,694 people.

So we see three different trends. After Kyrgyzstan joined the Eurasian Economic Community [now, the Eurasian Economic Union], the number of its nationals in Russia has continued to grown. After a decline of 15–20%, the number of Tajik nationals has stabilized, while the number of Uzbek nationals has fallen by 30–40%.

There are slightly less than a total of 3 million people from Central Asia living and working in Russia. (I did not take Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan into account. If I had, the figure would have come to about 3.6 million people.)

Sergey Abashin, who teaches at the European University in St. Petersburg, has been a frequent contributor to this website. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader.

Russia Isn’t a Basket Case?

960x0
Villanova University basketball team in action. Photo courtesy of Forbes.com

“Russia is neither the juggernaut nor basket case it is varyingly made out to be. A well-reasoned Russia policy begins by quelling one’s hysteria long enough to recognize this and then engaging it accordingly.”
—Mark Lawrence Schrad, “Vladimir Putin Isn’t a Supervillain,” Foreign Policy, March 2, 2017

Try telling a great many people in Russia that the country isn’t a basket case, or that Putin and his regime aren’t a total menace, especially to Russians themselves, as Mark Lawrence Schrad argues in the article I’ve quoted above. They would laugh in your smug face.

I wonder if this useful idiot and assistant professor in political science at Villanova has ever lived in the country long enough to figure this home truth out. Probably not.

Villanova has a great basketball team this year, however. Maybe I should focus on them.

Somehow, I have to stay positive in the midst of the dawning awareness that lots of Anglo-American Slavists would, seemingly, like to work for the KGB if they could. Or are simply too clueless to do their jobs.

At very least, Professor Schrad’s article would have been accepted for publication in Russian Insider as is. TRR

_____________

17016781_10154597941078402_1412973065814591476_o
“For Rent.” Photo by TRR

Exhibit One: Downtown Petersburg’s Commercial Property Glut

This is what a “non-basket case” looks like in real life, not from one’s office in Philadelphia.

“Arenda” (“For Rent”) is definitely the most popular shop sign in the neighborhood around Voznesensky and Izmailovsky Prospect when I went there the other day to do a couple of errands, and it is complemented by lots of shops that aren’t flying the “Arenda” banner just yet, but which are definitely closed for business forever, like this Chinese restaurant, now known as “Khui” (if you read the fine print on the plasterboard that has replaced the broken glass in the door).

17038686_10154597949793402_944343543808199784_o
“Fuck.” Photo by TRR

Except for a few parts of central Petersburg where commercial spaces never stay empty for long, even in bad times, this is the visual-economic landscape you would see all over town. It is a landscape of “mixed and uneven development,” to put it charitably.

I don’t see how any self-respecting scholar wouldn’t start with this grassroots reality when analyzing Russia’s current state, rather than with a grab bag of rank speculations, half truths, and outright falsehoods he or she has read in English-language newspapers, magazines, and websites.

But that’s mostly how the new, actually quite fairly hysterical “anti-hysteria”/”anti-Russophobia” school of half-baked journalism and “Russia hands” scholarship operates. Its adepts sit far from Russia and tells Russians how good they’ve got it. TRR

__________________

Exhibit Two: How the Russian Countryside Is Dying

How the Russian countryside is dying.

A sad name for a reportage. But first of all one feels for the people in the reportage, who have worked the land for many years.

I visited the hinterland just yesterday at the request of the workers at the Vegetable Integrated Agricultural Production Company in Tonshalovo, Cherepovets District, Vologda Region. The fact is that everything there has been frozen, and the company has been put on the road to bankruptcy. The prosecutor’s office is looking for the guilty parties, but instead of reading thousands of words, I suggest you watch the video. The inhabitants of our country utter many wonderful, sincere words in the video. What is happening with agriculture nowadays all over Russia is quite sad.

#VO35 #VologdaRegion #Tonshalovo #Vegetable #Prosecutor #Authorities #Bankruptcy #Unemployment #Agriculture

Source: vk.com/vologda_net

Nettle Info, How the Russian Countryside Is Dying. YouTube video, in Russian. Posted January 23, 2017, by Nettle Info

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

__________________

Exhibit Three: Russia’s Wildly Corrupt Prime Minister

Russian opposition politician Navalny links PM Medvedev to billion euro property empire
Deutsche Welle
March 2, 2017

Navalny alleges Medvedev took bribes from key Russian oligarchs under the guise of donations to charities. In a 49-minute exposé, Navalny even flies drones over lavish properties he alleges were bought with corrupt money.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny accused Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of massive corruption in a report accompanied by a Youtube video he posted on Thursday.

The anti-corruption activist alleged Medvedev controls a property empire including mansions, yachts and vineyards financed by bribes from oligarchs to a network of non-profit organisations.

“Based on the documentation disclosed, we can confirm that at least 70 billion rubles (1.3 billion euros or US$1.19 billion) have been transferred in cash and assets to Medvedev’s foundations,” said Navalny, who heads the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Medvedev “practically openly created a corrupt network of charitable foundations through which he receives bribes from oligarchs and frantically builds himself palaces and vacation homes across the whole country,” the report alleged.

The report was welcomed by Transparency International Russia, a non-profit organization that targets corruption, though it questioned some of its conclusions.

Findings met with skepticism

Navalny has sworn that he will be a candidate in upcoming elections despite being dogged by legal problems

“There are certain doubts in the story of Ilia Yeliseyev, the deputy chairman of the Gazprombank. It is doubtful that Yeliseyev is just a scarecrow. Despite the fact he was a classmate of Medvedev, he is an important figure. He could have earned that fortune himself,” spokesman Gleb Gawrisch told DW.

Gawrisch also said although it looked suspicious it wasn’t actually illegal for Medvedev to use real estate owned by non-profit organizations

“Corrupt officials often use non-profit organizations to hide financial flows and property,” he conceded in a statement to Deutsche Welle.

“The problem is finding out who the ultimate beneficiary is, and we are delighted that the Anti-Corruption Foundation has succeeded in presenting such an extraordinary investigation.”

Medvedev, a lawyer from Saint Petersburg, was president from 2008 to 2012 while Vladimir Putin served as premier between presidential terms. Medvedev intended to run in the 2018 presidential election.

Navalny, also a lawyer, garnered notoriety for his denunciations against corruption and was sentenced to five years in prison with a suspended sentence for embezzlement, which forbid him from being a candidate in the elections.

His [49]-minute video amassed several hundred thousand views in a few hours on YouTube.

Anti-Corruption Foundation, Don’t Call Him Dimon: Palaces, Yachts, and Vineyards—Dmitry Medvedev’s Secret Empire. YouTube video, with subtitles in English. Posted March 2, 2017, by Alexei Navalny

 

Navalny said that the foundations receive “donations” from oligarchs and companies, which are then used to purchase lavish properties for Medvedev, who is never registered as the owner.

“The prime minister and his trusted friends have created a criminal scheme, not with companies registered in tax havens as usual, but with non-profit foundations, which makes it virtually impossible to determine the owner of the assets,” he said.

“Medvedev can steal so much and so openly because Putin does the same, only on a bigger scale,” he wrote, presenting his team’s online report.

Navalny said he was able to establish the links to Medvedev by tracing the purchases online.

Medvedev’s spokeswoman dismissed the allegations as promotion for Navalny’s presidential bid.

“Navalny’s material is clearly electioneering in nature,” Natalya Timakova told RIA Novosti state news agency. “It’s pointless to comment on the propagandistic attacks of an oppositional convict,” she added.

_____________

P.S. An acquaintance just told me the average monthly salary at the world-renowned St. Petersburg Conservatory is 11,000 rubles a month (approx. 178 euros), but employees there have not been paid since the end of last year.

And you would still say Russia is not a “basket case,” Mark Lawrence Schrad, assistant professor in political science at Villanova? Could you live on 178 euros a month while also not being sure you would actually be paid that measly sum on time every month?

I imagine that Professor Schrad was paid more than a paltry 178 euros for his wildly misleading article in Foreign Policy.

1280px-saint_petersburg_conservatory
St. Petersburg Conservatory. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

“A Great City Deserves a Great Library”: Petersburg Professors Defend the Publichka

Literary scholar Dmitry Kalugin picketing the entrance to the Russian National Library (“Publichka”), February 9, 2017, Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Serafim Romanova/Novaya Gazeta

Professors Stand Up for Librarians
Serafim Romanov
Novaya Gazeta Sankt-Peterburg
February 9, 2017

“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.

On February 9, a “professors’ picket” took place outside the Russian National Library’s main building on Ostrovsky Square. Lecturers from the European University, the Higher School of Economics, and other institutions rallied to preserve the so-called Publichka and defend its former head bibliographer Tatyana Shumilova [who was summarily dismissed from her post last week for speaking publicly about the negative consequences of the merger.]

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.'”

Historian Boris Kolonitsky shows the group’s placard to a policeman. February 9, 2017, Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Serafim Romanov/Novaya Gazeta

Translated by the Russian Reader

Civilization Won’t Be Destroyed by Extraterrestrials: On the Possible Merger of Russia’s Two Largest Libraries

Tatyana Shumilova. Photo courtesy of Rosbalt

Civilization Won’t Be Destroyed by Extraterrestrials
The consequences of merging Russia’s two largest libraries would be disastrous, argues the Russian National Library’s Tatyana Shumilova
Alexander Kalinin
Rosbalt
February 1, 2017

The idea of merging Russia’s two biggest libraries was proposed to culture minister Vladimir Medinsky by their directors, Vladimir Gnezdilov (the Russian State Library in Moscow, aka the Leninka) and Alexander Visly (the Russian National Library in Petersburg, aka the Publichka). The proposal has hardly garnered universal approval. The country’s leading authorities on librarianship have sent a letter to President Putin asking him to stop the merger from going ahead. They have been supported by Russian philologists and historians.

Tatyana Shumilova, chief bibliographer in the Russian National Library’s information and bibliography department, spoke to Rosbalt about how staff there have related to the possible merger with the Russian State Library, and whether the issue has been broached with them.

What are the possible consequences of merging the country’s two biggest libraries?

Our library would simply cease to exist in its current shape. Many people have made much of the fact that the RNL’s executive director Alexander Visly has said the changes would not give rise to a new legal entity. Of course, they wouldn’t. One legal entity would remain: the RSL. So everyone realizes it’s not a merger that is at issue, but a takeover.

So we could equate the words “merger” and “destruction” in this case?

Yes, definitely. A merger would be tantamount to the death of our library here in Petersburg. After the RNL became a branch or appendage of the RSL, our work with readers would cease to be funded. We would not be able to provide them with the full scope of services. Plus, we would have to switch to the RSL’s system, and that would be undesirable. We are told the catalogues in both libraries are structured on the same principle. That is not true. There is a big difference between them. It would be quite complicated to restructure the system. The different approaches to librarianship should be preserved.

Moscow has the administrative resources. The government is located in the capital, as is the Culture Ministry. Moscow and Moscow Region are the home of the RSL, the Russian Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (VINITI), the Russian National Public Library for Science and Technology, the State Historic Public Library of Russia, and the Russian State Library for Foreign Literature (aka the Inostranka). And, until recently, the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences (INION RAN) was running at full steam. But the Northwest Federal Region has only two major libraries, the RNL and the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences (aka the BAN). After a merger, there would be one.

I understand that, after the merger, publishers would not have to send an obligatory copy of their books to the RNL. Only Moscow would get new books?

That is one of the cost-saving measures. Allegedly, money would not have to be spent on two sets of obligatory copies. It would be enough to have one hard copy and a digital copy. But the outcome would be that Petersburg would simply stop receiving most new books. It’s a rather cynical cost-cutting measure that would affect only our library, not the RSL, which was founded much later than the RNL. And all because it’s located in Moscow. No one says it outright, but it’s clear anyway.

But the RNL would still get a digital copy.

I really don’t understand the idea of sending a digital copy instead of a hard copy. We have a huge number of readers who for medical reasons cannot and should not use a computer. Why should we deprive them of hard copies? It’s simply indecent. Besides, we know what natural disasters electronic resources are prone to. A blackout, a power surge in the network, a server failure, and everything is lost. A library should not be dependent only on one type of resource.

People who take far-reaching, momentous decisions like to base them by alluding to the know-how of other libraries and even other countries. But nowhere do national libraries receive only digital copies of printed matter. You can probably merge libraries in Denmark, but the Russian Federation is a different country, a much larger country with a much larger population. Although the name would stay the same, the RNL would in fact cease being a national library. We already have municipal and neighborhood libraries in Petersburg. People come to us as a last resort, when there is nowhere else to go.

Nor is anyone probably really aware that digital copies relate not only to books but to magazines and newspapers as well.

Apparently, the shots are being called by people who don’t read and don’t go to libraries. Just how did the culture minister write his dissertations and books? By using the Internet? Or did someone else do it for him?

Where did the idea to merge the libraries come from?

Rumors about the merger have been circulating for a long time. They are all we have to go on, for no one has said anything officially. It’s still too early to draw any conclusions from the available facts. Now no one denies that merger talks are underway. Earlier, apparently, they were too busy to reveal this, or maybe they were ashamed or embarrassed. But now they’re not ashamed anymore.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Vladimir Zaitsev, the then-director of the Publichka, was worried about the library’s potential plight. That was when the name Russian National Library was coined. Lots of people didn’t like it, but Zaitsev thought it would give us stability and protect us from attacks. As we see now, it didn’t work for long. The opportunity to save millions of rubles has now been identified as grounds for merging the libraries. Indeed, you could probably calculate the worth of the books and the real estate by eye. But how do you evaluate the intangible assets? How many people have been educated here? How many people, from university students to scholars, have grown up here? They wrote their dissertations and books here. If you write a research paper based on more than two sources, you are going to need a library. This is serious work.

It is believed the RNL’s current director Alexander Visly was sent to Petersburg on a “temporary assignment” in order to merge the two libraries. Do you agree?

Officials rarely condescend to explaining the reasons for their actions directly. They believe they should not be accountable to the taxpaypers. No one has announced anything to us officially. But talk of a possible merger started after Anton Likhomanov left the director’s post at the RNL in early 2016. Visly wasn’t the only person tipped for the vacancy, after all. The director of the Lermontov Interdistrict Centralized Library System, in Petersburg, and the director of the National Library of the Republic of Karelia were identified as possible candidates.

Several months passed between Likhomanov’s departure and Visly’s arrival. We don’t know what was discussed during that time. Apparently, there was some kind of horse trading underway. According to the rumors in Moscow, Visly really didn’t want to move to Petersburg, but he was nevertheless talked into going in order to perform certain functions. The fact that an executive director has not yet been appointed at the RSL, and they only have an acting director, causes one to reflect grimly on the subject.

Indeed, Visly has not taken an interest in day-to-day affairs in Petersburg. He is busy with construction, renovating the Lenin Reading Room, and he has visited the cataloguing and acquisition departments. By the way, officials have been saying the functions of these departments overlap at the RNL and RSL. So he hasn’t been dealing with the library as a whole, although he is the executive director and should be responsible for everything that happens in the RNL. Apparently, this circumstance has been agreed upon with someone. No one would reproach him for it.

Has the issue of the possible merger been discussed with RNL staff?

There have been no meetings on the topic with the workforce, and none are planned. No one keeps us in the loop. There are no general staff meetings.  There is the practice of informational meetings, to which the heads of the departments and units are invited. My comrades once expressed a desire to take part in one such meeting, but they were simply booted out. Staff members only talk about the merger amongst themselves.

What do they say?

Very little that is positive. Everyone fears for his or her future. But what can rank-and-file library staffers do? Some signed the letter supporting the library, while others didn’t. Some have signed a petition. What else can we do?  We need large-scale outside support, but how do we get it? People know very little about the merger of the libraries, after all. Even if they wanted  to  find out about the consequences of the mergers, where would they look? Yandex News. And what would they find there? News about fires, missing schoolchildren, pedestrians run over by cars, and people falling from tall buildings. There is almost no news about culture.

And how do we explain to university lecturers, university students, and schoolchildren what could happen to the library? How do we convince them that the problem concerns them, too? Even university students come to us for textbooks, because the university libraries are shortchanged when it comes to new acquisitions of books. But our customers, people to whom provide information, include the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, the Investigative Committee, the FSB, the Interior Ministry, and other organizations. So it turns out they could not care less, either. Or they naively believe nothing will change. Maybe they don’t understand the consequences?

Have you thought about organizing a protest rally?

Few library staffers would attend such a rally. Everyone is scared redundancies will kick off, and his or her department will be eliminated. There is the chance of winding up on the streets. There are people working here who went through the hungry 1990s on miserly wages. At least they were paid regularly. Director Vladimir Zaitsev, who constantly traveled to Moscow and literally sat in the minister’s waiting room, deserves the credit for that.

So a lot of people would not attend a rally. No one wants to lose their job. Take a look, for example, at how many people came out to defend St. Isaac’s Cathedral. A lot fewer than could have come out.

People today are surrounded by informational noise. They hear about Crimea, Ukraine, and America. Old ladies at bus stops don’t discuss cultural issues, but US Presidents Obama and Trump. Everyone in Russia is totally confused.

What consequences would the merger have for readers? For example, one of the plusses that has been mentioned is that people with RNL cards would be able to use the RSL in Moscow.

Initially, readers would have no sense of any change. They just wouldn’t understand anything. After all, we would continue to acquire some new books. Qualitative negative changes build up unnoticed. They’re not visible immediately. In Germany in 1933, not everyone realized immediately what exactly was happening, either.

Aside from the issue of conservation and security, replacing hard copies with digital copies would cause yet another exodus of readers, especially elderly people, who often don’t like or cannot read e-books. Indeed, many young readers, when you suggest they use a digital source, reply, “I don’t need your Internet. I came here to read books.” Reducing the numbers of live readers to a minimum would probably lead to the next step: closing the library altogether. “Why keep you open?” officials would say, “Nobody visits your library.”

As for a single library card for the two libraries, there wouldn’t be much advantage to it. RNL readers can easily get a card for the Leninka, and Leninka readers can easily get a card for the RNL. It’s a snap: you just need your internal passport. You don’t even have to bring a photograph to the registration desk anymore.

So is there any way out of the situation, or is the RNL’s takoever inevitable?

I don’t want to accept the fact it could happen. But RNL staff are hardly in a position to do anything. They have almost no influence on the situation. Respected people, prominent scholars and cultural figures, have to speak out, people with whom the authorities have to reckon. As it is, only Arkady Sokolov and Valery Leonov, out of the entire Petersburg library community, have spoken out on the topic. None of the museums or universities have openly supported us. It is sad.

I don’t think the city could solve the problem by talking the library under its wing. That would only delay its death. The city could not fund the RNL properly. I don’t know what other options we have for saving the library. We have let the moment passs when we could have looked for sponsors to support us financially.

What do RSL employees think of the merger?

They are silent because the merger wouldn’t affect them. They would continue to function as before and do the same things they did earlier, such as acquiring the obligatory copies, hard copies and digital copies, of everything published in Russia. The negative consequences would only affect us, meaning the Russian National Library.

The most concise definition of culture is this: culture is the transmission of tradition. Breakdowns in the production, concentration, and reclamation of the national heritage (a process in which libraries are an inalienable and quite important component) have led to the collapse of civilizations throughout history. Then people go looking for the extraterrestrials who flew in and destroyed everything. The perpetrators are actually much closer.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up

UPDATE. Sadly but predictably, the Russian National Library has now decided to dismiss Tatyana Shumilova from her job there for granting this frank interview to Rosbalt, although ostensibly, as follows from the letter below, dated 3 February 2017 and signed by E.V. Tikhonova, acting director of the RNL, she is threatened with dismissal for, allegedly, being absent from work for four hours and thirteen minutes on 30 January 2017. Thanks to Comrade VA for this information and the scan of the letter. TRR

16388258_1765605920131726_5540994598165898435_n

UPDATE 2. Today, February 7, there have been corroborated reports that Tatyana Shumilova has been summarily dismissed from her job at the Russian National Library in Petersburg. TRR

A Thorn in Their Side

Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace on Gagarin Street, Petersburg
Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace on Gagarin Street, Petersburg, home of the European University

European University Faces Eviction for Plastic Windows
Maria Karpenko
Kommersant
January 24, 2017

The European University in St. Petersburg, one of the leading non-public educational institutions in Russia, may lose its building. Petersburg city hall has unilaterally terminated the lease agreement for the Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace, which has housed the university since 1995. The Smolny claims university management violated the conditions for using the historic building by making alterations and installing windows and air conditioners. Meanwhile, the university had been preparing to reconstruct the palace, investing 2.2 billion rubles in the project, 670 million rubles of which were to be spent on restoring the historic section of the building.

On December 27 of last year, the St. Petersburg City Committee for Property Relations (KIO) sent the European University notice it was unilaterally terminating the rental agreement. As a source at the committee told Kommersant, the European University hd not fulfilled its obligations to preserve the mansion of Count Kushelev-Bezborodko, built in the nineteenth century.

Officials discovered the violations last summer during an unscheduled inspection. (The Smolny could not explain yesterday why the inspection had been necessary.) As a source at the City Landmarks Use and Preservation Committee (KGIOP) informed Kommersant, university officials had made alterations to the premises and installed reinforced plastic windows and air conditioners without providing authorized documentation and obtaining permission for the repairs. The Dzerzhinsky District Court fined the European University 200,000 rubles in its capacity as user of a culture heritage site.

The Property Relations Committee then deemed it possible to terminate the lease agreement. The European University challenged the agreement’s termination in commercial court, arguing it was groundless. The court adopted interim measures, halting the university’s eviction from the premises until a decision has been made on the claim. The first hearing has been scheduled for March 15.

Meanwhile, the European University had planned in the near future to begin implementing an investment project for adapting the Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace to modern educational needs. The university estimates its cost at 2.2 to 2.4 billion rubles, 670 million rubles of which should go to restoring the historic section of the palace. The project has been in the works since 2013. Architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, designer of the Russian Cultural Center in Paris, won the competition to carry out the project. As European University Vice-Rector Vadim Volkov told Kommersant, the KGIOP had already partly authorized the reconstruction. (Our sources in the KGIOP confirmed that the methods for restoring the interiors of the palace that had artistic value had been approved.) Next week, the university had anticipated the KGIOP’s decision on the entire project.

“Given our intention to implement such an ambitious project, the KIO’s decision to evict us from the building on account of three windows, a plastic partition, and and extension that was erected under Brezhnev looks odd, at very least,” Mr. Volkov said.

The official statement on the university’s website stresses that none of  the violations uncovered during the inspection “put the cultural heritage of the palace at risk. They would be automatically corrected during the adjustment project as mentioned above.”

The statement goes on to say “[t]here is a degree of incommensurability between the claims of the Committee and the consequences entailed by the latter’s tough stance.”

Vice-Rector Volkov likewise noted that the clause giving the city the right to terminate the lease agreement if the university violated its landmark protection obligations had been added to the agreement only in April 2015 at the behest of the KIO.

“First, the KIO inserted these conditions in the agreement, and then showed up to check just this, certain they would be able to turn up violations of some kind,” Mr. Volkov suggested.

Maxim Reznik, chair of the education, culture and science committee in the city’s legislative assembly, believes the claims are politically motivated.

“Apparently, the presence of such a university, when all the rest have long ago been marching in step, keeps someone awake at night. In my view, the situation can be resolved in the university’s favor only if if the head of state [i.e., Vladimir Putin] or people close to him intervene,” the city MP told Kommersant.

In December of last year, Rosobrnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science) suspended the university’s license. The European University appealed to President Putin, who asked Vice-Premier Olga Golodets to get to the bottom of the matter. As Kommersant wrote, officials who attended a closed meeting concluded the claims were unsubstantial and spoke out in the university’s favor. Three days later, its educational license had been restored.

The university first encountered problems with oversight authorities in 2008, when it was closed for a month and a half [allegedly] for fire safety violations. Last summer, the Prosecutor General’s Office inspected the European University at the behest of Petersburg MP Vitaly Milonov. Prosecutors then gave the university two months to eliminate violations.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of saint-petersburg.com

Agents of H.A.R.V.A.R.D.

Chapayevsk. Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Bochkaryov/Kommersant
Chapayevsk. Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Bochkaryov/Kommersant

Harvard Agents Association
The Justice Ministry Has Fined an NGO for Medical Research
Alexander Chernykh
Kommersant
December 21, 2016

The Chapayevsk Medical Workers Association, an NGO in the Samara Region, has appealed the Justice Ministry’s decision identifying it as a “foreign agent.” The organization was cited for grants it has been receiving from Harvard for over twelve years to study the health of people who live in enivornmental disaster areas. The Justice Ministry additionally cited the work of its doctors in preventing HIV as “contrary to Russian national interests.” The association is on the verge of closure, despite the unprecedented support it has received from town officials, physicians, and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Chapayevsk Medical Workers Association was established in 1999.

“Chapayevsk produced pesticides for many years, which led to increased levels of dioxins,” says Oleg Sergeyev, head of the association and a Ph.D. in medicine. “Increased mortality was recorded in the town. The local hospitals were not coping due to a lack of funds and equipment. So the town’s doctors united into an NGO to try and solve the problem.”

Located 45 kilometers from Samara, the town, whose population is 73,000, was founded in 1909 as a settlement built round an explosives factory. In 1926, a chemical weapons factory went into operation, later converted into a fertilizer plant. In 1999, the State Ecology Committee declared the town an “environmental emergency area.” Chapayevsk received a total of 1.742 billion rubles in federal subsidies, and its status as an environmental emergency area was rescinded in 2005. In 2008, the mayor of Chapayevsk officially proposed resettling the city.

In 2003, the association launched a long-term research study, entitled “Dioxins, Pubertal Growth, and the Development of Boys,” in cooperation with the Harvard School of Public Health and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“With the consent of their parents, we selected 516 boys between the ages of eight and nine, and have been carefully tracking their health every year since then. Now they are young men between the ages of 19 and 22,” says Oleg Sergeyev. “We have seen how the dioxins and pesticides have impacted the growth, development, and especially the reproductive health of the men.”

The researched has been funded by the National Institutes of Health in the US. In 2003, the NIH made a long-term research grant to the project, and in 2010, it extended the grant for another six years.

“During this period, we received 65.2 million rubles,” says Mr. Sergeyev. “34.2 million was spent on the salaries of seventeen staff members, 21.4 million rubles, on equipment and supplies, and 9.6 million rubles, on social benefit payments.”

The association’s second focus has been HIV prevention.

“In the late 1990s, Chapayevsk ranked third in the region in the spread of HIV,” says Mr. Sergeyev. “This was due to injecting drug use. The drugs were easily accessible here.”

Physicans hit the streets to engage in harm reduction work, which has involved them in meeting with drug users, handing out brochures and free condoms, persuading people to get tested for HIV, collecting used syringes, and supplying clean syringes. Harm reduction programs in Chapayevsky have covered around 800 people annually (a little over one percent of the population). According to doctors, this is around a third of the town’s injecting drug users.

In 2014, the Justice Ministry’s regional office audited the association twice, concluding the NGO was not engaged in political activity. In October 2016, these very same officials changed their opinion and demanded the association be added to the list of “foreign agents.” The Justice Ministry’s Samara office failed to respond promptly to our request for information, but Kommersant has obtained a copy of the audit report. Officials deemed it a violation that Oleg Sergeyev sits on the Samara Regional Duma’s NGO Council and has been involved in the hearings of two committees, on physical education and healthy lifestyles, and on providing social services to the populace. In 2013, one commission recommended that regional MPs ban cigarette ads at public transport stops and in shops. In 2015, it recommended that regional MPs add the phrase “citizens are responsible for maintaining their own health” to the law “On Basic Public Healthcare.” The auditors construed this as “political activity financed by foreigners.”

The association’s work in preventing HIV has also not escaped the auditors’ attention. The Justice Ministry dubbed the needle exchange and the distribution of condoms by physicians the “inculcation of practices contrary to Russian national interests.” In the wake of the audit, the officials asked the court to rule the association a “foreign agent.” The court granted the request, additionally fining the NGO 300,000 rubles and Oleg Sergeyev 50,000 rubles for not registering themselves voluntarily.

“I don’t know where to get the money,” says Mr. Sergeyev.

According to him, no grantmaking organization permits the payment of fines out funds allocated for scientific research.

“It’s a matter of scientific reputation,” say Mr. Sergeyev. “If they had labeled us an ‘organization receiving foreign funding,’ then for God’s sake we would have enrolled ourselves in such a registry. But we have been accused of working for another country, although we have always acted in the interests of our town.”

The organization filed an appeal last week. As candidates for “foreign agent” status, the physicians have received unprecedented support from researchers at the Institute of Genetics and the Institute of Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as from the town’s chief narcologist.

Chapayevsk’s Mayor Dmitry Blynsky also wrote an official letter to the Justice Ministry. (He resigned in November 2016, but signed the letter while still in office.) According to Blynsky, the NGO’s collaboration with Harvard “has been of great benefit to the town.”

“The medical and lab equipment that has been procured has been used to treat the populace of Chapayevsk. In view of Chapayevsk’s subsidized budget, another important aspect of attracting foreign financing has been the creation of jobs for medical professionals,” wrote Blynsky.

According to the ex-mayor, the outcomes of the NGO’s long-term research studies have been used to develop public programs for the town’s social and environmental rehabilitation.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Tamara Koganzon for the heads-up

Roots

Страницы из учебника 5 класса по предмету "Истоки"
“The Plough and the Ax”: pages from the fifth-form textbook “Roots.” Photo courtesy of Anton Carliner/SCHSCHI and Takie Dela

 

“What Can We Learn from the Plough and the Ax?”
Alexandra Koksharova
Takie Dela
December 13, 2016

Parents of pupils at a Moscow school have complained to the Prosecutor General’s Office that their children are being indoctrinated with a religious ideology. Takie Dela spoke with Inna Gerasimova, who was behind the complaint.

***

After coming home from school at the start of the school year, Inna’s 11-year-old son Yegor asked, “Mom, do we really have to have icons at home?”

“No, where did you get that idea?”

Yegor took the textbook Roots (Istoki), which he had just been issued, from his backpack.

The textbook’s author addresses schoolchildren as follows.

“You do know, of course, that icons guide the Russian individual on weekdays and holidays, on long journeys and in times of war. People turn to them in joy and in sorrow, and miraculous icons are especially revered.”

“I can’t remember our ever having taken icons on a journey,” chuckled Yegor.

Inna is an atheist, and there were no icons in their home. She tried to explain to Yegor that all this was not obligatory, of course, although he was well aware of it himself.

Yegor Gerasimov is a fifth former at School No. 2065 in New Moscow. Nearly half of his classmates are from Muslim families, and there are also children from Jewish and Catholic families. In September 2015, a subject entitled “Fundamentals of the Spiritual and Moral Culture of the Peoples of Russia” (abbreviated ODNKNR in Russian) was introduced to the mandatory school curriculum. The Roots textbook is used in sixty-two Russian regions. According to Hieromonk Gennady (Voitishko), head of the information service of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Synodal Department for Religious Education and Catechesis, the Roots program is “a kind of prototype of secular ethics that takes regional specifics and traditions into account.” Officials argue that ODNKNR is not an attempt to indoctrinate children religiously, but the parents at School No. 2065 have formed a quite different impression.

***

It was at a parents’ assembly in August that Inna found out her son would have a new subject at school beginning this year. The head teacher was then unable to explain what exactly fifth formers would be learning during this class, but the subject’s name, Roots, did not arouse suspicion amongst the parents. They were amazed only when they saw the textbook for the subject. Initially, they tried to find out from the head teacher how such a thing could have got into the school. The head teacher promised to get to the bottom of it. Then they sent letters to the school’s headmaster, complaining about religious indoctrination and asking that the textbook be changed. The headmaster responded to all of the letters by explaining that there had been no choice: the education department had issued the program, and there was nothing to be done. The school could not switch textbooks.

Inna decided that her complaint that the textbook was not secular had be to well founded, and so she undertook a painstaking analysis of Roots. She collated its content with laws and regulations.  She counted the number of times such words and phrases as “God” (60), “miracles” (66), “evil spirits,” and so on were mentioned in the book. Among other things, although the textbook has a total of 126 pages, a third of those pages are taken up by illustrations.

The parents’ main complaint against Roots is that the textbook lacks any academic component whatsoever. Alexander Kamkin, the book’s author, does not cite specific sources, and historical events and cultural landmarks are described by evoking either infernal or divine forces. For example, in a chapter dealing with Solovki, the construction of the Solovki Special Purpose Camp (SLON) and the destruction of the monastery are characterized as the advent of a “great evil.”

“Disaster struck in 1920. […] The monastery was closed, its shrines were descecrated and destroyed, and its churches were defiled.”

Kamkin does not specify who exactly desecrated and defiled the shrines. The only historical personage in this chapter is Moscow Patriarch Alexy II, who visited Solovki in 1992.

If that were not enough, Kamkin suggests that fifth formers take a new look at the Moscow Kremlin.

“Look carefully, not only with your eyes but also feel with your heart, with your soul.  Don’t you think that the Kremlin’s Cathedral Square resembles a gigantic all-Russian candleholder?”

The textbook opens with the topic of “The Plough and the Ax,” which takes up five lessons.

“The children took a quiz on the topic ‘What can we learn from the plough and the ax?’ After lessons in programming, chemistry, and biology, how can you talk for five lessons in a row about the plough and the ax? Every other sentence in the textbook says that only God makes all things possible, only with his help do things get done, that ‘prayer and effort make all things right.’ This ‘proverb’ is quoted in the textbook,” says Inna.

At the next parents’ assembly, the head teacher suggested that disgruntled parents turn in the textbooks, but the remaining children could continue using Roots in class. It was then that the parents of all twenty-four children in the class wrote formal requests, addressed to the school’s headmaster, asking that the class be exempted from studying the subject. The textbooks were then confiscated from the fifth formers, but they kept studying the subject all the same. This incident took place in only one class of fifth formers, but the other four fifth-form classes at the school kept using the textbook. There was no difference, however. Inna knows the course curriculum by heart and says that the assignments the teacher now gives her son are the same as in the textbook.

“The instructor cannot do nothing about it. He is 100% dependent on the system, on the education department, like everyone else,” says Inna.

Inna sent a complaint, signed by all the parents whose children are in the class, to the prosecutor’s office. There was no response for one and a half months. Then the complaint was first sent down to the education department before being sent back to the headmaster.

***

“We don’t mind our children learning something new about Orthodoxy,” explains Inna, “but not from this textbook, because one cannot speak only of Orthodoxy while saying nothing about the fact that paganism once existed, and that nowadays Islam exists alongside Christianity, and that basically we live in a multi-ethnic country. It’s wrong to present one religion so onesidedly while engaging in manipulation when it comes to a textbook for children. We aren’t against religion. We’re against pitching the subject matter in this way, in which Orthodoxy is discussed as the only possible religion.”

Translated by the Russian Reader