Offside: Number of Migrant Workers in Petersburg to Be Reduced Ahead of World Cup

DSCN2000A migrant worker shovels snow and ice in central Petersburg, December 21, 2017

Offside: Number of Migrant Workers in Petersburg to be Reduced Ahead of World Cup
Yelena Dombrova and Marina Vasilyeva
Delovoi Peterburg
January 11, 2018

Petersburg is preparing for the World Cup by tightening the residence rules for migrant workers. New federal laws could prevent restoring the flow of migrant workers, without whom the city’s economy is still unable to manage.

This year might prove critical for migrant laborers working in Petersburg. The flow of workers from other countries, which had picked up again last year after devaluation of the ruble, will be subject this year to legal restrictions, including restrictions occasioned by the World Cup.

Petersburg is one of the Russian cities where, from May 25 to July 25, 2018, the registration of foreigners at place of stay or place of residence will be executed within twenty-four hours from the date of arrival, rather than within seven days, as now. Such measures are stipulated by Presidential Decree No. 202, dated May 9, 2017, says Olga Duchenko, senior lawyer in the corporate and arbitration department at the firm Kachkin and Partners. People who violate the law in Petersburg will face fines between 5,000 rubles and 7,000 rubles [between 70 and 100 euros, approximately]. Foreigners can also be expelled from Russia.

The World Cup will be held in Russia between June 14 and July 15 of this year. The matches will be played at twelve stadiums in eleven Russian cities, including Petersburg. Our city will host matches between Morocco and Iran (June 15), Russia and Egypt (June 19), Brazil and Costa Rica (June 22), and Argentina and Nigeria (June 26). In addition, the city will host a second round match, a semi-finals match, and the third-place match.

This year, a number of laws on the registration of migrant workers will be tightened. The Russian parliament is thus currently discussing a law bill, now at the amendments stage, that would toughen criminal liability for fictitious registration of a foreigner or stateless person, says Duchenko. At the preliminary review stage are changes to the law on immigrant registration that would permit employers to cancel the registration of dismissed migrant workers.

The Recovery Will Become More Difficult
The number of migrant workers in Petersburg grew last year Thus, Petrostat, which relies on place of stay and place of residence registration data, has reported on the first nine months of 2017. 22,300 migrant workers from the CIS countries registered in Petersburg during this period, which is 71.5% more than during the same period the previous year. 10,300 migrant workers left the city, which is 20% fewer than the previous year.

Influx of Migrant Workers from CIS Countries to Petersburg, January–September 2017 

migration flows graphic-dp
The list of countries is as follows: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. Courtesy of Petrostat and Delovoi Peterburg

This year’s figures could prove to be exactly the opposite. Russia has already reduced the quota for temporary registrations issued by nearly 20% compared with 2017. Only 90,400 permits are planned for 2018. The reduction has affected the Northwestern Federal District as well.  The quota for obtaining temporary residence permits in 2018 will be 6,600 permits, as opposed to 9,300 permits in 2017. This is the most noticeable decline in recent years. In 2016, the quota was 10,000 permits; in 2015, it was 11,100 permits.

Nevertheless, a shortage of workers in Petersburg and Leningrad Region is not anticipated [sic].

“The overall number of migrant workers never exceeded five percent in the Losevo Group of Companies,” says Valeriya Ivanova, a development specialist with Losevo. “They are most employed at the dairy and on the farms as unskilled workers in accordance with immigration law.”

Ivanova stresses the group’s main production facility is located in Leningrad Region, far from Petersburg. Therefore, Losevo’s management is keen on employing local residents, i.e., the residents of the town of Svetogorsk and the village of Losevo, in the region’s Vyborg District.

Fire Them Just in Case
Changes to quotas could prove more palpable in the Petersburg labor market. Now, according to Russian Federal Government Decree No. 1467, as of January 1, 2018, employers can hire no more than 15% foreigners to work in retail alcohol and tobacco shops, and no more than 28% in companies engaged in passenger and freight transportation. As of January 1, migrant workers are forbidden to work in street trading and produce markets altogether. The proprietor, in possession of a license, should be the only person behind the counter.

“On the other hand, the quota for migrant workers in agriculture has been raised to fifty percent of jobs,” notes Chermen Dzotov, founder of the legal firm Dzotov and Partners.

Yuri Ragulin, owner of a chain of trading pavilions, is indignant.

“What is this? Tolerance or something? The fact is that, historically, Azeris have worked in the vegetable trade, for example. Why clamp down on this? What does it do for us? People have been in the business for eleven generations, they know what they’re doing. What I don’t understand is how I’m going to go out tomorrow and sell vegetables by myself.”

Ragulin believes that quotas in the retail trade will cause many people to go underground, leading to an increase in expenses, including bribes, and this will be reflected in the prices of goods.

“As for the World Cup, first, it lasts a month, and second, I have no clue why my shop at the train station in Zelenogorsk, for example, should be affected by the World Cup,” Ragulin concludes.

Petersburg human rights activists who deal with migrant workers note that many city policemen know how to say “Pay me 5,000 rubles” in Uzbek.

Ashot Efendiyev, owner of Monolith LLC, says that hiring foreigners to work behind the counter of a shop, market stall or kiosk has already been forbidden since May 2013.

“We don’t do it, because it’s simple dangerous. The fines run as high as 800,000 rubles [approx. 12,000 euros],” says Efendiyev. “The ban deals specifically with retail trade work behind a counter. If a person has a license, he can be hired for other work. So we have employed foreign electricians and stevedores. But now I’ve fired them just in case.”

Our sources in private universities that enroll foreigners say document checks of migrant workers have become more frequent. Paid enrollment is one way migrant workers from the near abroad use to stay in Russia legally.

“I think everyone will be expelled now, and our center will soon be shut down altogether,” says a female employee at one such university.

She says their students have always attended classes irregularly, but document checks began in the last several months, and the university administration has started expelling students who have missed several lectures in a row.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

The Moscow Senators

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The world’s greatest nonexistent baseball team, the Moscow Senators, are back on the field and raising a ruckus.

A new study by a Federation Council commission reportedly warns that Western nations are planning to transform Russian youths “into an instrument for eroding national political systems, realizing color revolution scenarios, coup d’etats, and social destabilization.” The goal of this campaign, the report allegedly concludes, is to create a generation of Russian leaders who, in 10 or 15 years, will come to power and change the country’s constitutional order and domestic and foreign policies to benefit the West.

In one section of the Federation Council’s report, Russian senators [sic] say they will create a “Black Book of Illegal Foreign Interference” to catalogue intrusions into Russian sovereignty, where individuals’ names and personal data could appear. The black book should be ready by mid-2018.

Senators [sic] are also calling for a series of new laws against foreign political meddling, including a formalized definition of “foreign interference” and new legislation prohibiting foreign state programs in Russia without the Russian government’s permission.

Excerpted from Meduza’s Real Russia email newsletter for November 29, 2017. Image courtesy of Twitter user @sarah63712

Life on the Installment Plan, Part Two

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“Sovkombank. Are you a pensioner? Your loan is approved!” Photo by the Russian Reader

Russians Borrowing More before Payday
The average microloan’s amount has increased by 14% on the year
Lyudmila Koval
Vedomosti
November 23, 2017

On the year, the average so-called payday loan has increased by 14.1% to 10,500 rubles [approx. 150 euros], according the National Credit History Bureau, who have compared people’s borrowing from microfinance institutions in the third quarters of 2017 and 2016.

The National Credit History Bureau arrived at its findings after analyzing data submitted to it by 3,000 microfinance institutions.

Young people have experienced the most trouble with their personal budgets. The average microloan in the under-twenty-five segment of borrowers grew by 23.6%. In the third quarter of 2017, it amounted to 8,100 rubles. The average microloan also grew considerably in the segment of borrowers aged between 25 and 29—by 18.7% to 10,300 rubles.

In turn, over the last year, the average microloan has increased the least among pension-age borrowers. Among borrowers between 60 and 65, it grew by 4.1% to 9,200 rubles, while among people over 65, it grew by 7.9% to 8,800 rubles.

The average amounts of microloans has been growing among all age groups of borrowers, but it has increased most of all in the under-thirty segment, emphasizes Alexander Vikulin, the National Credit History Bureau’s director general. According to Vikulin, microfinance organizations have always been attractive to young people, despite the fact this segment of borrowers is quite risky.

Although microfinance loans are considerably more expensive than bank loans, Russians continue to apply for them enthusiastically, often for quite original purposes. In approximately 59% of cases, Russians take out microloans for urgent needs or conceal why they are borrowing, the company Domashnie Dengi (Home Money) discovered. 15% of borrowers take out loans for home repairs, while 6% borrow money to buy appliances.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Impotent

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And [Putin] just stands there and watches them destroy each other, and doesn’t interfere. Because then, on the one hand, he gets to maintain his position above the fray and watch all these ministries mutually weaken each other and become incapable of monopolizing power (which he’s afraid of). But on the other hand, he’s afraid even to give an order, because he senses that his orders have no weight anymore, that he can’t do anything. It’s a hideous situation, and as a result everyone turns into these trembling slaves who have no idea what will befall them, because there’s no one to appeal to, there’s no ordering principle to appeal to anymore. There’s no law, Putin is absolutely impotent, he can’t do anything.

I am sorry for writing what I am about to write, because I have a decent amount of admiration for the man who wrote the passage I have quoted, above, but if there is anything nuttier than thinking that Putin (or any other dictator) is absolutely powerful, it is thinking that Putin has no power at all.

The “impotency” heresy seems to be all the rage these days, because Putin was, allegedly, persuaded by his ex-finance minister and ex-Petersburg city hall colleague Alexei Kudrin to write not one but three official letters telling whoever has been hassling the European University in St. Petersburg to back off and leave it alone, and all three times these sinister forces, whom no one has yet properly identified, because no one believes Rosobrnadzor, the federal education watchdog, and the courts could arrange this sick, nine-ring circus on their own, willfully ignored Putin’s instructions.

The explanation, given by Fontanka.ru investigative reporter Irina Tumakova in the latest edition of Novaya Gazeta v Petersburge, that the mess kicked off due to four complaints filed with the prosecutor’s office against the university by non-entities who now cannot even remember why they filed the complaints and have lost all the paperwork, may be factually true, but unfortunately it will have the effect of reinforcing the “impotency” camp’s convictions.

In reality, there are as many ways to exercise power as there are ways to be impotent, and so it is easy to confuse the two, especially if you are naive enough to believe that when Vladimir Putin says or writes something, he always means what he says or writes.

Let’s suppose Putin really is not averse to handing over the two mansions on the corner of Gagarin Street and the Kutuzov Embankment to his arch-crony Gennady Timchenko or whomever else Tumakova mentions in her article, and, in the process, getting rid of the European University, towards which he, plausibly, only feels antipathy, since in the past it was involved in using European Union funds to study election monitoring, something Putin, who has stayed in power this long only by rigging elections on a massive scale, would hardly approve.

(Putin even publicly said as much at the time, in late 2007 or early 2008, and soon afterwards, fire inspectors showed up at the European University and shut it down for two months.  It was reopened after a loud, noisy, vigorous public campaign by its faculty, its students, and its numerous supporters in the local and international community. I took part in that campaign.)

More generally, the Putin regime has been engaged in a long-term, deliberate program of clamping down on any and all independent forces and entities in Russia, from small and medium businesses and NGOs of all stripes (even ones not mixed up in politics and without financial or other connections to foreign partners) to independent religious groups (e.g., the Jehovah’s Witnesses) and independent educational institutions such as the European University. Hardly surprising for a regime chockablock with “former KGB officers” at all levels and led by another “former KGB officer,: it has increasingly come to regard everyone trying to operate beyond the Russian government’s overweaning oversight as extremely suspicious at best, “national traitors,” at worst.

Putin could make large numbers of people loathe him more than they already do by openly issuing a decree closing the European University and turning over its building and the neighboring building to his buddy Timchenko. Or he could play it smart and make clear through all the hundreds of channels he has at his disposal that he wants to shut down the university and hand over the building to Timchenko, all the while feigning to Kudrin and his liberal fans that he is worried enough about that fine little university to write the “back off” letters Kudrin asked him to write.

But the fix is already in, because Rosobrnadzor, the courts, Timchenko, and everyone else who needs to know, know that Putin’s letters of “support” for the university are meantto be roundly ignored. They know this because he has somehow indicated they should ignore them. How he did this exactly is immaterial and, ultimately, uninteresting.

So, in reality, this is yet another example of Putin’s exercising his rather considerable power, not evidence of his impotence. Of course, like any reasonably smart dictator or just plain leader, he wants to appear above the fray, but that does not mean he really is above the fray. He is right in the midst of it, whatever “it” is: making peace among the made men in his mafia empire, awarding them for their loyalty, slapping them on the wrists for their lapses, and adjudicating their conflicts between each other as they arise.

A real example of impotence are tenured and celebrated academics who persuade themselves, after being suckered by one of the oldest cons and mythologemes in Russian history (the powerless tsar surrounded by perfidious boyars), that since the allegedly powerful Putin is, in fact, impotent, they can be excused from empowering themselves and their students, and mobilizing them and the rather large community of people in Petersburg and around the world who are sympathetic to the European University to fight the power and get the university’s full rights as a research and teaching institution reinstated, while also forcing the powers that be to have the university’s grand old building restored to it and let it go ahead with renovating the building, as the university had carefully been preparing to do for several years.

That would be a real cause to rally round, but instead we have been treated, in turn, to long bouts of radio silence, various implausible conspiracy theories, and self-defeating disempowerment sessions, disguised as the worldly-wise acceptance of defeat and the lowly station of academics in Russian life.

But we have not seen the slightest hint of a coherent, militant public campaign to save the university, most of whose seemingly feeble supporters have the temerity to call it the “best in Russia.”

If it is really the best, it should be worth fighting tooth and nail for, no? Even and especially if you think the emperor has no clothes. TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

Diana Rudakova: Seven Days in Jail for Supporting the Wrong Candidate

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Diana Rudakova

Diana Rudakova, Navalny’s Tambov Campaign Coordinator, after Seven Days in Jail: “I Wasn’t Afraid and Did My Best”
Yekaterina Ivanova
7X7
November 13, 2017

Diana Rudakova, Alexei Navalny’s campaign manager in Tambov, was released on November 8 after spending seven days in the police special detention center. Rudakov was detained on November 1 after holding a well-attended rally, featuring Navalny, on October 29. 7X7‘s correspondent caught up with Rudakova and found out what her court hearing was like, what violations she was accused of, and why she went on hunger strike at the detention center.

Diana, let’s start with the background. Tell us how Tambov got ready for the meeting with Navalny this time round. As far as I know, you again had problems with the venue and contractors.

Our preparations were long and thorough. We distributed over eight thousand invitations to the meeting with Alexei. We looked for contractors and equipment. It was quite complicated, of course: people are afraid to work with us, afraid of pressure from the mayor’s office. So we looked for contractors in neighboring towns, but even that doesn’t guarantee you will get a stage and sound equipment. For example, our contractor from Ryazan turned around at one in the morning when he was halfway to Tambov. He said they had put the squeeze on him. He couldn’t work with us even though it meant he didn’t work at all that day. So we found another contractor in the middle of the night. On the day of the meeting with Alexei, we noticed all the roads around the shopping center [the meeting took place at the Bashnya Shopping Center on the outskirts of Tambov] had been blocked. We immediately made up our minds that the stage could not be transported to the venue, so we were ready to physically drag it there.

Plus, there were the sudden KVN [Club of the Funny and Inventive] performances, meant to distract young people and compete against the meeting with Navalny?

We didn’t even bother with the KVN command performances. They were trifling compared to the problems we had to solve on the eve of the meeting. But the meeting took place. It had to take place. Navalny met with supporters in a field. He spoke standing atop a speaker case and a small table. So, the simplest recipe for a successful meeting is Alexei and a group of people.

How many people showed up? How many people did you count on?

I was really happy with how the meeting turned out. I had expected half as many people to show up. We got a quite accurate count of the attendees, because we had handed out invitations, keeping the stubs for ourselves. We also counted the number of people who signed up on our mobile app. We handed out tickets to 1,243 people, and 1,291 people signed up on the mobile app. So the real number was somewhere in the middle. Plus, lots of people stood outside the fence: they didn’t come in, because it was closer to the stage. This was about two or three hundred people. So, all in all, there were about 1,500 people. This makes it, of course, the largest such event in Tambov history, not counting United Russia  “rallies,” where people were forced to attend.

Tell me all about your arrest. How did it happen? What were the charges? Why did they send you to jail?

Literally the day after the meeting, I came to work and saw policemen in our campaign headquarters. What was surprising was they had decided to arrest me for a solo picket I had held on October 7. Apparently, they had already written up the charge sheet and were holding onto the case file like a trump card, which they could pull out when it suited them and punish me. After detaining me at the office, they took me straight to the Soviet District Court. If a Navalny campaign volunteer is tried in the Soviet District Court, there’s a 100% likelihood of jail time. As we were approaching the court building, but hadn’t yet entered it, the policemen were already figuring out how they would drive me to the special detention center. I asked one of them to pretend to be lawful at least and wait until after the hearing. “Diana Borisovna,” he replied, “you’re an intelligent woman, and you know things work.”

You wrote on Facebook that the hearing was a pure formality.

The hearing lasted between ten and twelve minutes. The judge came into the courtroom with a pre-prepared ruling and commenced to read it out. He didn’t let my lawyer or me make a final statement. So I was sentenced to seven days in jail. I’m certain that the punishment had to do with the regime’s need to make an example of me to others. Because the authorities have stopped authorizing meetings with Navalny altogether. Holding meetings on private premises would have been a way out of this impasse. After our successful meeting, the federal campaign headquarters decided to focus on this format.

What prompted you to go on hunger strike?

After I found that my deputy coordinators and campaign office volunteers had been detained and sentenced to jail, I realized things could not go on this way and I went on hunger strike. [Leonid Yarygin was sentenced to 25 days in jail; Igor Slivin, to 20 days in jail and a fine of 300,000 rubles; and Margarita Zaitseva, to 5 days in jail.]

When you were in the detention center could you receive information from the outside? Did you know that many people tried to support you emotionally, that they handed out leaflets and circulated petitions?

A huge thanks to the folks and reporters, my friends and comrades who helped me on the outside by signing petitions, writing letters, reaching out to the independent media, and publicizing what happened to our campaign staff. After I went on hunger strike, a policeman immediately (ten minutes later) came to the detention center to write me up for violating Article 19.3 of the Russian Federal Administrative Code (“Disobeying a police officer’s lawful request”), because the day before I had refused to be fingerprinted and photographed, as was my right under the law. The next day, the policeman came again to write me up for something else. The deputy prosecutor and the prosecutor, all kinds of ombudsmen and overseers kept coming and going. A doctor constantly came to see me. Not a day went by when there wasn’t someone burning with the desire to talk to me about my hunger strike. So, if I hadn’t done it, my time in jail probably wouldn’t have been so rich.

Of course, I knew many of my friends and comrades on the outside were doing a lot to publicize the nasty things that happened to our campaign staff. If it hadn’t been for them, everything would have turned out differently. If it hadn’t been for them, I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the detention center, but would have immediately been dispatched to another court, where I would have been sentenced to another stint in jail.

I simply cannot thank people enough. A huge thanks to the campaign office volunteers who kept our office running, welcomed visitors, collected signatures on petitions, and plastered the entire city with leaflets defending Leonid, Igor, and me. They held solo pickets. When I was released and I was able to see all this, I was really touched. It’s quite hard to get information in the detention center, because you’re issued a mobile phone once a day for fifteen minutes and only to make calls.

How are things in the Tambov campaign headquarters now? What are your plans for the near future? Are you ready to throw in the towel after what has happened? You’re a young woman, after all, but now you’ve been arrested and spent time in a detention center.

Now we simply have to do what we need to do. I’m guided by the famous proverb, “Do what you must, and come what may.” I’m doing my best so that in the future, however it turns out, I can say I did everything I could, whether Russia becomes free or, on the contrary, remains unfree. In either case, I won’t have to be ashamed I was afraid. I wasn’t afraid and I did my best.

Diana Rudakova is 25 years old. She graduated from the architecture and construction program at Tambov Technical University in 2015. Her graduation project won third place in the Russian Nationwide Landscape Architecture Competition, which took place in Moscow at the Central House of Architects.

In 2012, Rudakova was co-organizer of a campaign opposing the merger of Tambov’s two universities, Tambov State and Tambov Technical, a campaign in which over 1,200 students were involved. From 2015 to 2017, Rudakova worked as a landscape designer in the Tambov Municipal Amenities and Landscaping Department while also being involved in the historical preservation movement. Since May 26, 2017, Rudakov has run Alexei Navalny’s campaign headquarters in Tambov.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of 7X7 and Diana Rudakova

Maria Eismont: Rules for a Rotten Life

asphalt i'm not match for you“I’m no match for you, pavement. If you ride a bike, wear a helmet.” Public service advertisement in central Petersburg, 13 October 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader 

Rules for a Rotten Life
Any of Us Can Be Detained by the Police and Should Be Prepared for It
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
November 8, 2017

Last weekend, Pavel Yarilin, a member of Moscow’s Airport District Municipal Council, and his colleagues spent several hours at a police station trying to secure the release of young auditors of the Higher School of Economics lecture program. The students had been taken to the police station after exiting their classes and finding themselves in the midst of a massive police crackdown on supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev, fugitive leader of the Artpodgovotka (Artillery Bombardment) movement, banned in Russia by a court order. Police were detaining people who had shown up for the “revolution” Maltsev announced for November 5, 2017. The total number of detainees exceeded 300 people.

Yarilin enunciated the impressions of what he witnessed and his conclusions in a detailed text he posted on the local community’s Facebook page, which he provocatively entitled “Be Ready, or, What It’s Time to Think about If Your Child Is between 13 and 25.”

“This applies to any person walk downing the street. Any person, including your son and you yourself. It is a random inevitability, so you shouldn’t be afraid. You should prepare yourself for the eventuality that, if you are arrested, you must behave the right way,” warns the councilman.

His second conclusion: “You can be named a witness in a criminal case due to an event about which you heard nothing at all.”

His third conclusion follows from the first two. It is addressed to parents of young adults.

“Your child does not necessarily have to be guilty to end up where he or she has ended up,” he writes.

The number of grateful comments under Yarilin’s account and the number of reposts nicely illustrate the relevance of such texts, which explain the unwritten rules of life in Russia to those people who have only just become adults, as well as to those people who for whatever reason have never thought hard about how things really work or were confused about them.

“One is a bit horrified by the fact this affects all of us, and yet there are no absolute rules for defending ourselves from it, nothing that says, ‘Do such and such, and everything will definitely be fine,'” writes Yarilin.

Today there is no simple and clear recipe for counteracting the total vulnerability of individuals before the state. But if we still cannot change the circumstances, we can describe them completely accurately, calling things by their real names and using words in their original sense.

Proceedings for authorizing an illegal, groundless arrest cannot be called a court hearing, just as you cannot call it an illegal event when citizens take to the streets unarmed and peaceably. You cannot speak of defending the country while attacking another country. You cannot call five minutes of hate a lesson in patriotism, and real patriots “foreign agents.” Parliamentary parties from the “systemic opposition” who blindly adopt cannibalistic, absurd laws dropped in their laps by the powers that be cannot be called opposition parties, and the work they do cannot be identified as politics.

The only thing today that could be called an election campaign in the sense that elections involve a real struggle for power, a contest of platforms and ideas, is the campaign Alexei Navalny has been running in the regions. But the authorities have been hassling Navalny’s campaign every which way they can, sometimes using methods that are absolutely unacceptable and illegal: banning peaceable rallies, arresting activists for no reason, firing the relatives of activists from their jobs, and forcing school administrators to threaten schoolchildren. So, the number of people who can benefit from Yarilin’s advice is bound to grow.

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

There Are No Condoms in Russia

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Developing a Moral Immunity to HIV
The Education and Science Ministry doesn’t want young people to talk about condoms
Anna Makeyeva and Valeriya Mishina
Kommersant
November 3, 2017

As Kommersant has learned, a scandal has erupted in the Education and Science Ministry over an online HIV prevention lesson for high school and university students. The people responsible for the internet project have refused to fulfill demands by officials to vet answers to users’ questions in advance, as well as their recommendations to “talk about morality in order to get away from slippery topics” and avoid such words as “condom.” It is still unclear how the lesson, scheduled for December 1, will be taught.

The Nationwide Internet HIV Prevention Lesson, timed to coincide with World AIDS Day on December 1, has been held by order of the Education and Science Ministry since 2015. On the eve of the lesson in 2016, Education and Science Minister Olga Vasilyeva noted that the issue of countering the spread of the HIV infection among children and adolescents, given the complicated epidemiological circumstances, had long been a focus of the Education and Science Ministry, and occupied a vital place in a set of measures for preserving and strengthening the health of children and young people.

“The use of such innovative methods as open internet lessons at preventive events in educational institutions will help us cope more effectively with the existing problem,” Izvestia quoted the ministry’s stated position in 2015.

On November 2, a working meeting in preparation for the upcoming internet lesson was chaired by Larisa Falkovskaya, deputy director of the department for state policy on children’s rights at the Education and Science Ministry.

“For the first time in my life, a meeting at the Education and Science Ministry ended in scandal because of my fault. I refused to write the answers for those taking part in the online HIV prevention lesson,” said Sergei Bulanov, who is in charge of organizing the online lesson and heads the Center for Modern Education Technologies, a group of non-profit organizations engaged in educational and related projects.

According to Bulanov, the officials at the meeting deemed use of the word “condom” “unacceptable,” and consequently the meeting was adjourned.

Project organizers suggested to officials they give up the practice of using prepared answers in the video lesson and discuss issues of prevention in a playful way, for example, by arranging a rap battle between student teams from two regions.

“But we were told to talk about morality in order to get away from slippery topics,” complained Bulanov, adding, “The topic is ratherly widely represented in the school curriculum, but currently the Education Ministry has adopted a surprising stance, based on substituting HIV prevention, which is mostly a matter of personal hygiene, with lessons in moral values.”

Besides, Bulanov argues it is incorrect to equate the risk of infection only with antisocial behavior.

“Thirty percent of HIV-infected women were infected by the only sexual partner they ever had. Can we reproach them for antisocial behavior? HIV-positive teenagers who have been infected from birth did not lead an antisocial lifestyle.”

Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal AIDS Center, argues the view it is better not talk to children about sex currently prevails in Russia.

“It is one of the reasons HIV has spread so widely in Russia,” he said.

According to Pokrovsky, twenty percent of young women are already having sex by the age of fifteen. He added that in Germany, for example, sex education is an obligatory subject in schools. Last year, only 3,500 cases of infection were registered there, while over 100,000 cases of infection were registered in the Russian Federation.

“We see two fundamentally [different] approaches and two different outcomes,” Pokrovsky concluded.

The Education and Science Ministry declined to comment on the situation when approached by Kommersant. The Russian Federal Health Ministry learned about the conflict from Kommersant. The ministry said the online HIV prevention lesson was an undertaking of the Education and Science Ministry.

“They did not come to us with this or consult with us,” our sources at the Health Ministry said.

Sergei Bulanov assured Kommersant preparations for the open HIV prevention lesson for young people would be continued.

“We will keep on working, focusing more on recommendations from specialists at the Health Ministry and Rospotrebnadzor [the Russian federal consumer watchdog] than on the client [i.e., the Education and Science Ministry].

The internet lesson will take place on December 1, 2017.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Pravda.ru