Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist

rudomakhaAndrei Rudomakha. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page and the Moscow Times

On the Watch: The Story of Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist
Vladimir Prikhodko and Angelina Davydova
Proekt
October 2, 2019

Protests against waste landfills, the clearcutting of parks, and illegally enclosed forests—the environment has been a frequent topic of regional protests in Russia. Persecution by the authorities, criminal cases, beatings, and even murders are everyday risks for environmental activists. Proekt tells the story of the persecution of the head of Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EcoWatch), which has been going on for almost forty years.

They go to bed late in the private house on Kerchenskaya Street in Krasnodar. The place resembles a commune. This is the home and office of Andrei Rudomakha and Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus aka EcoWatch, perhaps the most famous grassroots environmental organization in Russia. Rudomakha has led EcoWatch for fifteen years.

At 5:55 a.m. on July 30, everyone was asleep. At that moment, Investigative Committee investigator Sergei Kalashnikov and an unidentified FSB officer in a mask rang the doorbell. Not waiting for the homeowner to open the door, they ordered Emergencies Ministry officers to break down the gate. Within a couple of minutes, officers in masks had flooded the house, and two masked men with automatic rifles had thrown Rudomakha to the floor. When Rudomakha attempted to get up, the officer holding the activist pepper-sprayed him in the face.

Enemies of the State
This was the fifth search at EcoWatch in less than three years, and the second in the last four months.

“That morning, I was supposed to go to court in Maykop to face charges that we allegedly broke the law on ‘undesirable organizations’ by linking to Open Russia’s website on our sites and social media pages. My trip was canceled because of the search, and no one from our group was at the court hearing. Naturally, we lost the case,” says Rudomakha, meeting with our correspondent at the selfsame commune-like house.

EcoWatch was the first nonprofit organization in Russia to be found guilty of collaborating with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia.

In recent years, the number of environmental protests in various regions of Russia has certainly grown—from campaigns against waste landfills in parts of European Russia to protests against coal dust in the port of Nakhodka, in the country’s Far East, says Svyatoslav Zabelin, coordinator for the International Socio-Ecological Union. The most turbulent environmental protests of the past summer were in the village of Shiyes in Arkhangelsk Region, where the authorities wanted to transport garbage from Moscow. It was in the village of Loginovskaya in Arkhangelsk Region where Rudomakha was born fifty-five years ago.

rud-2
A 2018 protest rally in Severodvinsk against the Shiyes landfill. Source: activatica.org

“My father was a descendant of Kuban Cossacks. My mother is from Perm. That is where my parents met when they were at university. After their studies, they were assigned to work in the taiga in Arkhangelsk Region, on one of the local farms. Shortly after, we all moved to my father’s native land, the Taman Peninsula. I was still a very young child when my parents divorced. My mother raised me on her own. She worked for more than forty years in the village of Oktyabrsky in the Seversky District, where we relocated. The test fields of the Tobacco, Shag, and Tobacco Products Research Institute were located there.”

At the age of sixteen, Andrei set out for Cuba. He went to Moscow, supposedly to matriculate at the university, and along the way, he hopped a freight train in order to leave the Soviet Union—but he was found by frontier guards at the Romanian border.

“During the interrogation, the KGB guys thought long and hard about what to do with me,” Rudomakha says with a laugh. “After all, I had said to them, ‘Send me to Cuba, to a school for revolutionaries.’ The KGB officers reacted to this with their peculiar sense of humor and sent me to the Kishinev Mental Hospital. I was retrieved from there by my mother. From that point on I’ve never been out of the sight [of the authorities].”

rud-3
Andrei Rudomakha and his mother

This was how the secret services, rebellion, and forests came into Rudomakha’s life.

“A military coup occurred in Chile in 1973. All of the news contrasted sharply with the reality in which I lived. Oktyabrsky was a very boring place. Books were my salvation. And the forest. I rather quickly got keen on hikes in the woods. Che Guevara was my idol and hero.”

Rudomakha studied Spanish and Greek, began playing guitar and formed a band. He calls his mid-1980s self a “rocker.” In 1987, immediately after his army service, Andrei was offered a job at the Krasnodar House of Young Pioneers, in the Candle Amateur Song Club.

The Rocker
Peaceful and troubled
Troubled and easy
What infuses the air
In the meadows around Pseushkho?

These are lines from a poem by the bard poet Vladimir “Berg” Lantzberg. In the 1980s, he was living in Tuapse, putting together amateur song festivals and establishing the first communes. It was then that Rudomakha first encountered the communard scene, whose principles he would later adopt. The Pseushkho of which Lantzberg sang is a mountain with an Adyghe name in Krasnodar Territory’s Tuapse District. In 2019, Rudomakha would protest against the construction of a limestone quarry there.

In the 1980s, however, the Kuban was fighting another construction project. A nuclear power plant was slated to be built in the Energetiki district of the village of Mostovskaya. In its waning years, the Soviet Union had planned to build dozens of such plants, from Crimea to the Ural Mountains.

rud-4Several Soviet nuclear plants whose construction was begun in the late 1970s and early 80s were not completed. After the breakup of the USSR, one of those stations, Krymskaya, came in handy anyway—not, however, for the nuclear energy industry, but for purveyors of electronic music: it became the venue for the Republic of KaZantip festival of electronic dance music.

“Back in the early 80s, the mammoth construction of a power plant similar to Chernobyl began. In 1988, I was one of the people behind a protest rally. We organized it near Goryachy Klyuch on Lysaya Gora.  I remember how we went underground and hid from the KGB. It was then that I first crossed paths with the Nature Conservation Brigades (DOPs), which had been organized at the universities,” recounts Rudomakha.

During perestroika, university students were often certified as conservation, fishing, and hunting inspectors; these groups were then dispatched into the forests to arrest poachers. Later, alumni of the DOPs would become the backbone of the Russian branches of the WWF and Greenpeace.

Like nearly all the nuclear power plants whose construction kicked off at the turn of the 70s and 80s, construction at the Krasnodar plant was soon frozen. But Rudomakha’s career as a music teacher also came to a screeching halt: KGB officers showed up at the Young Pioneers House, and Rudomakha lost his job. His employment at the Candle Club would be the only entry in his official work record book.

The Communard
Over the last nine years, four criminal cases have been brought against Rudomakha, and seven police searches conducted. He has been jailed on misdemeanor convictions more than fifty times. In the end, EcoWatch was even declared a “foreign agent,” although the decision was reconsidered last year.

In recent years, the growing physical and legal pressure on environmental activists has been as big a trend as the increase in the number of environmental protest rallies. Among the main methods of pressure are forcible dispersal of protests by police, pressure on activists at work, threats to relatives, court cases, straightforward violence, and even murder. In March 2019, environmental activist Denis Shtroo was murdered in Kaluga while participating in, among other things, a campaign against the building of a waste landfill near the village of Mikhali.

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Intimidation of Russian Environmental Activists in the First Five Months of 2019
According to information from the Russian Socio-Ecological Union

rud-5Denis Shtroo

activist murdered. In March 2019, environmentalist Denis Shtroo died of stab wounds in Kaluga. He was involved in a campaign against the construction of a waste landfill in the village of Mikhali.

5 cases of criminal prosecution.

7 attacks on activists, attacks on dwellings, property damage, and police searches.

110 cases of administrative prosecution. The total in fines has amounted to more than a million rubles [approx. 12,000 euros].

In 2019, cases of intimidation against environmentalists were most often recorded in Shiyes, Arkhangelsk Region, where illegal construction of a landfill for Moscow’s solid household waste is underway; in Yekaterinburg, where activists were defending the city’s green spaces; and, as in years past, against activists from Stop GOK, in Chelyabinsk, and EcoWatch.

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When the New Russia of the early 90s dawned, Rudomakha was in the woods.

“I decided to build a commune at Kisha Station in the Caucasus Nature Reserve. It is a secluded place in Adygea’s Maykop District. Later, our base moved to Ust-Sakhray. In 1988, for a ridiculously small amount of money (the cost of a Zaporozhets car), we bought a house there. It was an area of abandoned villages that people were trying to leave, but we were doing the opposite. I lived in Ust-Sakhray until 1995. I won’t mention the names of the comrades with whom I started out. Many have their own lives and families now,” he says.

Andrei has his own way of viewing everyday life. Remembering those days, he says with regret that the communes fell apart because people started romantic relationships and left.

“We had a lot of ideas: we wanted to transform all of Sakhray and build a public school. My first daughter was born there, and my wife left — she preferred me to another. All of our ideas were shattered by the internal conflicts and disagreements that arose among the settlers. And, basically, I regret that we sat out perestroika in the mountains. It would have been better, of course, in the city,” he says.

The New Russia brought big money to the Kuban. With its sea, mountains, forests, and springs, the southern region attracted businessmen and politicians from Moscow. Some businessmen began to cut down wood on the unique Bolshoi Thach Mountain and haul it out with helicopters.

“And I came out of the woods. The times had drastically changed, as it turned out. Grassroots organizations were on the upswing,” Rudomakha says.

Soon Rudomakha would turn up in Maykop, where he lived in a small house at a weather station run by Vladimir Karatayev, leader of the Union of the Slavs of Adygea. There a branch of the Socio-Environmental Union would be opened, the first environmental organization founded by Rudomakha.

rud-6Rudomakha examines a forest clearcutting in the Caucasus Nature Reserve

“With money from western foundations, we bought a computer and a modem—and things took off. We organized protest rallies, spiked tree trunks, and stopped clearcutting. And, as a result, Bolshoi Thach was made part of the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Rudomakha explains.

Pandora’s Box
The planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s cult science fiction novella The Word for World Is Forest is called Athshe. This planet would become the prototype for Pandora in the movie Avatar, and would also give its name to Rudomakha’s 1990s commune, from which EcoWatch arose. Le Guin grew up in leftist Berkeley and was interested in anarchism and environmental movements. In her novella, the kind forest inhabitants, called “creechies” by earthlings, defend their planet from the “yumens.” Athshe Commune was also focused on environmental protests. Commune members took names from the novella’s characters.

Today, activists would be jailed for many of the protest actions carried out then. Rudomakha’s commune took part in many of them alongside the Federal Anarchists of Kuban (FAK) and radical environmentalists from the Keepers of the Rainbow.

“We were always blocking or blockading something,” Rudomakha recalls. “There were tragedies, too. In 1997, we locked ourselves together with metal chains and blocked the road to Sochi. A crazy trucker drove at us, who knows why, and Anya Koshikovaya’s hand was torn off. In the late 90s, this sort of thing brought palpable results. We seriously considered the idea of creating a guerrilla environmental army, to waste everyone. The forests here are wonderful—one could be guerrillas endlessly. Theoretically, if the necessary contingent of people were found, all this would be quite feasible. To do that you would need to break with your usual life and go rogue. Basically, I’ve been ready for that since childhood. If I could find five people just as mad as me!”

rud-7An environmental protest involving Rudomakha, 1990s

In the finale of Le Guin’s novella, the creechies surround and kill almost all the earthlings. They are especially keen to hunt down the women to prevent new generations of humans from taking over their forests.

Palace Coup
“Sanya [i.e., Alexander] is a thief”: in November 2011, Rudomakha’s comrades in arms spray-painted this graffiti, among others, on the fence of a luxurious estate on the Black Sea shore in Blue Bay, not far from Tuapse. The estate was officially called the Agrocomplex JSC Recreation Center, and it was owned by the family of Alexander Tkachov, former Krasnodar Territory governor and former Russian federal agriculture minister. For all of 2011, enviro-activists battled against this dacha, on whose premises rare trees were presumably being clearcut and access to the sea was illegally fenced. A protest action in November, during which one section of the fence fell, was the last for many activists. Agrocomplex soon filed criminal charges for property damage. Rudomakha’s comrade in arms Suren Gazaryan left the country after receiving political asylum in Estonia. (He now lives in Germany.) Yevgeny Vitishko, another EcoWatchman, was given a three-year suspended sentence, with two years of probation; in December 2013, the suspended sentence was replaced with a real one, and Vitishko served more than a year in a work-release penal colony near Tambov. Amnesty International recognized the activist as a prisoner of conscience.

rud-8“Sanya is a thief”: graffiti on the illegally erected fence in Blue Bay

“The constitution is in a noose, Vitishko is in prison,” Pussy Riot sang at the time. And, in fact, environmental protests against palaces owned by high-ranking officials and the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics were perhaps the main public issue in southern Russia in the early 2010s.

EcoWatch had taken on palaces practically from its official founding in 2004. There was good reason to work on the issue—the Kuban had become a favorite spot for both officials and businessmen.

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rud-9Putin’s palace on Cape Idokopas. Source: navalny.com

The Kuban—Homeland of Palaces: Vladimir Putin’s Palace

In 2010, businessman Sergei Kolesnikov told the world about the construction of a luxurious palace for the Russian president. The site was located in the Kuban, not far from Praskoveyevka on Cape Idokopas. In 2006, the land plot was transferred from the Russian Federation to the Tuapse Vacation House of the Office of Presidential Affairs, and then to the Indokopas Company in 2010.

According to EcoWatch, during construction of the residence and the roads leading up to it, more than forty-five hectares of forest were clearcut; among them, parcels harboring the threatened Pitsunda Pine (Pinus pityusa) were destroyed. According to the calculations of EcoWatch and Greenpeace, the damage from illegal clearcutting came to more than 2.7 billion rubles. Inquiries to the authorities from EcoWatch about the illegal cutting on the palace territory went unanswered.

[Note: the original article in Russian also has short briefs on the Kuban “dachas” of Dmitry Medvedev, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Alexander Tkachov, Alexander Remezkov, Patriarch Kirill, and Anatoly Serdyukov. — TRR]

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“Lots of federal officials have dachas on the coast. And basically, we don’t care who owns them. We’d like for those people not to behave like swine. It doesn’t matter whose they are,” says Rudomakha.

The first and perhaps most well-known victory was scored in 2009 when the Watchmen halted construction of a proposed dacha for Dmitri Medvedev in the tiny town of Utrish.

The campaign against environmental violations in the runup to the Olympics brought Rudomakha and EcoWatch international fame: foreign journalists flocked to them in droves. Rudomakha is now certain that the series of refusals by European cities to bid to host the Olympic games (for example, when residents of Munich voted no in a referendum on the city’s bidding for the 2022 Olympics) came about precisely because “we succeeded in creating an image of the Sochi Olympics as the most anti-environmental, expensive, and absurd in the entire history of the Olympic movement.”

“It was then that the authorities started to vigorously persecute us,” Rudomakha says about the time. “I understood that serious ‘winds of change’ had begun to blow. They no longer tried to sit down at the negotiating table with us, and cops chased us around the woods. It was kind of funny.”

The Autocrat
“Andrei’s authoritarianism has always been my number one problem,” Yevgeny Vitishko now recounts. In 2016, he and another well-known EcoWatch alumnus, Suren Gazaryan, left the organization.

“From the outside, the Watch looked quite democratic, but in fact everything revolved around one person. His leadership style can be described in sociological terms as narcissistic,” says Gazaryan.

Vitishko and Rudomakha have since reconciled. However, for many, the head of EcoWatch remains a fanatic with autocratic manners.

For several years, local and even national media have been publishing stories about Rudomakha hinting that he is guilty of everything from pedophilia to cooperating secretly with officials. Rudomakha calls the reports nonsense, saying that the regional government is behind them.

rud-9“Gazprom is a murderer” / “Stop Blue Stream”: Kuban environmentalists protesting against Gazprom 

Rudomakha does not separate the personal from his work life: he admits that his activism has not affected his family’s fortunes in the best of ways. The first floor of the rented house on Kerchenskaya is used as an office, while the second floor is home to Rudomakha and his second daughter, who, in the wake of her parents’ divorce, enrolled in university in Krasnodar and moved in with her father. Rudomakha had once hoped that his daughter would also become an environmentalist, but now he has lost that hope.

“I am quite pessimistic when I assess the evolution of Russia’s environmental movement,” says Rudomakha. “The population is very inert and severely intimidated, and the level of passionarity among people is at a minimum. People rise up, for the most part, only when they are personally affected. If there were organizations like ours in every region, it would be possible to change the situation in this arena and in the country as a whole. After all, a large number of such organizations would naturally make it necessary for them to unite.”

“I haven’t seen an influx of new people into EcoWatch,” notes Rudomakha’s former colleague Gazaryan. “Andrei’s lifestyle and views are on the fringe, and his office is also his residence. It’s hard to work in this environment. And there is no [broad environmental] movement in Russia. There are separate organizations and local groups, but they have no coordination or goals. They are not represented on the political level, and fall apart after a problem is solved,” Gazaryan says, but after thinking about it, he adds that he could be mistaken. “I haven’t lived in Russia for a long time.”

* * *

Late in the evening of December 28, 2017, Rudomakha, his colleague Viktor Chirikov, and journalist Vera Kholodnaya had just arrived at the commune house on Kerchenskaya. Rudomakha had just exited the car when three men ran up to him. Dousing him in the eyes with pepper spray, they knocked him down to the ground and kicked him repeatedly. He lost consciousness. Chirikov was beaten less, and Kholodnaya was only “blinded” by the pepper spray. After that, the attackers took several cameras and a GPS navigator from the car. The entire incident lasted no more than two minutes.

Doctors diagnosed Rudomakha with broken bones in his face and nose, a concussion, and pneumocephalus—the leakage of air into his cranial cavity. He spent three weeks in the hospital.

An investigation into the attack yielded no results. But the enviro-activists have their own theory. They had returned that day from a trip to the area around the village Krinitsa, a small resort in Gelendzhik. There, in the forest, construction had begun on a site resembling a wine-making chateau—such was EcoWatch’s assessment. A prefabricated chapel had also been erected there by order of Axis Investment JSC.  The owner of this firm is Alexei Toth, a business partner of Nikolai Yegorov, who is a well-known Petersburg lawyer and a personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

Translated by Mary Rees. Except where noted, all photos courtesy of Proekt.

The Cabbies Left While the Cossacks Stayed: Rostov-on-Don on the Eve of the World Cup

rostov arena-2Rostov Arena. Photo courtesy of ftbl.ru

The Cabbies Left, The Cossacks Stayed
Gleb Golod
Takie Dela
June 8, 2018

The banks of the Don River in Rostov were always quite different. The right bank was landscaped, featuring bars and restaurants suited to every taste, singing fountains, and amusements. The left bank featured a wild beach chockablock with sand and trees. It was a favorite spot for picnickers and outdoor shish kebab cookouts. People used to swim there until the Don was completely polluted.

The new Rostov Arena has been built on the the left bank. Nine months and 913 million rubles [approx. 123 million euros] turned the wild beach into a landscaped park and river embankment. All that is left of the levberdon, as Rostovians call it, is a pier that extends nearly to the middle of the mighty river.  Over the long years it has been there, it has rusted, and there are holes in its covering here and there. The locals loved it, however. In the evenings, you would always find a couple in love, a photographer and his model, a small group of friends, and an old fisherman who had good luck catching herring in the middle of the Don.

Since May 1, when the park on the left bank officially opened, it has been standing room only on the pier. Locals stroll there with their children, joined by the foreigners who have arrived earlier in Rostov-on-Don. Someone worried about safety decided to limit the number of people on the pier and welded an iron grille to the entrance, but this has not stopped the flood of visitors. Cyclists toss their bikes over it, men help their female companions climb over it, and parents ferry their children from one side of the grille to the other.

Every half hour, an improvised river taxi docks alongside the pier. It charges adults 500 rubles for a ride. Children sail for free.

“Business? What business? The main thing we sell are emotions. River cruises are soothing. Adults can relax while the kids doze,” a man in a sailor’s hat and striped shirt advertises a short cruise on the Don while docking at the pier.

“Business has been good, of course, since so many people started coming here,” he admits. “I would give the embankment a ‘C’ for now. There is not much in the way of infrastructure or development. We’ll see how it looks a year from now.”

The boat pilot does not waste any time. He has struck up a conversation with a young boy, whom he has given a tennis ball. The boy persuades his parents to go for a ride on the boat. They quickly give in. The vessel weighs anchor and speeds off toward the other shore.

The Stadium and the Park
The boat pilot gave the new park a “C,” but the locals like the new sports facilities and playgrounds, and the fact the park is well maintained. But it lacks trees, many of which were cut down during the beautification.

“There is a lot of exercise equipment, and the air is fresh, but I probably won’t be coming here in the summer. There are few trees and little shade. But you know what the heat is like here in July. You could kick the bucket,” says a young woman in workout gear.

The local are not imagining things. There really are many fewer trees. The park was built without consideration of the place’s specific features. Consequently, the “city’s green shield” was left with huge gaps in it, says Alexander Vodyanik, environmentalist and assistant secretary of the Russian Public Chamber.

The “wild” green area on the left bank, which stretched all the way to Bataysk, a suburb of Rostov-on-Don, moistened the winds sweeping in from the Kalmyk steppes, winds that are especially palpable in the spring. It was the primary source of fresh air, supplying it just as ably as a forest, says Vodyanik. The place had to be beautified, but a completely different park should have been built, a wetlands park.

“Historically, this place functioned as a city beach, and it should have been turned into a city beach. People swim at a beach, but the Don has been so badly polluted for so long that swimming was definitely off limits in this part. In that case, swimming pools could have been set up while simultaneously purifying the water. This has been done in Germany on the Rhine, which is much dirtier than the Don, and the project has been a success,” says Vodyankik. “But a park was built here instead. An instant lawn, which has already gone bad, was rolled out. Eighty percent of the poplars were cut down. We had problems with our woodlands as it was, but they were damaged even further.”

The so-called Tourist Police are identified as such on the armbands they wear. A female student from Namibia leads a tour for her friends, who have arrived to enroll at the Don State Technical University. A young man named Aman hopes to get a ticket to the match between Brazil and Switzerland. If it does not work out, however, he will just go for a stroll around the city.

“I really like it here. The city is pretty and has an interesting history. Things are good, the park is good. Everything is terrific and cozy,” he says in English. “By the way, could you tell me where the stadium is? All the signs are in Russian, which I don’t actually understand.”

Rostov Arena was built at a distance from residential areas, so loud fans will not bother locals even on match days. The stadium is accessible by bus and taxi. True, fans will have to walk the last 500 meters to the turnstiles. This decision was made for security reasons.

Cabbies Leave the Fan Zone
Specially accredited taxi drivers will ferry fans from the left bank to the right bank and the fan zone on Theater Square. The most popular taxi services in Rostov-on-Don, Uber and Leader, accessible on the Rutaxi app, will not be working during the World Cup because they are not officially registered as commercial transport services.

Among the major cab companies, Yandex Taxi and Taxi 306 have been accredited to work during the World Cup. Roman Glushchenko, executive director of Taxi 306, told us  a total of 500 cars had been accredited in Rostov-on-Don, but he refused to discuss whether that would be enough cars to handle all comers.

According to gypsy cab driver Leonid, around 150 drivers of the ten thousand drivers affiliated with the company 2-306-306 have been accredited. Cabbies like Leonid mainly work for themselves rather than licensed carriers, which are practically nonexistent in the city, he explains. The gypsy cabbies use Yandex, Uber, Gett, and Leader as dispatchers, either directly or through small intermediary firms. So, when the issue of accreditation for the World Cup arose, it was a problem for drivers, who had to obtain permits, sign a contract with a licensed carrier, and paint their cars yellow or white. The Rostov Regional Transport Ministry issued the full list of requirements for accreditation.

“I’m not going to lift a finger to get accreditation,” Leonid admits. “Why should I give myself a headache by getting permits that would mean I would start making a loss? Licensed cars must be stickered with the taxi company’s ID tag. I don’t want to have this for a number of reasons. I would also have to register as an independent entrepreneur, get a license from the Transport Ministry, which was free until this year, and insure my cab, although premiums are higher than usual. And that’s over and above the 25% cut I give to Yandex. I know lots of gypsy cabbies. Not a single one of them has bothered to get accreditation. It’s just bad business for them.”

To prevent the few accredited taxis from jacking up rates for Rostovians and fans, the Transport Ministry has established a single rate for the entire World Cup.

Leonid plans to spend the World Cup in Sochi. He says the transport system there is better, applying for a license is easier, and the city is generally better prepared after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Who wants to sit in traffic jams driving back and forth to the stadium?” he grumbles.

Although the World Cup lasts only four weeks, Theater Square, which will house a fan zone that can accommodate 22,000 fans, was closed to car traffic and public transport on May 13 and will remain closed until July 21. In the mornings and evenings, buses are already stuck in traffic on Sholokhov Avenue. When the World Cup kicks off, share taxis (marshrutki) will be removed from Red Army Street. Officials have promised they will be replaced with new buses.

There are plans to show all the matches on giant screens, organize entertainment for fans, and open food courts on Theater Square. The fan zone is a few hundred meters from the ruins of an entire residential neighborhood, destroyed by fire last year.

The square itself is home of the Gorky Drama Theater, hence the square’s name. It is one of two Russian buildings whose models are exhibited in the Museum of Architecture in London. (The other is St. Basil’s Cathedral.) The late constructivist landmark resembles a stylized caterpillar tractor. Corbusier called it a “gem of Soviet architecture.” Unfortunately, the fan will not be able to see it. The theater could not be cleaned up in time for the World Cup and has been draped with several banners.

Rostov-on-Don-Maxim-Gorky-Drama-TheatreThe Maxim Gorky Drama Theater in Rostov-on-Don. Postcard image courtesy of Colnect

Painted Residents Greet Cossacks
The authorities promised to repair and reconstruct many historic buildings and entire streets in preparation for the 2018 World Cup, but with a few weeks left before the championship, it was clear they would run out time.

Residents of Stanislavsky Street, in the downtown, recount how workers have been laboring outside their houses round the clock, trying to finish their work not by June 1, as city officials had promised, but at least by June 14, when the World Cup kicks off. When you are in a hurry, mistakes are inevitable: a female pensioner was unable to exit her building because the door was blocked by paving slabs. Other houses wound up a meter lower than the newly beautified street, and residents have had to jury-rig stairways to the pavements.

Around fifty buildings in Rostov-on-Don’s historic center have been hung with giant photographs of the buildings or World Cup banners because they could not be repaired in time. Among them is the famous house of Baron Wrangel, where the leader of the Whites during the Russian Civil War spent his childhood and youth. The house is a neoclassical architectural landmark. The mansion was nationalized during the Soviet period and turned into a kindergarten. The kindergarten shut down in the nineties, and the building was abandoned. Over the years, it has become quite dilapidated and has been repeatedly vandalized, so it looks hideous.

But when only a few months remained until the World Cup, no one had any brighter idea than to drape the landmark with a picture.

2010_04_24_domvrangelyaThe Wrangel House in Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of RostovNews.Net

The Rostov branch of the Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks (VOOPIK) tried to persuade city officials a dilapidated Wrangel House would look better than a picture emblazoned on a tarp. They circulated a petition and sent a letter to Governor Vasily Golubev, all to no avail.

“We got a reply less than half a page long. It acknowledged receipt of our letter, but there had been an onsite meeting of a commission chaired by Deputy Governor Sergei Sidash. On the basis of arguments made by commission members, they had decided to drape it in banners,” says Alexander Kozhin, head of VOOPIK’s Rostov branch.

800px-Гостиница__Московская_The Moscow Hotel, in downtown Rostov-on-Don, before the 2007 fire. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The same plight befell the Moscow Hotel, a nineteenth-century eclecticist building. In 2007, it was badly damaged in a fire and has been awaiting reconstruction ever since. The dilapidated Gorky Library (originally the Sagiyev Family Tenement House, an Art Nouveau landmark) is covered in scaffolding. It has been decided to demolish the Pavlenkova Tenement House, on long-suffering Stanislavsky Street, altogether.

sar-htosThe Sagiyev Family Tenement House aka the Gorky Library, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of voopiik-don.ru

 

1526621588_pavlenkovoyThe ruins of the Pavlenkova Tenement House, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of Rostov.ru

A few weeks before the start of the World Cup, images of a building on Sholokhov Avenue appeared in the news and social media. Happy residents peered from the windows: a fiddler holding his instrument, an artist at an easel, a girl blowing soap bubbles, a football fan wearing a Spartak FC scarf, and patriots with the Russian tricolor draped on their backs. The balconies are adorned with balloons and potted plants.

All of them were painted images on yet another banner covering up unfinished repairs.

The upcoming championship has not changed the life of Rostov-on-Don’s real residents all that much. Schoolchildren and university students started and finished their final exams earlier, so schools and universities would be closed when the World Cup kicked off. The old airport was shut down, replaced by the new Platov Airport outside the city. All political rallies and marches have been prohibited during the World Cup.

The police will not be alone in enforcing this and other prohibitions. In early May, Don Cossacks in Rostov announced that three hundred Cossacks, included mounted Cossacks, would be keeping the peace on the streets as “volunteers.” They have assured the public that, at their own behest, they would not engage in violence and would leave their whips at home. If the police, however, are breaking up a fight, the Cossacks will back them up. The volunteers in papakha hats will pay particular attention to LGBT fans.

TASS_1044980_673“Cossacks.” Photo courtesy of Russia Beyond

“If two men kiss at the World Cup, we will tell the police to check them out,” they said.

The first World Cup match in Rostov-on-Don kicks off on June 17. A total of five matches will be played on the left bank of the Don: four matches in the group stage and one match in the round of sixteen.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Policemen’s Ball

DSCN6837At €2.50, the official licensed sticker album of the 2018 World Cup is a steal. Russian officials also plan to steal the civil rights of their own citizens during the month-long tournament. Photo by the Russian Reader

Restrictions on Movement and Freedom of Assembly during the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Denis Shedov and Natalya Kovylyayeva
OVD Info
May 25, 2018

Russia welcomes the 2018 FIFA World Cup with Presidential Decree No. 202, which places restrictions on the movements of people and the staging of public rallies in cities hosting the matches. According to the decree, “enhanced safety measures” will be enforced from May 25 until July 25 (although the first match, between Russia and Saudi Arabia, will not be played until June 14). Denis Shedov and Natalya Kovylyayeva studied the decree specially for OVD Info.*

The restrictions will be introduced on May 25, 2018. They will be enforced in the cities and regions hosting 2018 World Cup matches: Moscow, Petersburg, Volgograd Region, Sverdlovsk Region, Nizhny Novgorod Region, Samara Region, Rostov Region, Kaliningrad Region, Krasnodar Territory, the Republic of Tatarstan, and the Republic of Mordovia.  Additionally, the decree also applies to certain neighboring regions where, in particular,  competing teams will be accommodated: Moscow Region, Leningrad Region, Kaluga Region, Voronezh Region, Stavropol Territory, and the Republic of Chechnya.

It is worth noting Decree No. 202 applies absolutely to everyone who is located in the regions listed during the period the decree is in force. In this light, OVD Info felt it was vital to discuss these changes.

Monitored and Restricted Areas
The decree introduces “monitored and restricted areas,” which will either be entirely off limits to people or will have restricted access. These areas include training grounds (including at other stadiums), team headquarters, hotels where teams and referees are staying, cargo inspection points, the broadcast center at Crocus Expo in Moscow, fan festival venues, press centers, and parking lots for special transport. You will be able to enter these “monitored areas” only after security guards have conducted a thorough inspection of all your belongings.

In addition, there will be special pedestrian security zones, so-called last miles, consisting of areas of one to two kilometers in radius around the stadiums where the matches will be held. Aside from World Cup transport, only residents of nearby buildings, equipped with special passes, will have access to these zones. To obtain the passes you need your internal passport and the papers for your car and your flat. Information about these zones has been posted on the official municipal websites of the cities hosting matches and published in local periodicals.

  • During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the city was off limits to cars from other cities, i.e., cars not registered in Sochi, with the exception of vehicles owned by the secret services and vehicles that had received accreditation as municipal maintenance and 2014 Winter Olympics support vehicles. Vehicles registered in Sochi were restricted from traveling in “monitored areas.” 

Mandatory Registration for Everyone
Upon arrival in a city, you must register with the local immigration authorities within three days. This rules applies to everyone except those who are registered to live permanently in the particular city. Additionally, special rules for registering domiciles and temporary stays will be introduced in the cities where World Cup matches are scheduled.

Russian nationals and foreign nationals must register with the police within 72 hours of arriving. Usually, during “normal” times, Russian nationals have the right to spend up to 90 days in another Russian region without registering, while foreign nationals have seven days to register. Decree No. 202 specifies that the party hosting the visitor, i.e., the hotel, spa, holiday home, etc., must notify the proper authorities of the arrival of foreign nationals within 24 hours, as stipulated by Russian federal law.

Immigration authorities in the regions mentioned in the decree will be open for business daily during the World Cup, including weekends and holidays. There are several ways of registering your stay in another city:

  • Submitting an application to the management of the hotel, hostel, camping ground or youth hostel where you are staying, or the management company, proprietor or landlord, if you are staying in a private flat.
  • Reporting to the local immigration authorities yourself.

Foreign nationals must personally present their papers to the regional office of the Interior Ministry (i.e., the police) or a multi-service center, or their official hosts must do it for them. It is forbidden to register via the post office or a government services website.

Arriving foreign nationals are obliged to provide notification of their arrival, a copy of their identity card (e.g., passport or either ID), a copy of their Russian visa, and a copy of their migration card. This rule applies to all foreign nationals, regardless of their nationality and status in Russia. If the host party is a legal entity, this organization must supply the authorities with a complete set of documents.

Private individuals who act as hosts need only present their Russian internal passports, proving they are permanent residents, a copy of their passports, and a copy of their ownership deed to the dwellings where they will house foreign nationals.

If these rules are violated, Russian nationals will be obliged to pay an administrative fine. In Moscow and Petersburg, the fine will range from three to five thousand rubles, while in the regions it will range from two to three thousand rubles. Foreign nationals who violate these rules can be expelled from Russia.

Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly
According to the decree, from May 25 to July 25, 2018, assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets that have nothing to do with the 2018 FIFA World Cup can be held only in places, along routes, and at times approved by the authorities. The authorities can also determine the number of attendees and the duration of the event.

Decree No. 202 was first enforced during last year’s Confederations Cup, also hosted by Russia. A large number of activists involved in group protests and solo pickets were apprehended at that time. Some of the people detained during solo pickets were subjected to “explanatory discussions” by the police, while others were written up for violating the rules for holding public events and fined as much as 20,000 rubles.

  • In May 2017, five activists from the local headquarters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny were detained for setting up a campaign booth on the main square in Kazan. Law enforcement said the action had not been authorized by the authorities. All the detainees were sentenced to ten to twelve days in jail, as well as 35 hours of community service.
  • During the Navalny-inspired anti-corruption rallies that took place in a number of cities on June 12, 2017, including Petersburg, Moscow, and Sochi, police detained protesters on the basis of Paragraph 11 of the decree, as paraphrased above. Although in Krasnodar, where the rally against corruption had been authorized, no one was apprehended, despite the special security regime.
  • During the protest rally “Farewell to the Communications Ministry,” in Moscow in June 2017, a teenager was detained when he tried to leave flowers outside the ministry due to restrictions on freedom of speech in Russia, including the possible blockage of the Telegram messenger service. The arresting officer cited the presidential decree restricting rallies during the Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup when he detained the boy. The teenager was taken into a police station for questioning before being released.
  • In mid-June 2017, fifteen people holding solo pickets against Moscow’s massive “renovation” program were detained outside the entrance to the State Duma.
  • Several activists who held solo pickets in support of mathematician Dmitry Bogatov and demanded an end to the prosecution of nationalist Dmitry Demushkin were detained on June 24, 2017, in Moscow.
  • Solidarity Party activist Mikhail Lashkevich was detained on July 4, 2017, while holding a solo picket demanding the people behind opposition leader Boris Nemtsov’s assassination be found. The police admitted he had a right to carry out a solo picket and released him from Basmanny Police Precinct in Moscow without writing him up. Subsequently, Roman Petrishchev, another Solidarity Party activist, was detained for a solo picket.
  • In early July 2017, five activists of Protest Moscow were detained in different parts of the city while they held solo pickets against censorship. All of them were charged with violating the rules for holding public events, punishable under Article 20.2 Part 5 of the Administrative Offenses Code.
  • On July 5, 2017, the well-known democracy activist Ildar Dadin was detained during a solo picket outside FSB headquarters in Moscow, since his protest had not been authorized by law enforcement. On July 7, 2017, the Meshchansky District Court found him guilty of violating the “rules of solo pickets” and fined him 20,000 rubles.

In May 2017, Alexander Pomazuyev, a lawyer with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) asked that Paragraph 11 of the decree be declared null and void in a suit he filed with the Russian Supreme Court. Pomazuyev claimed he had been denied the right to hold a solo picket. He also argued the presidential decree infringed on civil liberties guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, including the right to free speech and freedom of assembly. The court threw out Pomazuyev’s suit, thus rubber-stamping the restrictions on rallies and pickets during the Confederations Cup and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

In February 2018, organizers of the Boris Nemtsov Memorial March in Nizhny Novgorod wrote an open letter to FIFA president Gianni Infantino asking him to protect freedom of assembly in Russia in the run-up to the World Cup. The football functionary did not react to the letter, apparently.

“Although the decree restricts certain rights only from May 25 to July 25, 2018, even the smallest pickets have been turned down by the authorities on the grounds of the terrorist threat,” the march organizers wrote on their Facebook page.

Commentary by Lawyer and Human Rights Activist Alexander Peredruk
Yes, Presidential Decree No. 202, dated May 9, 2017, definitely violates people’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of assembly in Russia.

If you want to hold a public rally from May 25 to July 25, 2018, at a venue of your choosing, there is no guarantee you will pull it off. The authorities could turn you down on the grounds the venue you have chosen was not vetted by the Interior Ministry and the FSB. 

As last year showed, when several applications to hold rallies were filed simultaneously, the authorities would reject all the applications. However, when the applications were filed, the authorities had not yet determined what venues could be used. They drew up a list of permissible venues only after looking over the first applications. It was thus a “complete coincidence” that the venues indicated in the applications that were submitted to the local authorities were not on the list of permissible venues. 

In other words, the rejections were perfunctory and practically groundless. The authorities were not interested in conducting a proportionality test, in striking a balance between public and private interests.

In addition, questions are raised about the legitimacy of the division between public sporting events, which are permitted during this period, and public political events, which are virtually banned. Russian citizens are thus subject to discrimination.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a local man, David Hakim, was detained while holding a solo picket in defense of the convicted environmentalist Yevgeny Vitishko. (Hakim was jailed for four days for his “crime.”) Agora used his case to challenge the president’s Olympic decree in the Russian Constitutional Court. However, the court refused to examine whether the decree complied with the Constitution, since it had expired by the time the complaint was examined. 

* If you are worried about how Presidential Decree No. 202 will affect foreign fans traveling to Russia for the World Cup, you shouldn’t be. They are required to purchase special “fan IDs” that will exempt them from most if not all of the decree’s strictures. // TRR

Denis Shedov is a lawyer with the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow. Natalya Kovylyayeva is a journalist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Welcome to St. Petersburg!

DSCN5677Two Russian National Guardsmen shake down a non-Russian and his friend (off camera) in the run-up to this summer’s FIFA World Cup. Photo by the Russian Reader

I remember when the G8 summit was held in Petersburg in July 2006. I will leave aside the counter-summit (aka the Russian Social Forum), held in then-already-doomed Kirov Stadium, that is, in a part of the city so far off the beaten path you had to want to be there very badly to get there, and the excellent job the Russian security services did making sure that social and political activists from other parts of the world’s largest country could not make it to Petersburg, much less to the forum.

I bring the summit up only because, the social forum aside, the city was pullulating with so many cops, riot cops (OMON), and Interior Ministry troops it was impossible not to notice them and realize how absurd and wasteful the security overkill was, especially since the summit per se was held in the newly refurbished Constantine Palace in the southern Petersburg suburb of Strelna, a site at least fifteen kilometers away from the central city and most of its inhabitants, and thus easily secured by a few hundred guards, policemen, and special forces troops.

Back in those halcyon days, I had a job that kept me moving round the city from morning to night, and so I would happen upon clusters of utterly idle cops, riot cops, and special forces troop in the oddest places on a regular basis while the summit was on. I remember how I once walked into an otherwise obscure, out-of-the-way courtyard late in the evening and found it chockablock with Russia police officers of some sort, possibly imported for the occasion from the other side of the country. They seemed almost ashamed to be hiding in that courtyard, protecting nobody at all from utterly nonexistent threats, and chainsmoking to kill the time.

Our beleaguered city’s next opportunity to shine in the international limelight will be during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, held in Petersburg and several other Russian cities from June 14 to July 15.

I was reminded by a tiny incident I witnessed earlier today of the Russian police state horrorshow literally everyone in the city with their heads screwed on straight expects during the month the World Cup is in town.

By the way, all locals with an ounce of sense in their brains are planning to be somewhere else, if only at their dachas in the countryside, during that month.

When I exited my building earlier today I immediately spotted two Russian National Guard officers hassling two young men of “non-Slavic appearance.” The officers were conducting their shakedown squarely in front of the gateway that accesses the yard of the building next to ours, the only courtyyard left on our street connecting it with the street running parallel to it.

Once upon a time not so long ago, central Petersburg was chockablock with interconnecting, walkthrough courtyards, and natives in the know could cover long distances in the inner city navigating this extensive network of courtyards without having to emerge onto the actual streets.

But when the new era of “capitalism” and “democracy” dawned, and Petersburgers privatized their flats and turned their courtyards into impromptu car parks, many of them gated, locked, and otherwise blocked off their courtyards, a move that in many cases was probably illegally, although no has ever gotten in trouble, so far as I know, for establishing their own little gated communities this way.

The guardsmen were reading the swarthy troublemakers the usual bored riot act about their having the wrong paperwork when I squeezed my way around them. One of them said they would have to take the swarthy men down to the precinct and write them up, which probably meant they would hold them there long enough to make their serious intentions plain before “fining” (bribing) them and letting them go.

The preparations for the 2018 World Cup have already been a debacle for Petersburg and many of the other host cities, as well as segments of the local populace that the authorities want to go away during the festivities, including university students, dogs and cats, antifascists tortured and framed as “terrorists,” and migrant workers.

I thus took the shakedown I witnessed as a sign of things to come: the full force of the utterly lawless, mendacious, and violent Russian law enforcement machine would be unleashed against migrant workers, people who look funny or out of place, and even completely ordinary, unprepossessing local residents while the World Cup was underway.

So, my message to you out there in the wide world is take a thought for us back here in the Motherland and keep your TV turned off during the World Cup. The “beautiful game” need not be played and enjoyed at such a high human cost to the World Cup’s Russian host cities, but since ultraviolence and the gleeful trampling of human rights are the only ways the current Russian regime knows how to handle mega events like the World Cup and the Winter Olympics, not to mention the country’s day-to-day governance, show a minimum of solidarity with us here in the line of fire and don’t watch any of the matches on TV. It won’t cost you a thing, but the world’s TV executives and advertisers will notice.

I won’t even bother appealing to the jetsetters who are planning to travel to Russia for the World Cup. You are beyond the pale in any case, since you choose to live your lives in such a thoughtless, wreckless way. My only hope for you is that, at some point during your expensive, wasteful trip, Russia’s real reality will burst through the carefully packaged and securitized experience the Russian authorities have planned for you, and you realize you paid Satan a lot of money to watch a few bloody football matches in person. // TRR

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Oleg Derispaska
Oleg Deripaska. Photo courtesy of deripaska.com

“I believe that it takes just 100 people to change a country for the better provided that these people are driven professionals capable of creating something new. I am sure that in Russia there are far more than 100 such people, so let’s join forces and work together.”
Oleg Deripaska

_________

Deripaska’s Company Releases Sales Figures for “Olympic” Apartments
Natalya Derbysheva
RBC
May 27, 2016

sochi-olympic village marina
Mockup of the Sochi Olympic Village’s Coastal Cluster. Photo: Andrei Golovanov and Sergei Kivrin/TASS

Oleg Deripaska’s company RogSibAl has sold 20% of the luxury apartments it built on the Black Sea coast in Sochi for the Winter Olympics. The company believes this is a good result. 

RogSibAl, a subsidiary of Oleg Deripaska’s Basic Element, built 2,700 luxury  apartments on the Black Sea coast for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Athletes lived in the apartments during the competition. According to Vnesheconombank, the project’s budget was 25.3 billion rubles, 22.3 billion rubles of which RogSibAl borrowed from Vnesheconombank.

The coastal Olympic Village is now known as the Imereti Resort District. It consists of four quarters, the Coastal Quarter, the Maritime Quarter, the Park Quarter, and the Reserve Quarter. Apartments are available for purchase in all four quarters. The price per square meter ranges from 152,000 rubles to 195,00 rubles [approx. 2,070 euro to 2,650 euros per square meter—TRR].

Since the apartments went on sale in 2013, 20% of them have been sold, a Basic Element spokesman told RBC, meaning that over 500 apartments in all have been sold. Basic Element’s spokesman added that the company had sold 118 apartments from January to May 2016.  The company plans to have sold 350 apartments for a total area of 25,000 square meters on the year.

Basic Element has been renting out the unsold apartments. According to the company’s spokesperson, the rental demand for the 2016 summer season is 97–100%.

The sales figures are worse than what Basic Element had planned in 2011. Igor Yevtushevsky, RogSibAl’s general director, had then told Vedomosti that the company was planning to sell 50% of the apartments before the start of the Olympics, and the other half in 2014–2015.

Basic Element’s spokesman said it would be unfair to compare current sales figures with projections made in 2011.

“The project has undergone big changes,” he explained.

The company cites data from the MACON Realty Group, according to which 387 business- and luxury-class real estate transactions were concluded in Sochi from January to May 2016, meaning that the Imereti District’s share of this business was 23%.

The government has discussed the conditions of restructuring the loans issued by Vnesheconombank for building Olympic sites, RBC’s sources told it earlier this week. A federal official explained that Deripaska’s companies were in the most complicated circumstances in terms of loans, since the demand for apartments was not great.

Sochi Olympic Village. Photo courtesy of Nikita Kulachenkov
Sochi Olympic Village. Photo courtesy of Nikita Kulachenkov

Basic Element has not disclosed the figures of the income from its sales of the properties. Its spokesman did say, however, that all the proceeds were being wholly turned over to Vnesheconombank in repayment of the loan and that RogSibAl had been fulfilling all its obligations to the bank.

Given that sales usually begin at the design and construction stage of a property, 20% sales in the second year after a property has been operation is hardly satisfactory, argues Marina Udachina, director of the Institute for Innovations, Infrastructure and Investments. According to her, the situation is partly due to a slowdown in economic growth and a reduction in the demand for luxury properties.

__________

Nikita Kulachenkov
Facebook
May 27, 2016

Only 20% of the apartments in the Olympic Village have been sold in two years.

Here is what we wrote about this a month before the Games:

“The site is being built by oligarch Oleg Deripaska, one of the few private investors in the Olympics. Only he is building with public money. Twenty-two of the twenty-five billion rubles in the project’s budget has been secured with a loan from state-owned Vnesheconombank. Derispaska’s company is planning to pay back this money by selling the village as a residential complex after the Games. It will be hard for them to find buyers. A single bed in the village costs as much as a two-room flat in Moscow.”

Of course, the crisis, sanctions, and being “surrounded by enemies” have inevitably led to a drop in demand for fairly pricey holiday apartments. On the other hand, this was offset by the fact that demand was supposed to shift to the domestic market from Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, and other countries where housing had become almost twice as expensive for Russians.

As a result, sales did not take off, which is a pity. I know that after the Games a good person, familiar to a lot of my people on my wall, worked on the project.

We can also add to this news the latest about Sberbank, which after agonizing for a long time has today finally sold the Mountain Carousel ski resort on the installment plan to the former governor and current minister Tkachyov* and his young but quite talented son-in-law. The joke there is that Sberbank invested 25 billion rubles into Mountain Carousel, while Vnesheconombank loaned it 55 billion rubles. Vnesheconombank fiercely resisted the sale, because it is one thing when Sberbank is in hock to you to the tune of 55 billion rubles, and quite another when it is Tkachyov and family. Apparently, Gref is tougher and stronger than the moribund Vnesheconombank, although it does not make our lives any easier.

Since for some reason business has not been booming at nearly all the former Olympic sites, the government has authorized the repayment of Olympic loans over a period of 25 years at a reduced 5% interest rate. And to keep Vnesheconombank from kicking the bucket altogether, the Finance Ministry will give it another 150 billion rubles straight from our pockets.

I probably do not need to remind you of the total amount that we, the taxpayers of the Russian Federation, paid for the construction of all these “great power” bells and whistles.

P.S. I’m going to do a little populism practice. Anyone in Russia want a twenty-five-year mortgage at five-percent interest? Ask Tkachyov, Potanin, Deripaska, and Vekselberg “how.” )))

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Alexei Navalny for the heads-up. This post should be read in tandem with my post for May 25, 2016, “The Decline Has Gone Uphill.”

* On August 2, 2012, Tkachyov announced plans to deploy a paramilitary force of Cossacks in Krasnodar Krai, beginning September 2012, as vigilantes to discourage internal immigration by Muslim Russians. In a speech to police, he stated, “What you can’t do, the Cossacks can. We have no other way—we shall stamp it out, instill order; we shall demand paperwork and enforce migration policies.”

Source: Wikipedia, New York Times

Ilya Matveev: The New Putinist Stability?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Events are unfolding in plain sight, and strange as it might seem, the flood of disinformation cannot prevent us from seeing a quite simple picture.

The subway workers’ union had long warned of the danger, and there had generally been a lot of reports in the press on the growing number of accidents in the Moscow Metro, and now there has been a new fatal accident.

The last couple of weeks, Russian media had reported constantly about how deftly the separatists had learned to use the Buk surface-to-air missile system and how many Ukrainian airplanes had been shot down. Just before news of the Malaysian airliner broke, reports had managed to surface—in “Strelkov’s dispatches,” in the media, everywhere—that the militants had shot down another Ukrainian transport plane. The plane turned out to be the civilian jetliner.

Recent articles in Vedomosti newspaper and especially leaks at b0ltai.wordpress.com make it easy to piece together the fiscal and economic situation in Russia. The country is in an “autonomous” recession, meaning one caused by internal factors. The resources for growth have been exhausted, and there is no money for Crimea or for executing Putin’s May 2012 presidential decrees. The government is preparing to respond with austerity measures: the abolition of free medical care for nonworking citizens, tax increases, and another raid on retirement savings. For now the situation is rough but not catastrophic. At the same time the overall trajectory is clear: there will be less and less money, and it will be ordinary people who pay the bills.

However, there is no one to protest: all the country’s internal contradictions, which were somehow politically articulated in 2011-2013, have been crushed by the Crimean steamroller, and the opposition is divided and marginalized. The population has closed ranks around the new Putin “geopolitics,” becoming an aggressively frightened mass. Any possibility of electoral protest has been completely blocked off: with stunning cynicism, the field has been purged in the run-up to municipal elections in Moscow and Petersburg.

We can see that the new system is closed upon itself: the geopolitical adventures are needed, ultimately, only to strengthen Putin’s personal power, to maintain his sky-high rating. The exact same role is performed by mega-events like the Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. Yet the economic cost of the geopolitics and mega-events will be huge, and people themselves will foot the bill (for sanctions, for Crimea, for kickbacks). However, the imperialist ideology surrounding the events for which they are paying out of their pockets will prevent them from articulating their protest politically. It is a paradox, but a paradox that has already been observed in history. Recall, for one, Marx’s remark that Louis Bonaparte ruled in the name of the peasant masses (who supported him at elections) but against the interests of these masses.

This new period of stability might last as long as the previous one. No, it is no longer the apolitical period of stability of the noughties, but it might prove no less stable.

Ilya Matveev is an editor of OpenLeft.Ru, a member of the PS Lab research group, a lecturer in political theory at the North-West Institute of Management (Petersburg), a PhD student at the European University (Petersburg), and a member of the central council of the University Solidarity trade union.

Welcome to Sochi

An unexpurgated cri de coeur from the Russian internets:

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Вот эту фотографию из подмосковной больницы я бы сделал символом современной России, особенно в свете приближения самой дорогой в истории человечества Олимпиады в Сочи. ( – English translation is below).

Дорогие френды, особенно забугорные – пошлите ее своим друзьям. Пусть расходится по сети. И пусть ухмыляющемуся главарю криминального государства, чье личное воровское состояние оценивается в несколько десятков миллиардов долларов, будет неуютно стоять на трибуне в феврале – оттого, что все уважающие себя политики и знаменитости побрезговали стоять с ним рядом.

Here’s a photo of the local hospital in Boyarkino village not far from Moscow. This is a typical picture, not some extreme one. There are thousands of hospitals, schools and public offices like this in Russia, not only in province, but in major cities as well. I would have made this picture the symbol of modern Russia, especially today, while the most expensive Olympics in the history of mankind are approaching in Sochi.

Dear friends, please, share this with your friends. Let it go over the whole network, so for the world’s most corrupt leader of the most criminal state, whose personal fortune is estimated at tens of billions of dollars, it would not be so comfortable to host this Olympics. Let it be uncomfortable for him to stand on the podium in February, because any self-respecting politician or celebrity would be ashamed to stay next to him.

Meanwhile, back in the fascist fairyland, the locals were getting worked up about the upcoming corporate slugfest down south.
IMG_6258

Time Is Not on Their Side

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If the following article makes no sense to you, don’t worry. It makes no sense to me, either.

MOSCOW, October 11 – Reverting to Winter Time especially for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics would cost the Russian budget in excess of $300 million, the head of the organizing committee said Friday.

Russia used to set its clocks back by an hour in the winter, as is done in the rest of Europe, but canceled the practice in 2011 under former President Dmitry Medvedev.

The International Olympic Committee was among those who called for a return to Winter Time to bring Russia’s broadcast schedules closer to the West for February’s Winter Games.

President Vladimir Putin ruled that out earlier this year, and Sochi 2014 chief executive Dmitry Chernyshenko elaborated on the reasons why in an address to lawmakers in Moscow on Friday.

“We forecast, other than the reputational risk and discomfort to our athletes, logistical issues and financial risks,” were winter time to be reinstated, Chernyshenko said.

“The extra expenditure needed from the federal budget to compensate international broadcasters who might lose advertising contracts in the event of a time change will lead to penalties, and we will have to compensate for it. The sum of the risks could exceed $300 million,” he said.

Reverting to winter time, he said, would lead to “fatal changes in the timetables” of Sochi’s logistics, including transport and cargo schedules.

The Games, Russia’s first Winter Olympics, are set to run February 7-23.

Source: RIA Novosti

Image courtesy of Hymy Huulet Facebook page and Comrade Tiina. The cartoon reads (in Finnish):

“I changed the clocks to winter time.”

“It’s nice to know that at three in the morning.”

Because of Russia’s inexplicable rejection of winter time, there is a two-hour difference between Estonia and Finland and the neighboring Russian regions of Pskov, Novgorod, Murmansk, Karelia, Leningrad Region and St. Petersburg during half the year.

The Return of Serfdom?

iuf.ru
September 2, 2013
The Cost of the World Cup
FZ-108 primarily threatens hundreds of thousands of Russian workers

A serious discussion has erupted since the contents of the notorious “2018 World Cup Law” (or FZ-108, for short)* were revealed to the general public. The focus of the discussion has been the consequences of removing restrictions on employing migrant laborers and the possibility of their runaway exploitation if the law’s clauses on voluntary contracts (which place them beyond the reach of a number of articles in the Labor Code) are enforced.

However, the people most threatened by FZ-108 are Russian citizens.

When the discussion of FZ-108 was getting underway, many in Russia were disturbed by the fledgling campaign against “illegal migration” recently undertaken by law enforcement and local authorities in several areas of the country, a campaign involving police raids and mass imprisonment of migrants in special camps, where they were forced to live almost on the bare pavement, without electricity and other basic conveniences. Given this background, it was unsurprising and even natural that the public would pay more attention to the clauses in FZ-108 dealing with the employment of foreign nationals and stateless persons. The perception exists that the law has nothing to do with Russian citizens.

But is this really true? The answer is simple: no, it isn’t!

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Major sporting events like the World Cup always entail the generation of tens of thousands of jobs in construction, light industry, building maintenance, catering, retailing, transportation and so on. Yes, these jobs appear only for a few years, but wise use of such opportunities can give the economy a stimulus for decades to come. Increasing employment leads to growth in domestic spending and private savings, which, in turn, improve demographics. These are the three pillars of sustainable economic development.

But all that happens only when the new jobs are decent, meaning the wages they pay allow people to spend money, including on major and long-term purchases (e.g., home appliances, furniture and cars), and maybe even take out a home loan, and the terms of employment enable them to feel confident in the future, save money, and start and raise a family.

However, the wording of FZ-108 makes it clear that none of these things are expected to happen in Russia. Instead, the authorities are planning to tackle the job of preparing and staging the 2018 World Cup with slave labor, thus definitely ruling out any positive effects both for workers and the economy as a whole. The only outcome of this championship will be the personal gain of a few.

Why is such a conclusion warranted? The fact is that FZ-108, unlike, say, FZ-310 (which deals with the 2014 Sochi Olympics),** expressly stipulates significant exceptions to labor laws, exceptions that will diminish job quality. They are mainly concentrated in the controversial Article 11 (Chapter 4), “The Characteristics of Work Related to the Staging of the Events.”

First, Article 11 gives employers the right to establish long working hours unilaterally (Section 1).

Second, Article 11 allows employers to define the manner of payment for work at night, on weekends and on public holidays without regard to the stipulations of Articles 154, 113 and 153 of the Labor Code. Moreover, this can be done through collective bargaining, through the inclusion of such clauses in individual employment contracts or, more generally, through the enactment of “local regulations,” that is, yet again, unilaterally (Sections 2 and 3).

Third, overtime pay is abolished. Employers may simply compensate for overtime by “providing additional leisure time,” but the wishes of workers are not taken into account, and Article 152 of the Labor Code is effectively revoked (Section 4).

Finally, Section 5 abolishes such nonsense as the provision of elective annual leaves at times convenient for workers (such guarantees are given in Article 122 of the Labor Code, for example, to women before and after maternity leave). Like the rest of the lives of employees, holidays are governed by the “work plans of relevant organizations for preparing and staging the sporting events.”

However, as Vladimir Yurasov, a partner at the Moscow law firm Knyazev and Partners, rightly noted during an interview on RBK-TV, all these rules are clearly contrary to the Russian Federal Constitution. Article 37 of the Constitution states that everyone has the right to remuneration for work without suffering any form of discrimination, and that employment contracts guarantee workers statutory working hours, weekends and holidays, and paid annual leave, as stipulated by federal law. FZ-108 assumes that if workers are employed in the “preparation and staging” of the World Cup, this may very well serve as grounds for discriminating against them in terms of compensation, working hours and the right to paid leave and time off. In this case, “local regulations” are declared primary, rather than the Labor Code and Constitution.

Of course, these draconian measures do not apply to all workers in Russia, only to “FIFA employees, FIFA subsidiaries, FIFA business partners, confederations, national football associations, the Russian Football Union, the Russia 2018 Organizing Committee and its affiliated organizations, whose work activities are related to the staging of events.” The most interesting phrases in this clause are “FIFA business partners” and “work activities […] related to the staging of events.” Let us consider them in the order they appear.

As Article 2 of the law explains, a “FIFA business partner” is a “legal or natural person that has a contractual relationship with FIFA or its subsidiaries and is involved in events.” The list of such individuals and companies could prove to be quite long, because all commercial partners (including sponsors and licensees), suppliers, agents, broadcasters and so on will be included. Moreover, the provisions of the law apply not only to the “business partners” themselves but also to their subcontractors and subsidiaries.

Because preparations for the World Cup have just kicked off, the list of “FIFA business partners” is still incomplete. At present, for example, we know the names of only three companies that will serve as corporate partners to the 2018 World Cup: Coca-Cola, Hyundai-Kia and Anheuser-Busch InBev. In all, FIFA will have thirty-four such partners by 2018. Of course, all these companies have subsidiaries and subcontractors—personnel and temp agencies, construction and security companies, cleaning and catering companies, firms involved in maintaining equipment and buildings, supplying brand-name goods, producing and placing ads, and so on.

Another way to assess the scope of the problem is to compare the 2018 World Cup with another sporting event that will be hosted by Russia, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. We already know the names of all its suppliers, partners and licensees. Let’s take a look at the list.

• Worldwide Partners of the Olympic Games: Coca-Cola, AtoS, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonald’s, OMEGA, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Visa

• General Partners of Sochi 2014: Aeroflot, Megafon, Rostelecom, Bosco di Ciliegi, Volkswagen Group Rus, Sberbank of Russia, Russian Railways, Rosneft

• Official Partners of the 2014 Olympic Games: Ingosstrakh, PwC

• Suppliers of Sochi 2014: Avaya, Baltika, EF English First, Kommersant Publishing House, Abrau Durso, Adecco Group, EXECT Business Training, Kelly Services CIS, Detech, Microsoft Russia, GAZ Group, Scania-Rus

In addition, nearly seventy companies have signed licensing agreements with the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee.

It is obvious there will be no fewer companies wishing to link their logos to the World Cup. Only unlike the employees of Olympics partners, employees of FIFA’s business partners will be forced to waive many of their workplace rights.

But perhaps only a small number of workers will be affected by this restriction of rights? Unfortunately, the wording of the law gives no grounds for such a hypothesis. The law mentions employees whose work is related to the preparation and staging of the World Cup. However, the wording is utterly unspecific. How do we differentiate the work a company does in preparation for the World Cup from its other activities? For example, Coca-Cola produces beverages emblazoned with the World Cup logo. Does this constitute work performed as a FIFA business partner or not? Can it be construed as having to do with the preparation and staging of the World Cup? What about cellular network development work done by mobile phone companies? Or the introduction of new direct flights by air carriers? Without going out of our way to abuse common sense, we can construe nearly all commercial activity by FIFA business partners as preparation for the World Cup.

Of particular concern is the more than probable inclusion among the business partners of such companies as Adecco Group, EXECT Business Training and Kelly Services CIS – that is, companies still operating in the legal gray zone of personnel services. Given that Bill No. 451173-5, better known as the law banning contingent labor, which has already suffered serious damage and almost been stripped of its original intent, was returned for a second reading in the State Duma, the de facto support and promotion of these companies by official Russian sporting organizations and state agencies looks like a targeted attack on the quality of employment.

How many Russians will be affected by these measures at the end of the day? If we accept the flawed logic of FZ-108, we can agree with Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko that the concept of the World Cup has been developed and adopted by FIFA in such a way that almost seventy percent of the country’s population will be involved in preparing for it and staging it.

Does this mean, as some journalists have predicted, the return of serfdom? The answer depends largely on the actions of the trade unions.

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* The full text (in the original Russian) of the Russian Federal Law “On the Preparation and Staging of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in the Russian Federation and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts” can be found here: http://www.rg.ru/2013/06/11/chempionat-dok.html

** The full text (in the original Russian) of the Russian Federal Law “On the Organization and Staging of the Twenty-Second Olympic Winter Games and Eleventh Winter Paralympic Games of 2014 in Sochi, the Development of Sochi as a Mountain Resort and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts” can be found here: http://www.rg.ru/2011/06/06/olimp-dok.html

Migrant Labor and the 2018 World Cup in Russia

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Migrant Labor in Russia: From Golyanovo to the 2018 World Cup

On July 11, 2013, the Russian Federal Law “On the Preparation and Staging of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in the Russian Federation and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts” came into force without any uproar, something inadmissible in such delicate matters. (Hereafter referred to as FZ-108 for brevity’s sake, the full text of the law in the original Russian can be found here.)

While the name of the law might not sound too promising, its content opens up truly outstanding prospects for any Russian employer even tangentially connected with the 2018 World Cup. FZ-108 establishes special conditions for the employment of “foreign nationals and stateless persons” (i.e., migrant laborers) involved in the preparations and staging of the World Cup and Confederations Cup.

Article 9 Chapter 4 generously eliminates the need to obtain permits for the employment of migrant labor and notify the relevant authorities of the conclusion or termination of contracts with foreign workers, or of their arrival or departure. Nor are migrant workers themselves required to obtain work permits. Quotas for the issuance of visas and work permits are waived for those employers involved with the 2018 World Cup. Article 10 is even more interesting: it abolishes all regulation and control over the recruitment of foreign nationals and stateless persons as volunteers—that is, it practically and plainly permits employing migrants without remuneration. Article 11 exceeds all limits of generosity. It allows employers to set long working hours right in the contracts of all workers “employed in the preparation and staging of the events” (with no explanation of what that phrase means) and waives the requirements for the compensation of night work, the compensation of work on weekends and holidays, and the duration and compensation of overtime (as stipulated by Articles 154, 113, 153, and 152, respectively, of the Russian Federal Labor Code). The icing on the cake is Article 56 Chapter 14, which exempts all payments made to migrants under labor, civil, and volunteer contracts from obligatory social security and insurance deductions.

This simplified hiring procedure is a clear incentive for employers to employ foreign workers on the widest possible scale.

Here we should stop and ask ourselves to whom FZ-108 applies. The answer: any entity that is a “FIFA business partner.” By law, this means any legal or natural person in a contractual relationship with FIFA or its subsidiaries and involved in “events.” This might be a commercial partnership agreement or an agreement for provision of services, but in any case the provisions of the law apply to the subsidiaries and subcontractors of all these “business partners.”

Thus, the list of organizations with special rights vis-à-vis workers employed in preparing the “events” is very broad. We can safely include in this list the general contractors and subcontractors involved in building the stadiums, suppliers, FIFA sponsors (all thirty-four of them!), FIFA licensees (i.e., companies that have the right to use the World Cup logo on their products), firms providing security at the World Cup, and so on. Of course, all these companies have subsidiaries and contractors—personnel and temp agencies, construction and security companies, manufacturing facilities, cleaning and catering companies, firms involved in maintaining equipment and buildings, supplying brand-name goods, producing and placing ads, and so on and so forth. By the way, the recruiting agency Kelly Services is among the official suppliers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In light of the new law, we can easily imagine the consequences if this or any similar firm signs a contract with FIFA.

It is reasonable to assume the Russian authorities understand they will be unable to get ready for the World Cup employing only Russian citizens and are thus counting on migrant workers. Employers in construction, residential building maintenance, cleaning, retail, and other sectors where the skill requirements are low and cheap labor is the source of profits have long ago discovered this magic wand.

But we cannot help noticing that all these measures have been proposed and ratified by the same government that is literally right now organizing actual raids on migrants and imprisoning them in special camps in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Volgograd, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, and Kaliningrad. Does this mean that the right hand of the Russian state doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Not in the least.

All the above-named cities are hosting the 2018 World Cup.

In accordance with FZ-108, any migrant worker needs to do just one thing to obtain legal status: become involved with the preparation and staging of the World Cup or Confederations Cup, that is, enter into an employment, civil or volunteer agreement with one of the organizers of the events, or with their contractors or subcontractors. Thus, for example, a migrant from Vietnam now being held at the camp in Golyanovo, after signing a contract with some subcontractor of a World Cup licensee manufacturing mascot dolls for the championship, will be legalized de jure. De facto, however, he or she will go back to another semi-underground workplace, but now no one will be able to exercise any oversight or supervision. Now the migrants who are liberated from slavery or buried after they burn to death in sweatshops locked from the outside will be absolutely legal. It’s a sleight of hand, as they say.

The anti-migration campaign of the authorities stokes openly racist attitudes in society, shifting public attention from societal and labor issues (which had recently come to the forefront) to the search for scapegoats. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that the practice of stripping migrant workers who are employed in the preparations for the 2018 World Cup of their rights will not be extended to all foreign workers tomorrow, and incorporated in the Russian Federal Labor Code the day after tomorrow, thus fulfilling the most cherished dreams of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

The fight against xenophobia, the persecution of migrants and the violation of their rights must, therefore, become one of the main issues on the agenda of the trade union and labor movement in Russia.

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Migrants at the deportation camp in Golyanovo, which instantly became a household name. Photo © The Moscow News.

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The name Golyanovo had been linked with migration even earlier, however. In the photo we see the liberated “slaves of Golyanovo,” who had been held for years in the basement of a grocery store, and their saviors from non-governmental organizations. Despite the best efforts of human rights activists, the criminal case against the slave owners has fallen apart. Photo courtesy of the LiveJournal blog Living Tomorrow.

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During a fire at a garment factory in Yegorievsk, fourteen migrants from Vietnam perished. They were locked in the factory and thus could not escape to safety. A year later, punishment for the perpetrators of this crime is still a distant prospect. Photo courtesy of 1.tv.ru.