“We Are Treated like Schmucks”: Why Volga Region Pensioners Have Rebelled against the Regime

“We Are Treated like Schmucks”: How and Why Volga Region Pensioners Have Rebelled against the Regime
Yeveniya Volunkova
Takie Dela
April 4, 2017

What Happened?
Certain benefits for pensioners, disabled people, and other beneficiaries were cut in Samara at the beginning of 2017. Monthly payments for housing services and utilities were replaced by compensation for actual expenses. People now have to pay their bills first, then show the authorities the receipts, and only after that, if they have no debts, are they compensated for their expenses. The system has not been put through its paces and does not function, so there have been problems with assembling documents and getting compensation. In addition, a charge for major renovations has been added to the housing maintenance bill, a charge that many people do not pay as a matter of principle. Also, free public transportation for working pensioners has been abolished, and the number of free rides on the subsidized transport pass has been limited to fifty. This lasts many people two weeks; moreover, people complain the “rides” disappear more quickly. The frosting on the cake was the cancellation of monthly cash payments for working pensioners, who number 175,000 in Samara Region. People have lost their supplementary pensions, which ranged from 600 to 1,200 rubles. Non-working pensioners, whose pensions are over 19,500 rubles, have also been stripped of supplementary payments. The Samara administration did not give permission to hold a protest rally on the city’s central square, allowing it only in a remote neighborhood. Despite these precautions, the protesters packed the square.

The fourth large-scale protest by pensioners took place in Samara on April 2. The old folks first rebelled against Samara Region Governor Nikolai Merkushin in early February, when around 300 people attended a protest rally. The number of protesters has grown each time, and yesterday, according to unofficial statistics, around 4,000 people gathered on the square near the Athletics Palace. The protesters told our correspondent Yevegniya Volunkova what they were protesting and how they had succeeded in coming together when the rallies have not been mentioned on television at all.

***

Nina Dmitrievna and Tamara Petrovna

Both women are seventy-nine years old. They heard about the rally from flyers and the internet. Their main complaints are Mordovian produce in the city and a fountain during the plague.

We’re upset about our poverty, the judicial system, and very many other things. But first of all, we want to see Merkushkin replaced. He squanders money and imports everything from Mordovia, including crushed stone, paving tile, and cement. Whatever shop you go to, the produce is all Mordovian. It’s no wonder his nickname is the Mordvin Pasha. During these hard times for the region, he wants to build the best fountain in Europe on the river embankment. Is now the time for it? Replace the pavement and benches, sure, but why the heck do we need a fountain right now? My friends and two children live in poverty, and it’s hard to buy bread. But this stadium [Samara is one of the host cities for the 2018 World Cup — TD], good God, how much money they’ve embezzled, and it’s not clear whether they’ll finish it or not. They took their kickbacks, but there’s no money left to build the thing. If we could see that everything was being done on behalf of the people, we would put up with it, but they have been stealing. Merkhushkin pumped three million into the wall on Samara Square [the Wall of Honor on Glory Square, which cut off a beautiful view of the Volga and Zhiguli Mountains, popularly known as the Wailing Wall — TD). It’s in terribly bad taste! And so much money was spent.

Mikhail Viktorovich

Seventy years old, he heard about the rally from friends. His main complaint: how can he survive on his pension?

How the mean regime deals with veterans! Yesterday, villagers told me their family had a monthly pension of 8,000 rubles [approx. 133 euros] or so. What is that? How can a person survive? Today, I went to get milk and bread. I also bought some biscuits and something to put in a soup. 600 rubles [approx. 10 euros] was gone just like that. Is the governor here? He didn’t show up? Shame on him! He stole kopecks from pensioners. Down with our government! They have not made a single effective move to improve the well-being of veterans.

Irina Olegovna

Sixty years old, she heard about the rally from a girlfriend. Her main complaint is that she has been forced to work to survive.

My monthly pension is 7,700 rubles, and I used to get a veteran’s bonus. I worked as an educator my whole life. Merkushkin took way the 621 rubles I got as a veteran’s bonus. I have no husband and no support. I’m forced to work to survive, but I have a whole passle of ailments. Should I approve his policies? He can go back to his native Mordovia. Besides, he lies and lies and lies. He shamelessly lies that he gives us a pension. I wrote a letter to him asking him to help me find work. Do you think he helped me? He didn’t do a damn thing for me.

Valentina Andreyevna

Sixty-three years old, she found out about the rally from the internet. Her main complaint is shamefully low pensions.

I came out of a sense of solidarity. I don’t receive any discount benefits: my length of service was too short. There should other slogans here: “Decent pensions!” Give us a decent pension and we wouldn’t need discounts. We’ll pay for public transport passes, for apartment maintenance costs, and so on. But it’s impossible to live on our miserly pensions.

Valery Remizov

Twenty-two years old, he found out about the rally from the internet. His main complaint is bad roads.

I came to the rally to voice my dissatisfaction with Nikolai Merkushkin’s social policies. It’s a pity our pensioners have to stand in the cold, demanding a few miserable kopecks. I’m sick of the state of the roads in this country. I’m tired of the fact the regime treats me hypocritically not only as a disabled person but also as an individual. It treats everything as a resource that can be sent off to war, god knows where. And yet it cannot organize a decent urban infrastructure, a decent life. I think the government needs to revise its policy of restricting the number of rides on public transport one can take if you have a discounted travel pass. I ride public transport all the time and I travel around town more than the authorities think I do.

Emma Viktorovna

Seventy years old, she heard about the rally on the internet. Her main complaint is that the governor was decorated “for his contribution to cosmonautics.”

Merkushkin is impudent. He’s an outsider in Samara. My colleagues, who have worked all their lives at the cosmodrome, were decorated for their service. But why the hell did they did stick an honorary pin on him for his contribution to cosmonautics? He has made no contribution whatsoever to cosmonautics. A persons should be more modest. Yet our colleagues where shown on TV standing off to the side, while he was shown in close-up. How did Samara manage without Merkushkina? Probably, it didn’t manage. But little Nikolai showed up, and it has been once achievement after another since then.

“Roads are Samara’s second misery. The fools in power are the first.” Roads are one of Samara’s worst problems. Photo courtesy of Yevgeniya Volunkova/Takie Dela

Roman

Sixty-five years old, he heard about the rally from his grandson. His main complaint is that the restricted number of trips on the discounted public transport travel pass make it hard for him to travel to the Volga.

Can you deceive people like that? They compare us with Penza, where forty-eight rides is more than enough, supposedly. Samara is a huge city: fifty trips a month is not enough here. When I’m traveling, all my rides get eaten up by he transfers. It’s a huge city. In the summer, I want to go to the Volga to swim. How many transfers is that? Fifty trips runs out in two weeks. Then there are housing services and utilities. We are forced to pay for utilities, but the discounts come later, after we’ve paid. Yet officials have included a fee for major house renovations in our bills. I don’t want to pay it. What am I paying for? I’ve lived half my life in the same building, which is falling apart at the seams. Major renovations have never once been carried out in that building.

samara-metro-28
Samara Subway and Tram Map. Courtesy of CartoTalk

Nadezha Fyodorovna

Sixty-nine years old, she heard about the rally from reading flyers. Her main complaint is how the money owed to pensioners has been used to pay for the governor’s palaces and the World Cup.

That scumbag Merkushkin took away all our benefits. How did he dare? He built himself palaces on Rublyovka, four palaces at three hundred million each. Does he have a conscience? Today, he was on Channel Two saying he built all the roads for us. The roads are all good, and everything in Samara is good. Only our pensions will have to pay for the World Cup. He’s a real bastard, a scumbag. We should send him packing back to Mordovia, where he can choke on his sons and relatives. Let’s keep coming out for protest rallies and demanding he resign.

Irina Olegovna and Lyubov Andreyevna

Forty-six and seventy-seven, they heard about the rally on the internet. Their main complaint is that the regime embezzles money and treats people like schmucks.

Irina Olegovna: I’m not a pensioner, but I came to stick up for them. I’m outraged by the injustice that flourishes in our country. The authorities have found the right people to rip off: pensioners. They holler about being a super power, that they defeated the fascists. Who beat whom? What’s the standard of living in Germany and the standard of living in Russia? Who did they defeat? Pensioners and sick children?

Young people attended the rally this time to support the pensioners. Photo courtesy of Yevgeniya Volunkova/Takie Dela

Lyubov Andreyevna: We’ve been spat on from all sides. You cannot get in anywhere to talk to anyone, whether it’s housing services and utilities or healthcare. Everywhere they could not care less about us. I’m seventy-seven. I use the internet and I know everything. I was a decision-maker when I was employed, but now I’ve been utterly humiliated. Thank you, Navalny, that you exposed Medvedev. We must send him packing

IO: It’s absolutely clear to everyone that regime embezzles money, and the fact they are silent is additional proof that thievery is going on. What happened to Serdyukov and Vasilyeva are proven facts. There was a trial, and they were let go. They sold off the property of the defense industry and lined their pockets. I don’t understand who needed this demonstrative flogging. They pulled out their dirty underwear, showed it to everyone, and put it away. I’ll be damned!

LA: Because they consider us idiots.

IO: Stupid schmucks!

LA: Stupid schmucks, cows, that’s who we are!

IO:  I agree with you completely. But ultimately they have to understand a point of no return will be reached, when it all goes to hell. What, are they waiting until people come after them with pitchforks? The country has already reached the boiling point. What the heck do we need Crimea for when our country is poor? I used to support Putin. He inherited a heavy burden, the country was in ruins. He seemed decent. I believed he’d put the country in shape. But then I realized what was what.

LA: Putin works for the oligarchs, not for himself. And we cows will all die off.

Vasily Petrovich

Eighty-two years old, he found out about the rally from a flyer. His main complaint is that payments have not been made to people who went through the war as children.

Look, I’ve brought a newspaper from 2014. Merkushkin promised to make monthly payments of 1,000 rubles to people who went through the war as children. But he didn’t give us fuck-all. We spent the war on a collective farm. Cold and hungry, we supplied the front and the cities with produce, while we ourselves ate grass and dirt. We survived, we were victorious, and now what? Now we are dying in poverty.

“Stop Making Fools of Russian Dudes!” Protest rally in Samara. Photo courtesy of Yevgeniya Volunkova/Takie Dela

Lydia Nikolayevna

Sixty-eight years old, she heard about the rally on the internet. Her main complaint is that her family has been stripped of all benefits, and that the regime takes people for idiots.

I’m a history teacher, I worked my whole life. Three years ago, my daughter died, leaving me to take care of my granddaughter Lada. She’s thirteen and in the sixth grade. By order of the city administration, the city paid the difference in the housing services and utilities bills for her as an orphan for the whole of 2016. The payment was small, but it made a difference. I’m a veteran of pedagogical work and disabled. We were supposedly divided into two groups: “rich” pensioners, who got 19,000 rubles a month, and poor pensioners. Money was taken away from us under the pretext of giving it to the poor. Money was taken from 175,000 people and then returned, allegedly, but we still haven’t got the money back. I don’t think they took the money in order to give it back. I take my granddaughter to school. I have to transfer, and I use four rides on my discounted travel pass. When they limited the number of trips to fifty, they took us for idiots. They also sucker us out of rides. My friends recorded every trip and noticed that they were shorting us by ten rides. They run out before the month ends, and they kick us off public transport. They’re secretly stealing even from these crumbs, from the fifty rides, as if we couldn’t check how many rides we were getting. I feel ashamed of this regime. We worked honestly our whole lives, and now they’re punishing us, punishing orphaned children and disabled people. It’s disgusting.

Nadezhda

Sixty-one years old, she heard about the rally on the internet. Her main complaint is the thieves in the government.

I have been denied the chance to travel by public transport. I need to drop off and pick up my granddaughter nearly every day. Of course, the number of rides on the travel pass is not enough. It’s just digusting. Why did they decide to limit us? What made them think fifty rides was enough for us? Merkushkin says that somebody made a thousand trips in a month on a seasonal pass. That’s utter rubbish. Even if it’s true, does that mean everyone has to have their benefits slashed? How many crooks and thieves are in the government? How many cases of corruption have been proven? In keeping with Merkushkin’s line of reasoning, all governors should be hauled into the Investigative Committee, no?

Organizing People through Their Wallets

“Let’s Reforge Medvedev’s Palaces into Unlimited Rides for Veterans.” The fifty rides they get on their free transport passes is not enough for residents. Photo courtesy of Yevgeniya Volunkova/Takie Dela

The main organizer of the rallies, Mikhail Matveev, a Communist MP in the Samara Regional Duma, is certain that his best organizer, the person who gets people out to the protest rallies, is Governor Merkushkin himself, the man whose decisions have driven people to the edge.

“Our old ladies don’t just read newspapers and watch TV. They’re not as backwards as they seem. They read social networks and blogs. Young people tell them things. Plus, we leaflet mailboxes and residential building entryways. We printed around 15,000 leaflets for the March 19 rally. The printing was paid for by the party and by ordinary people. It’s not a lot of money, but we don’t have anymore. Residents help us by leafletting for free and printing the leaflets at home on their printers. But the main organizing factor is people’s wallets, and the main organizer is Merkushkin. It used to be that pensioners weren’t aware that the number of trips on public transport was limited, but suddenly they were kicked off buses. The pension checks arrived, they were 700 rubles less, and so on. Dissatisfaction has been growing. We are grateful to Governor Merkushkin for the fact that his blunt propaganda pisses people off. There are all the phrases he tosses off at meetings with constituents, like, ‘It was you who did it so that we did nothing for you,’ and so on. They make the rounds. There will be more protest rallies until we get the pensioners their benefits back and send the governor packing.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia’s Independent Truckers Battle for Their Livelihood

The Truckers’ Battle
Milana Mazayeva
Takie Dela
April 10, 2017

Our correspondent spent time with striking truckers in Dagestan and listened to their grievances against the regime.

Ali goes to the Dagestani truckers’ strike every morning. He has four children at home, two of them underage. No one in the family earns money besides Ali.

“If I don’t work, the only thing I can count on is the child support benefit my wife gets, which is 120 rubles [approx. 2 euros] a month. But the powers that be are not going to use that on me to force me to leave. I’m in it till the end.”

***

A nationwide truckers’ strike kicked off on March 27 in several regions of Russia. The authorities were quick to react. Petersburg traffic police detained Andrei Bazhutin, chair of the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR), accusing him of driving without a license. The incident occurred on the strike’s first day. Bazhutin was taken to a district court and placed under arrest for fourteen days. The sentence was later reduced to five days, and Bazhutin got out of jail on April 1.

The difference between this strike and other protests is that none of the strikers intends to give up, despite the arrests, intimidation, and blandishments meted out by the authorities.

“The arrest took five days from life and upset my family,” says Bazhutin. “Otherwise, nothing has changed about the strike. We said we were going to shut down cargo haulage, and that is what we have been doing. We said we would set up camps outside major cities, and that is what we have been doing. Next, we’re going to be holding rallies and recruiting grassroots organizations and political parties to our cause. Dagestan has been shut down, Siberia has been shut down. Central Russia is also on our side.”

“Officials Rake in the Dough, While We Eke out a Living”: What the Strikers in Dagestan Are Saying

Vakhid: Who the heck are you? What channel are you with? We don’t believe you. You won’t change anything with your articles. We need Channel One out here. Lots of folks have been here. They’ve walked around and taken pictures, and there was no point to it.

Magomed: I’m striking with my dad and our neighbor. The three of us run a rig together. We chipped in and bought it. It fed three families, but now we cannot manage. Over half the money we earn goes to paying taxes, buying diesel fuel, and maintaining the truck, and now on top of that there’s this Plato. We’re in the red. We’re staying out on strike until we win.

Ramazan: Plato has forced us to raise the prices for freight haulage. This triggers a rise in prices in grocery stores. So we’re the villains who take money from the common people and hand it over to Rotenberg? No, I disagree with this. I don’t want that sin on my conscience.

Haji: I don’t have an eighteen-wheeler. I’m a taxi driver. I came here the first day to support my brothers and then left. But then I saw on the web the riot cops had been sent in, and I decided to join the truckers and strike with them. Are they enemies of the people who should be surrounded by men armed to the teeth? Are the riot cops planning to shoot at them? What for?

The strike in Dagestan. Photo courtesy of Milana Mazayeva/Takie Dela

Umar: I pay Plato 14,000 rubles [approx. 230 euros] for a single run to Moscow and back. It doesn’t matter whether I have a load or I’m running empty. If this goes on, I’ll have to sell the truck. I don’t really believe they’ll abolish Plato, but I have a bit of hope. If I lose my job, my eldest son will have to quit school and support the family. He’s in his fourth year at the police academy.

Anonymous: We don’t have any watch or shift method here. We gave up on the idea because the people whose toes we’re stepping on are just waiting for us to do something that would enable them to charge us with conspiracy and a group crime. We made the decision that everyone would be striking on his own behalf. We have no leaders or chairmen. In 2016, we made a mistake: we elected one person to speak on our behalf. And what happened to him? After the first meeting, he was put on the wanted list and accused of extremism.

Isa: I’m not a long-haul trucker. I have a dump truck, but I decided to take part in the strike, too, because now I have to buy a pass that costs 2,000 rubles a month. What for? I live in town, and I never drive the truck out of town. I’m not causing damage to federal roads, why am I obliged to pay more than what I pay by law? I have four children to support.

Who Started it, or, The Damage Caused by Damage Compensation 

The strike was triggered by an increase in the toll rates for vehicles weighing twelve tons or more under the Plato road tolls payment system. The system was set up, allegedly, to offset the damage big rigs cause to Russia’s highways.

When Plato was launched in 2015, the rate was 1.53 rubles per kilometer. The truckers got the rate lowered to this rate through a series of protests, forcing the government to introduce discounted rates.

The second wave of protests kicked off because the rate was supposed to double to 3.06 rubles per kilometer as of April 15, 2017. After Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met with members of the business community on March 23, 2017, the decision was taken to raise the rates by 25% instead of 50%, but the truckers did not give up on the idea of striking. According to Rustam Mallamagomedov, a representative of Dagestan’s truckers, they prepared for the strike in advance.

“I’ve been in the freight business since 2003. There were things in the past that outraged us, like rising prices and changing tariffs, but Plato has been beyond the pale.

As soon as we learned the rates would go up on April 15, we got ourselves coordinated and went out on strike. We wanted to strike on March 10, but recalling what happened in 2015, we decided to get the regions up to snuff, get in touch with everyone, and go on strike together. Before Plato was launched, we hadn’t even heard of it. We were just confronted with a done deal. Yeah, there had been articles about it on the web, but most truckers aren’t interested in news and politics. We went out on strike as soon as we realized what the deal was.”

The Truckers’ Demands: Abolishing Plato and Firing Medvedev

It is difficult to count the number of strikers. We know there are 39,000 heavy cargo vehicle drivers registered in Dagestan, and the truckers claim that nearly all of them have gone on strike. The strikers’ demands also differ from one region to the next. Only one demand is common to all regions, however: dismantling the Plato system.

“It affects each and every one of us, because prices of products will go up for end users,” Bazhutin explains. “The Plato system will be introduced for passenger vehicles, similar to Germany. Next, we have a number of professional demands, since the industry is on its knees. They include reforming work schedules, making sense of the weight and seize requirements, and generally reforming the transport sector. Our fourth point is forcing the government to resign and expressing no confidence in the president. This lack of confidence has been there and will remain in light of the fact that we have a Constititution, but the Constitution is honored in the breach. People’s rights are violated, and since the president has sworn to protect the Constitution, we have expressed our lack of confidence in him. We believe we have to do things step by step. There must be meetings, there must be dialogue.”

Andrei Bazhutin. Photo courtesy of Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/TASS

The Dagestani drivers’ list of demands includes access to central TV channels.

“We want to be heard,” insists Mallamagomedov. “The mainstream media are silent, although Dagestan is now on the verge of a revolution. Our guys categorically demand that reporters from the main TV channels be sent here. Only after that would they agree to communicate with the authorities.”

Timur, a member of the Makhachkala Jamaat of Truck Drivers (as they call themselves), lists, among other demand, deferred payment of loans during the strike, thus recognizing it as a force majeure circumstance. In addition, the drivers in Dagestan’s capital have demanded an end to the persecution of strikers and the release of jailed activists.

Platonic Dislike, or, Who Needs Plato?

Yuri, from St. Petersburg, has been driving an eighteen-wheeler since 1977. He has been involved in the strike since day one, going home only to shower and change his clothes. Yuri has calculations, made by a professor at the Vyatsk State Agriculture Academy, according to which the passage of one truck over a stretch of highway corresponds to that of three passengers cars, rather than sixty, as was claimed in a government report on the benefits of the Plato payment system.

When he voices his grievances against Plato, Yuri resorts to the Constitution, which stipulates that vehicles and goods should move unhindered on the roads, and forbids erecting barriers and charging fees. [I honestly could find no such clause in the Russian Constitution, but maybe I was looking in the wrong place — TRR.]

Dagestan has also prepared for the eventuality the regime will try and play on the driver’s political illiteracy. The truckers now can safely converse with officials from the Transport Ministry and defend their case by citing calculations and the constitutions of their country and regions.

“We pay the transport tax and the fuel excise tax. The average truck travels 100,000 kilometers annually,” explains Mallamagomedov. “If Plato were to charge the originally announced toll of 3.73 rubles per kilometer, that would have amounted to 373,000 rubles [approx. 6,150 euros] per year for one truck alone. The fuel excise tax amounts to ten rubles per kilometer. That’s another 400,000 rubles a year.”

“In 2013, Putin clearly said during his annual press conference there was money to build roads. What was lacking was the facilities to build them. At the time, the regional authorities even wanted to refocus these funds on other needs. What happened in two years? Why did the money suddenly dry up? We are willing to pay if necessary. No one has a greater stake in road construction than we do. The roads damage our trucks and send the depreciation through the roof. We suggested adding one or two rubles to the fuel excise tax, rather than enrichening a private company. But what ultimately happened?

“During the past two years, four rubles have been added to the fuel excise tax and Plato has been launched. The government makes five trillion rubles [approx. 82 billion euros] a year from the excise tax alone, although one and a half trillion rubles would suffice for road construction and maintenance. But all the roads are still the same.”

Akhmat lives in the Dagestani city of Manas. It has the largest number of striking drivers, two thousand, and just as many big rigs have been shut down. Akhmat readily admits he has never paid a kopeck to Plato.

“I get fines in the mail, but I don’t pay them and I don’t intend to pay them. The money we pay through the fuel excise tax should be more than enough to fund everything. When we fuel up with diesel, we should have already paid enough to build roads.”

According to intelligence gathered by the strikers themselves, only large companies with a stake in maintaining relations with the authorities are not on strike. All the independent drivers have been striking.

“We’ve been getting information that large retail chains are already experiencing problems supplying certain food products, that cheap products have begun to vanish from the shelves, and that fruits and vegetables, which are shipped through Dagestan, have also vanished,” says Sergei Vladimirov from St. Petersburg. “I’m not going to predict how far this will go.

“What matters is that it not lead to revolution or civil war, because the people’s bitterness can come out in different ways. As citizens and fathers, we wouldn’t want this to happen. But if there is no dialogue, there will be no peace.”

Milana Mazayeva interviews a striking trucker in Dagestan (in Russian)

The possibility of losing one’s livelihood is regarded especially acutely in the North Caucasus.

“In my homeland of Dagestan, around 70% of the men earn their living behind the wheel. It is their only income,” says trucker Ali. “If a man is deprived of the means to feed his family, he’ll be ready for anything. The factories have been shut down: there is no employment in the region. Then they’ll say we’re all thieves and bandits. I’m not saying we’ll go stealing, but this system robs us of our last chance to make an honest living. What should we do? Retreat into the forests?”

Ali has been in the Manas camp for four days. During this time, he has not only failed to change his mind but he has become firmer in his intention not to back down.

“Our guys are camped out in Manas, Khasavyurt, Kizlyar, and Makhachkala.

“We stop everyone who drives by and is not involved in the strike. We ask them to join us, to show solidarity. We are certain the consequences will affect everyone. Someone cited the example of a bottle of milk. He said that, on average, the price of a carton rises by one to three kopecks. The guys who made those calculations didn’t factor in that, before the milk hits the stands in the stores, you have to feed the cow, milk it, process the milk, and produce containers. They ignored the entire logistical chain that gets the milk to the stores, talking instead about a price rise of one kopeck.

The strike in Dagestan, April 4. Photo courtesy of Milana Mazayeva/Takie Dela

“If the authorities do not respond to our demands, people will abandon their TV sets. Television is now saying that everything is fine, and that our only problems are Ukraine and Syria. Meanwhile, the country is impoverished.”

Plato’s branch office in Makhachkala claims the strike has in no way affected its operation. There were few drivers willing to pay in the first place. Most truckers look for ways to outwit the system.

“You cannot say that registration has stopped due to the strike. But we have the smallest percentage of registration in Dagestan,” says Ramazan Akhmedov, head of Plato’s Dagestan office. “Only one to two percent of truckers out of a total of 30,000 are in our system. Everyone else claims they didn’t get the fines. The system doesn’t work if a fine isn’t received, so it means they’re not going to pay.”

“Dagestan also lacks cameras that would record violations and issue fines. They are supposed to be installed before the end of the year. Most drivers travel within Dagestan, where there are no monitoring cameras, and when it is necessary to travel outside the region, they resort to tricks: they buy a temporary package or hide their license plates.”

What the Neighbours Say: Other Countries’ Know-How

Systems similar to Plato are used in many countries around the world, but not all of them have proved their worth, argue the Russian truckers. An OPR delegation visited Germany to learn the advantages and disadvantages of their system.

“The Germans blew it all when they agreed to pay tolls via a similar system,” recounts Sergei Vladimirov. “Three big companies pushed private carriers out of their livelihoods. Then they hired them to work for them and cut their pay in half. Germany is a total nightmare at the moment. A similar system for passenger vehicles is going online as of March 24. We can look forward to the same thing.”

But the carriers said there was no comparison between the quality of the roads in Russian and the west. Obviously, such factors as geography and the condition of roads when repairs are undertaken are quite significant.

“We were told about a similar scheme for collecting tolls in Germany,” says Timur Ramazanov. “I traveled around Germany with a local carrier. Along the way, we came across repairs of a new stretch of road. When I asked him why they were repairing a new road, the driver put a full cup of water on the dashboard and sped the truck up to 160 kilometers per hour. The water in the cup was shaking. That was the reason they were repairing that section of road. It would be unpatriotic, but we should hire the Germans to build our roads.”

Ramazan Akhmedov, head of Plato’s Dagestan branch, defends the system.

“When the system was just going online, we chatted with drivers from Belarus. They told us that, at first, their system wasn’t accepted by drivers. They tried to drive around the cameras, but now everyone pays. The system has proven its worth.”

“The Regime Is Out in Left Field”: The Authorities React to the Strike

The reaction of regional authorities to the strike has been mixed. There are regions where officials attend protest rallies on a daily basis, and there are others where they have been totally ignoring the strike.

Bazhutin argues that the closer you get to the capital, the less dialogue there is.

“The authorities at home in Petersburg have reacted quite languidly for some reason. They don’t want to talk with us. But the heck with them, we’ll wait them out.”

Yuri Yashukov is not surprised by the lack of a reaction on the part of federal authorities.

“How did the regime react to the anti-corruption rallies, organized by Alexei Navalny, which took place in all the big cities? Were they shown on television? Maybe in passing. But everyone is connected to the internet, and there you can see how many people came out for them. The only thing you can show on television is what villains the Ukrainians are, what rascals there are in Syria, and talk shows where people applaud the politicians.”

The only thing the regions have common in terms of how local authorities have reacted to the strike are arrests. There have been several dozen arrests. After Bazhutin was detained and later released, three truckers in Dagestan were jailed for ten to fifteen days. According to reports shared by the strikers on the social networks, there have been further arrests in Surgut, Volgograd, Chita, and Ulan-Ude.

Speaking to strikers on April 4, Yakub Khujayev, Dagestan’s deputy transport minister, asked everyone to disperse for three months and give the government time to draft proposals for abolishing Plato. The strikers immediately booed Khujayev, grabbed the megaphone, and took turns speaking. They urged each other not to succumb to the regime’s blandishments.

“The sons of our officials ride around in Mercedes Geländewagen Td cars, but I can’t afford to buy a Lada 14. Why? Did God make them better than me? How are they better than me?”

“Take the highway patrol in Dagestan. What is the highway patrol? They’re just the highway patrol, but they act like generals. I find it ten times easier to talk to Russian highway patrolmen than with our non-Russian highway patrolmen. They’re quicker on the uptake.”

“Look, brothers, they surrounded us with troops and try to frighten us with weapons. Are we going to let them scare us this way?”

“No!”

Yakub Khujayev,  Dagestan’s deputy transport minister (holding folder), with striking truckers on April 4. Photo courtesy of Milana Mazayeva/Takie Dela

Khujayev claims that Russian National Guardsmen did not encircle the truckers, as was reported by various media outlets.

“It was reported on a Friday that the riot cops had kettled the truckers. Every Friday, the mosques are packed to the gills with folks who park their cars on the road. Near the spot where the truckers have their camp, there is a federal highway, as well as a fork in the road and a mosque. Every Friday, law enforcement officers work to prevent a traffic jam. They go there and ask people not to park their cars on the road, and they help the highway patrol clear it. The exact same thing happened on the Friday when there was the outcry about the Russian National Guard.”

The strikers argue that Prime Minister Medvedev’s meeting with businessmen, at which truckers were present, allegedly, was a fake.

“When we found out who represented us at such a high level. It transpired that one of them was a United Russia party member who didn’t even own a truck, and the other guy travels the country telling everyone what a good system Plato is. How could they represent us if they didn’t even mention the strike at the meeting?” asks Timur Ramazanov, outraged.

Mobilization by Mobile Phone: How the Truckers Use Social Networks

During the strike, the truckers have cottoned to social networks accessible on smartphones, although previously most drivers had ordinary push-button mobile phones. The most popular mobile app is the Zello walkie-talkie app.*  The OPR has its own channel on Zello, on which around 400 people are chatting at any one time. There are around 3,000 strikers signed onto the channel.

The app lets you use your smartphone like a walkie-talkie, albeit a walkie-talkie that operates through the internet. On the truckers’ channel, users not only share news from the regions, do rollcalls, and encourage each other but also advise each other about what to do in certain circumstances.

MAXMAX: Guys, under Article 31 of the Russian Federal Constitution, we have the right to assemble peaceably, but [the authorities] are citing Federal Law FZ-54 on rallies and demonstrations. I advise everyone to read it. All the details are there.

BRATUHA86: Guys, Surgut on the line. Vasily’s court hearing just ended. They charged him with holding an illegal assembly of activists and fined him 20,000 rubles [approx. 330 euros]. That’s how it goes. Tyumen, I heard it’s kicking off in your parts, too. They’re going to identify the most active strikers and fine them like Vasily.

VIRUSID: Fellows, let’s help out by crowdfunding the fine. Everyone chips in 100 rubles each. We’ll raise 20,000 in a jiffy.

ALEKSEYVADIMOVICH: Of course we’ll help out. There are over 300 users online right now and we’ll put the money together quickly.

KAMAZ222: Dagestan supports you. Tell me where to send the money.

A long-haul trucker during a protest rally against the Plato system. Gorki Highway, Noginsk District, Moscow Region. Photo courtesy of Ramil Sitdikov/RIA Novosti

1111: Fellows, what’s happening with you all in Dagestan? Is it true the riot cops want to put the squeeze on you? If that’s the way it is, I suggest humping it down there to support the guys.

FRTD: We could do that, but they won’t let us through if we drive in a convoy. We need to think about what to do without setting ourselves up.

Virtually no outside talk is permitted on the Zello channel. Anyone who is suspected of being a provocateur is immediately blocked. The strikers also use the social networks WhatsApp and Facebook.

“Within a year and a half, we have managed to rally an insane number of people around our flag. By and large, the alliance jelled on a professional basis,” says Bazhutin. “Communicating through social networks has really helped us. The guys even knew better than I did what was happened when I arrested. I didn’t know the police were going to release me, but they already knew.”

“Guys from other regions called me today. They had heard the riot cops in Dagestan were planning to disperse the strikers. They promised me that, if this were true, they would come and support them and prevent a clash,” says Mallamagomedov, echoing Bazhutin. “The strikers have been getting vigorous support from taxi drivers and van drivers. They don’t picket all day, but they show up often, bring us food and drinks, and give us pep talks. The talk on the social networks is that now they’re testing the system on large vehicles. Small-tonnage vehicles will be the next step, and then passenger vehicles.”

Digging Ditches and Dismantling Rails: Means of Combating the Strikers

The strike has been hindered not only by the arrests of activists. In one village, the authorities were especially creative. The truckers named the day when they would leave the village and head off to the strike camp. They would have to drive over a railway crossing to do this. In the morning, the eighteen-wheelers arrived at the crossing, and the drivers discovered the rails had been dismantled overnight, cutting off their only way out of the village.

In Rostov Region, the authorities dug a deep ditch around the parking lot where the strikers had gathered, referring to it as “emergency repairs.”

Mallamagomedov has been detained by law enforcement several times. In January 2016, Dagestan’s truckers met to discuss their common problems.

“We decided to establish our own association in the Republic of Dagestan. I was elected leader. After the meeting, I was put on the wanted list, although I wasn’t informed of this. On the Dagestan-Kalmykia border, I was forced to get off a bus and had to hitchhike home. Since then, I haven’t been able to visit Dagestan safely. I was placed on the list of extremists. When I call the police and tell them to take me off the list of extremists, because they know it’s not true, they promise they’ll take me off the list, but I’m still wanted.”

Authorized protest rally of truckers against the Plato system, 27 March 2017, Chelyabinsk. Photo courtesy of Vadim Akhmetov/Ura.ru/TASS

On April 5, Mallamagomedov was immediately picked up by police after a press conference in Moscow. Two men in plain clothes, who introduced themselves as criminal investigators, put Mallamagomedov in a car without plates and took him to an unknown destination. According to him, a case against him was cooked up in August 2016, when he was involved in a farmers’ tractor convoy in Rostov Region. The court order handed to Mallamagomedov on April 5 says he should have been jailed for ten days for an administrative offense, but he was released the evening of the same day. He doesn’t know why he was released, but says his attorney would be appealing to the court’s decision to sentence him to ten days in jail.

“My entire family—my two brothers and my father—are truckers,” says Mallamagomedov. “Several days ago, people came to my father’s house and demanded he sign a paper saying he would not be involved in the strike. ‘I undertake to attend all protests and rallies organized in support of the people,’ my father wrote on that paper.”

* On Monday, RBC reported that Russian federal communications and media watchdog Roskomnadzor would block the free walkie-talkie app Zello within twenty-four hours.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Optimizing” Russian Healthcare to Death

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Given the dismal state of Russian healthcare, many people practice folk medicine. Photo by TRR

Experts Predict Reduction in Number of Hospitals to 1913 Levels
Polina Zvezdina
RBC
April 7, 2017

The optimization of healthcare has led to massive hospital closures and a decrease in the quality of medicine in Russia, experts say. By 2021–2022, the number of hospitals in the country might drop to the level of the Russian Empire.

Hospitals of the Russian Empire
Between 2000 and 2015, the number of hospitals in Russia halved, dropping from 10,700 to 5,400, according to calculations made by analysts from the Center for Economic and Political Reform (CEPR), based on data from Rosstat. In a report entitled “Burying Healthcare: Optimization of the Russian Healthcare System in Action,”  CEPR analysts note that if the authorities continue to shutter hospitals at the current pace (353 a year), the number of hospitals nationwide will have dropped to 3,000 by 2021–2022, which was the number of hospitals in the Russian Empire in 1913. (RBC has obtained a copy of the report.)

Healthcare reform kicked off in 2010, when the law on compulsory health insurance was adopted, David Melik-Guseinov, director of the Moscow Health Department’s Healthcare Organization Research Institute reminded our correspondent. It consisted in optimizing costs by closing inefficient hospitals and expanding the use of high-tech health facilities. The authors of the CEPR’s report explained that they examined a fifteen-year period when Vladimir Putin was in power, including his tenure as prime minister. In addition, the vigorous reform and optimization of healthcare kicked off between 2003 and 2005, as is evident from the statistics on the numbers of hospitals and outpatient clinics.

Hot on the heels of the hospitals, the number of hospital beds also decreased during the fifteen-year period: on average by 27.5%, down to 1.2 million, according to the CEPR’s calculations. In the countryside, the reduction of hospital beds has been more blatant: the numbers there have been reduced by nearly 40%. These data have been confirmed by Eduard Gavrilov, director of the Health Independent Monitoring Foundation. According to Gavrilov, the number of hospital beds has been reduced by 100,000 since 2013 alone.

Melik-Guseinov agrees the numbers of hospitals and beds have been decreasing, but argues these figures cannot be correlated with the quality of medical service and patient care. The primary indicator is the number of hospitalizations, and that number has been growing, he claims. For example, 96,000 more people were discharged in Moscow in 2016 than in 2015. This means that, although hospital bed numbers have gone done, hospital beds have been used more efficiently. Each hospital bed should be occupied 85–90% of the time, Melik-Guseinov stresses. If beds stand empty, they need to removed.

Outmaneuvering Outpatient Clinics
As the CEPR’s report indicates, the trend towards a decrease in hospitals and hospital beds could be justified were resources redistributed to outpatient clinics, but they too are being closed in Russia. During the period from 2000 to 2015, their numbers decreased by 12.7%, down to 18,600 facilities, while their workload increased from 166 patients a day to 208 patients.

“The planned maneuver for shifting the workload and resources from hospitals to outpatient clinics did not actually take place. The situation became more complex both in the fields of inpatient and outpatient care,” conclude the authors of the report.

In its report, CEPR also cites the outcome of an audit of healthcare optimization performed by the Federal Audit Chamber. The audit led the analysts to conclude that the reforms had reduced the availability of services. As the CEPR notes, the incidence of disease increased among the population by 39.1% during the period 2000–2015. Detected neoplasms increased by 35.7%, and circulatory diseases, by 82.5%. The analysts personally checked the accessibility of medical care in the regions. The report’s authors tried to get an appointment with a GP in a small Russian city, for example, Rybinsk, in Yaroslavl Region. If they had been real patients, they would have waited 21 days to see a doctor. In addition, write the analysts, hospitals do not have a number of drugs, such as dipyrone, phenazepam, and ascorbic acid.

Melik-Guseinov is certain that one cannot rely on data on the incidence of disease among the population as an indicator of deteriorating healthcare in Russia. He points out that what is at stake is not the incidence of disease per se, but diagnosis. The fact that the more illnesses are detected is a good thing.

Fastfood Wages
The CEPR’s analysts write that the lack of medicines in hospitals reflects another problems in Russian healthcare: its underfunding. The government constantly claims expenditures on healthcare have been increasing, but, taking inflation into account, on the contrary, they have been falling. The CEPR refers to an analysis of the Federal Mandatory Medical Insurance Fund. Their analysts calculated that its actual expenditures would fall by 6% in 2017 terms of 2015 prices.

The report’s authors also drew attention to medical personel’s salaries. Taking into account all overtime pay, physicians make 140 rubles [approx. 2.30 euros] an hour, while mid-level and lower-level medical staff make 82 and 72 rubles [approx. 1.36 euros and 1.18 euros] an hour, respectively.

“A physician’s hourly salary is comparable, for example, to the hourly pay of a rank-and-file worker at the McDonald’s fastfood chain (approx. 138 rubles an hour). A store manager in the chain makes around 160 rubles an hour, meaning more than a credentialed, highly educated doctor,” note the analysts in the CEPR’s report.

According to a survey of 7,500 physicians in 84 regions of Russia, done in February 2017 by the Health Independent Monitoring Foundation, around half of the doctors earn less than 20,000 rubles [approx. 330 euros] a month per position, the Foundation’s Eduard Gavrilov told RBC.

Compulsory medical insurance rates do not cover actual medical care costs, argue the CEPR’s analysts. For example, a basic blood test costs around 300 rubles, whereas outpatient clinics are paid 70 to 100 rubles on average for the tests under compulsory medical insurance. Hence the growing number of paid services. Thus, the amount paid for such services grew between 2005 and 2014 from 109.8 billion rubles to 474.4 billion rubles.

The authors of the report conclude that insurance-based medicine is ineffective in Russia. Given the country’s vast, underpopulated territory, one should not correlate money with the number of patients. This leads to underfunding and the “inevitable deterioration of medical care in small towns and rural areas.”

“It is necessary to raise the issue of reforming insurance-based medicine and partly returning to the principles of organizing and financing the medical network that existed in the Soviet Union,” the analysts conclude.

RBC expects a response from the Health Ministry.

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

Russian Supreme Court Looks Set to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses

Hearing of the Justice Ministry’s case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Russia in Russian Supreme Court, April 5, 2017, Moscow. Photo courtesy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Russia

Supreme Court Refuses to Recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses as Victims of Political Repression
Court Examining Justice Ministry’s Suit to Have Organized Declared “Extremist”
Elena Mukhametshina
Vedomosti
April 5, 2017

The Supreme Court has begun its consideration of the Justice Ministry’s suit against the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The ministry has asked the organization to be declared extremist, to ban its work, and to close it.

The Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia had tried to file a counterclaim, asking that the Justice Ministry’s actions be declared illegal. It also asked the court to rule that the ministry’s actions against the Jehovah’s Witnesses were political repression and to throw out the Justice Ministry’s suit. However, the judge refused to take the counterclaim into consideration.

The Justice Ministry has filed its suit to close not only the Administrative Center but also all of the religious organization’s branches and affiliates in Russia.

“The true goal is political repression against religious organizations, in particular, the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” said a defense counsellor.

He recalled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were also banned in Soviet times. In the early 1990s, however, the authorities admitted that members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been victims of political repression, and they were subsequently rehabilitated.

Three hundred and ninety-five local chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have asked to be named co-defendants, since their work would be stopped if the Administrative Center were deemed an “extremist” organization. Each of these chapters, which could be deemed “extremist,” has the right to ask Justice Ministry officials why they want to ban them, said a defense counsellor. The court turned down the request. They also requested the case files from administrative cases, in particular, cases in which the authorities claimed to have seized “extremist” matter. A defense counsellor said there were witnesses who had seen matter that had previously been recognized as “extremist” planted in places where searches had taken place. This motion was also denied. The next hearing in the case will be on Thursday.

In October of last year, Moscow’s Tverskaya District Court issued a warning to the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia for “extremist” activity. In January of this year, Moscow City Court upheld the legality of the warning. In March, the Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court asking that the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia be recognized as an “extreme” organization and that its activities be banned after inspections allegedly revealed violations of anti-“extremist” laws. At the same time, an order was issued to suspend the work of both the Administrative Center and all local chapters until the court had made its final decision. In turn, the Jehovah’s Witnesses indicated the ban would affect four hundred registered local religious organizations and 2,777 religious groups in Russia, amounting to 175,000 followers. The Supreme Court had already upheld the closure of local chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol, Belgorod, Samara, and other cities.

___________________

Nikolay Mitrokhin
Facebook
April 5, 2017

Today, a trial began whereby the Russian authorities intend to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The whole world understands it is shameful to persecute people for religious beliefs, but not the Russian authorities, who habitually could not care less about their reputation. If we speak in terms of the “public good,” then in the coming years, as terrorist attacks continue, crime rates remain high, and corruption has become total, law enforcement agencies will be busy “interdicting” the religious activities of the organization’s 170,000 active members. (This figure does not included the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of sympathizers, family members, and people involved in some way.)

There is no doubt the entire attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been undertaken by Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov to curry favor with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. It could be stopped with a single phone call. And yet this ban won’t really help the ROC in any way. Moreover, it will cause it serious problems, which even part of the church leadership understands. However, Kirill and his ideological confederates, having long ago taken the bit between their teeth, are speeding the church’s carriage over bumps and gullies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Instant Pariahs, or, Fontanka Declares Jihad on Everyone Who Looks Funny

Frightened Passengers Do Not Let Ilyas Nikitin Board Plane in Vnukovo
IslamNews
April 4, 2017

On Tuesday afternoon, passengers did not let Russian citizen Andrei (Ilyas) Nikitin, identified by the media as the alleged organizer of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, on board a plan. The victim himself told IslamNews about the incident.

According to Nikilin, he had passed through passport control, but could not board the Rossiya Airlines plane due to protests from frightened passengers.

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Ilyas Nikitin at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport. Photo courtesy of IslamNews

Even airport security personnel could not resolve the situation. Ultimately, Nikitin was forced to miss the flight.

Nikitin said the reaction of the passengers was a surprise to him, because on Tuesday morning he had flown from St. Petersburg to Moscow witn no problems.

He noted that law enforcement officials helped him get a refund for his ticket.

“The airline said it would not be able to put me on this plane. I hope to fly out on another plane tomorrow morning,” said Nikitin.

In connection with the incident, IslamNews appeals to its colleagues to comply with journalistic ethics. In particular, you should not publish unconfirmed information that could damage people’s reputations and cause panic in society.

Nikitin gave St. Petersburg law enforcement agencies high marks for their work after the terrorist attack in the city’s subway.

As previously reported, on the day of the terrorist attack, Nikita himself went to the police and said he was not complicit in the tragedy. Before this, video and photos of Nikitin, shot by a CCTV camera, went viral in the media. Because of his outward appearance (the clothes and beard typical of Muslims), the man was christened [sic] the alleged bomber.

____________________

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The Search for Jihad in St. Petersburg*
Denis Korotkov
Fontanka.ru
April 3, 2017

The guise of the suspect in the explosion in the Petersburg subway, whose photo has been distributed to police, is unambiguous. If the assumptions are correct, this is a public show. The man in a skullcap with a typical Muslim beard stepped right out of a poster for Islamic State, an organization banned in Russia.

Until April 3, 2017, terrorists did not try and blow Petersburg up [sic].** Homegrown skinheads, who assembled small DIY bombs, do not count in the bigger scheme of things. The first explosion in the subway has been marked with a clear trace. If the man wanted by the Chekists [sic] and police is guilty, he has issued a challenge. He wore no disguise, was emphatically Muslim in appearance, and was calm.

The explosion in the fourth car of the train that had departed from Sennaya Ploshchad subway station was heard around 2:30 p.m., when the train approached Tekhnologichesky Institut station. The dead and wounded are being counted. At the moment, officials agree that “about ten” people have been killed, and the number of wounded is around fifty. According to our information, the number of dead is fourteen. Another explosive device has been discovered and disarmed at Ploshchad Vosstaniya station.

Ambulance crews, Emergency Ministry teams, and police units, sirens blazing. The subway closed, endless traffic jams. Petersburg has never seen the likes of this.***

The prosecutor’s office initially declared the incident a terrorist act, then changed its mind. By 6:40 p.m., the Investigative Committee of Russia had decided the case would be investigated as a terrorist attack, with the proviso that the “investigation intends to look into all other possible explanations of this incident.”  Meanwhile, Petersburg police had already received the photo of the man who, presumably, could have placed the explosive device in the fourth car.

A tall, black skullcap, straight-cut black clothing, a typical beard with no mustache: for a considerable number of Petersburgers [sic], this is what a classic Wahhabi looks like [sic], the kind of person from whom the subway is closed by metal detectors and police units.

Subway explosions have been the “privilege” of the capital until now. On June 11, 1996, a blast between Tulskaya and Nagatinskaya stations in Moscow killed four people and injured sixteen. On January 1, 1998, an explosive device was discovered at Tretyakovskaya station; three subway workers were injured when it exploded. On August 8, 2000, a blast in the underground passage on Pushkin Square killed thirteen and injured sixty-one people. In 2004, an explosion in a train traveling between Avtozavodskaya and Paveletskaya stations killed forty-one and injured two hundred and fifty people. On August 31, 2004, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at Rizhskaya station, leaving nine dead and injuring fifty. On March 29, 2010, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up at Lubyanka and Park Kultury stations, killing forty-one people and injuring more than a hundred.

The outcome of the investigations of the 2014 [sic] and 2010 explosions is well known: the female suicide bombers were radical Islamists who blew themselves up at the behest of their religious mentors.

It was calm in Petersburg until then.**** The bell sounded in August 2016, when an FSB Grad special forces team stormed a rented flat on the tenth floor of a sixteen-storey building on Leninsky Prospekt by breaking through the ceiling [sic]. The details of the operation are unknown even now. According to official reports, four Islamist militants shot back and were destroyed by return fire. Judging by the fact that the liquidated militants were part of an Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group, led by Timur Likhov, who had been killed several days earlier, they had not come to Petersburg for a holiday.***** The FSB’s press service did not say what exactly was contained in the canisters and bags that were taken from the ransacked flat and loaded into an official van.

In November 2016, FSB special forces again stormed a flat, this time on the first floor of a five-storey building on Sofia Kovalevskaya Street. The “peaceful taxi drivers” from Uzbekistan and Kirghizia [sic] who lived there had automatic weapons and explosives in their possession, which did not stop them from asking to go home with an infantile naïveté, right after embarrassed confessions of plans to set off bombs in the Galeriya shopping mall on Ligovsky Prospect or in the subway.

Given that immediately after the explosion on the approach to Tekhnologichesky Institut an explosive device was discovered on Ploshchad Vosstaniia, the Investigative Commission’s proviso about “other explanations,” except a terrorist attack, looks more like overcautiousness. Real explosives were discovered were almost simultaneously as the first explosion in the Petersburg subway happened. You can discuss how typical it is for Islamic terrorists to use a fire extinguisher as a casing for an explosive device or place a bomb under a seat in the subway instead of using suicide bombers, but the list of possible explanations is very short [sic].

Surveillance cameras recorded the man in black allegedly leaving a briefcase containing explosives in the fourth car, strolling across Sennaya Ploshchad without the briefcase, talking with someone on the phone, and then leaving [sic]. ****** He could not help but understand he was doing this in the crosshairs [sic] of video cameras. Then his skullcap and beard are not just a typical image, but a signal.

The signal has been received.

The Petersburg subway reopened at 8:40 p.m. For the time being, Petersburgers prefer not go to under ground.

*********

* This incendiary, Islamophobic article, which shows every sign of violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282 (stipulating incitement of racial, ethnic, and religious hatred as a criminal offense) was posted on Fontanka.ru‘s website on April 3 at 9:35 p.m. Since that time, the “terrorist” in the CCTV camera still photograph, above, has voluntarily visited the police, been identified as Ilyas Nikitin, and has told the police he had nothing to do with the bombing in the Petersburg subway on April 3. Apparently, the police believed his testimony, because they immediately released him. And yet, as of 9:30 a.m. on April 5, this article is still posted on Fontanka.ru without the slightest indication that there have been any developments in the case since then. Is this the way ethical journalists work?

** This claim is false, both in terms of Petersburg’s recent history and certainly in terms of its history more generally. What were the Nazi trying to do during the 900-day siege of the city, during WWII, if not “trying to blow [it] up”?

*** A city that went through three revolutions, a civil war, and a 900-day siege by the Nazis from 1905 to 1944 “has not seen the likes of this”?

**** Petersburg in the mid noughties was anything but “calm.” There were hundreds of assaults, perpretated by neo-Nazi skinheads, on Central Asian migrant workers, students and visitors from Africa and Asia, people from the North and South Caucasus, foreigners in general, and local anti-fascists, many of them fatal.

***** The reporter’s only sources here are articles previously published on Fontanka.ru. Given the website’s well-known connections with local law enforcement agencies, I see no reason to treat these stories as necessarily or wholly true. The Russian security forces would not be the first to exaggerate the terrorist threat by fabricating or embellishing the particulars of its counter-terrorist operations.

****** Where are these images? Where have they been published?

____________________

Evgeny Shtorn
Facebook
April 5, 2017

Everything that happened on April 3 was awful, sad, and alarming. Today, at the entrance to the Vladimirskaya subway station, I was asked to step aside for an inspection. My backpack was checked, and I was asked to take everything out of my pockets. A man of “Slavic” appearance had been walking right in front of me, carrying a big backpack. No one stopped him. On the way back, at Narvskaya subway station, me and another comrade were asked to show our IDs. There was a young woman with us who, sensing the injustice, asked whether she also had to show her ID, but she was told no, she didn’t have to. Racism in action. Everyone has it hard right now, I realize, but some people have it harder. Everyone is scared to go into the subway, but the fear and humiliation is double for some. Skin color, the shape of one’s eyes, and place of birth do not make anyone second-class human beings. We must always remember this. We must remember it everyday.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Mr. Shtorn for his kind permission to translate and reproduce his remarks here.

Blind Valery Remizov versus The Brainwashers of Samara

Valery Remizov. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Khizhnyak/Drugoi Gorod

Blind Student Interrupts No Extremism Forum in Samara by Singing Ditties to Officials about Potholes
Takie Dela
March 30, 2017

Valery Remizov, a student at the law faculty of Samara State University, interrupted a speech by Governor Nikolai Merkushkin at the No Extremism Forum, held on March 30 at the MTL Arena sports complex, and sang ditties about the poor state of the city’s roads. Remizov related the incident to Takie Dela himself.

Local officials, legislators, and police were involved in the No Extremism Forum, writes Volga News. The audience included university and high school students, schoolteachers, and university lecturers. One of the people present in the auditorium broadcast a live feed on Periscope entitled “Brainwashing Students in Samara.”

At the nineteen-minute mark in the taped broadcast, as Samara Region Governor Nikolai Merkushin is speaking, we see an audience member get up and sing ditties, accompanying himself on the guitar. A woman approaches him and tries to confiscate the guitar, and she is joined thirty seconds later by police officers. The audience applauds. Merkushin suggests the young man go to the microphone and explain his complaints, but the police have already removed the man from the auditorium.

The blind man with the guitar was Samara State University student Valery Remizov. He told Takie Dela he went to the forum to voice his disagreement with the regional authorities. He explained that, several months ago, had tried to get an appointment with the governor, but he had been turned down.

“I don’t agree with the restrictions on the number of rides you can take if you use the free public transportation pass. I’m outraged by the condition of the sidewalks and roads, which are chockablock with potholes. I’m sick and tired of falling into a cold puddle in a pothole and catching cold. So I showed up and sang about it,” said Remizov.

He said the police showed him to the door of the sports complex and checked his ID.

“The minister for social policy came up to me. We chatted and exchanged phone numbers,” Remizov added. After that, the police released him, and he left the forum.

Volga News, which published a short item on the forum without mentioning Remizov’s performance, described a film show to the students at the beginning of the meeting.

“Carefully staged by spin doctors, mass events undermine society from within and break down national consciousness. Ultimately, this leads to tragic consequences and even people’s deaths.”

On February 1, 2017, Samara Region authorities limited the number of rides passengers could take on the free public transportation pass to fifty. A protest rally took place on February 18 in Samara. Protesters demanded the restoration of social benefits and called for the resignation of Governor Nikolai Merkushin. Approximately a thousand people took part in the rally.

The Samara news website Drugoi Gorod published a profile of Valery Remizov in late January. The young man is passionate about music and politics, and is studying to be a lawyer.

“It seems to me that if you really want to improve the city, it has to be comfortable for everyone right away. We are all people. We all want to walk on decent sidewalks and drive on good roads. But when you’re walking on broken pavement, it doesn’t matter whether you’re sighted or not. Everyone breaks their legs,” Remizov said in the interview.

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

_________________________

By the way, that was my 1500th blog post since I began telling stories about “other Russians” on October 23, 2007, which was when I launched the Russian Reader.
Then for five years, from 2008 to 2013, I told more such stories at Chtodelat News, with a slightly different twist, before returning full-time to the Russian Reader, where I’ve been translating and scribbling like a bat of out hell since 2013.
During that time, I’ve had nearly 468,000 views on both blogs combined.
I know that hardly compares with the megastars of blogging and tweeting and facebooking. I hope, however, I’ve managed to persuade some of you there is much more to modern Russia than the vicious nonentity VVP and his ruling clique, and that you should be much more interested in all those other Russians than in the nonentity and his allegedly wild but basically useless (and, perhaps, altogether fictitious) “popularity” and its elusive (nonexistent) “sources.”
The Russian Reader is a completely unfunded, unaffiliated, all-volunteer, almost entirely solo effort, so there’s a lot I haven’t been able to do, stories that I’ve missed entirely, and an inevitable subjectivity to what I chose to write about and how I write about it.
Nevertheless, I hope it’s still worth my doing, but I won’t know that unless I get real feedback in the form of better readership numbers and comments, letters, and even offers of help from you, my actual Russian readers. TRR

Partisans of Suna Win Fight to Save Forest

“You’ve signed up to defend the forest!” Placard hung in the Suna Forest by the “partisans.” Photo courtesy of Gleb Yarovoy

Suna Forest Defender Tatyana Romakhina: We Gestated This Victory for Nine Months like a Baby
Gleb Yarovoy
7X7
March 18, 2017

The standoff between the inhabitants of the village of Suna and quarry developers has ended in victory for the defenders of the Suna Forest. On March 17, the develоpers, Saturn Nordstroi, informed the Karelian Natural Resources Ministry in writing it was terminating its rights to the subsoil in the Suna Forest. This means that its lease agreement for the forest lot will also be terminatedin the very near future. The news was published on the republic’s official government website by acting head of Karelia Artur Parfyonchikov.

“Members of the public and the press asked me to pay particular attention to situation in the Suna Forest in the Kondopoga District from the very first day on the job as acting head of Karelia. The confrontation between local residents and the sand quarry development company took extreme forms after elderly people, veterans of the war, pitched a tent camp last year to keep a forest lot allocated for the quarrying of sand from being used in this way. All the procedures for legalizing the forest for subsoil extraction were were carried out in keeping with the law, but no one listened to the voice of the people for whom the Suna Forest was an inalienable part of their history and lifestyle,” Parfyonchikov wrote.

The news came as a shock to the defenders of the Suna Forest. In conversation with 7X7, Tatyana Romakhina told us she had found out about the so-called partisans of Suna’s victory from reporters and had taken a long while to believe what they had told her.

Tatyana Romakhina. Photo courtesy of Gleb Yarovoy

Tatyana Romakhina: I immediately got on the government website and opened this news article, but I couldn’t focus on what I was reading. The letters were dancing before my eyes, and I couldn’t figure out what they meant. And even after I read it I couldn’t understand whether I should believe it or not. I scanned the web, and people called me, but I couldn’t say anything. Then something happened. I got hysterical: I bawled and shook. We have been fighting this quarry for five years. And the last nine months… We’ve been saying now that we gestated this victory like a baby. It’s our child.

7X7: How did the people standing watch in the forest react at the time?

Tatyana Romakhina: I telephoned them, but they already knew. Nina Shalayeva had already got a phone call, and she had read it on the web herself. See, we had bought her a tablet and taught her to use the internet. So they all had found themselves and were happy.

7X7: When are you planning to remove the camp from the forest?

Tatyana Romakhina: We’re waiting for the papers, which I think we’ll  get soon. Otherwise, they said what they said, but we need to be sure it’s all official. So for the time being everything will be as it has been, but I’m hoping they would give us answer in the near future, especially because sent Mr. Parfyonchikov an official letter. So only after we get an official confirmation will we start tearing down the camp. I hope the river doesn’t start flowing again before we drag things out of the forest.

7X7: We’re willing help move thing, so let us know when it happens.

Tatyana Romakhina: Definitely. But we’ve already decided we’re having a celebration during the May holidays. We’ll set up tables on the river bank and invited all the folks who have helped and supported, all the reporters,, scientists, environmentalists, and activists. We’ll throw a big party. We’re an very grateful to everyone. We won only because we united forces. We wouldn’t have achieved anything on our own. Of course, we lived in the camp, and this was difficult and painful for us, but nothing new is ever born without pain and suffering, so we’re glad.

7X7: But now you have a landmark in the forest. Are you going to  give tours?

Tatyana Romakhina: Yes, we would like to commemorate this historic site somehow, to leave it to our children and grandchildren. We want people to know that nothing happens by itself, that it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

*****

The residents of the village of Suna fought five years for the pine forest, which had been handed over to the company Saturn Nordstroi for development as a sand quarry. The Suna Forest was the only place where locals picked mushrooms, berries, and medicinal herbs.

In 2015, endangered species of plants were discovered in the forest: Lobaria pulmonaria, or lungwort, a species of lichen, and Neckera pennata, or feather flat moss. But after Rosprirodnadzor (Russian Federal Agency for Oversight of Natural Resource Usage) permitted Saturn Nordstroi to relocate the endangered lungwort to a site outside the planned quarry, work on cutting down the forest commenced.

In the summer of 2016, the residents of Suna set up a camp in the forest to keep the forest from being destroyed. In February 2017, the social conflict between the villagers and businessmen was discussed by the Presidential Human Rights Council. They visited the vigil in the forest and concluded that all permits had been issued legally, but people’s opinion must be respected.

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