Boris Mirkin, 1937-2019

boris merkinBoris Mirkin, 1937–2019. Photo courtesy of Iofe Foundation

Boris Savelyevich Mirkin, poet, political prisoner, board member of the St. Petersburg Memorial Society, and our comrade, died on April 1, 2019.

Boris Savelyevich was born in Leningrad in 1937. During the Siege, he was evacuated from the city. He graduated from the Leningrad Chemical and Pharmaceutical Institute in 1964 and went to work at Research Laboratory No. 1 of the Military Medical Academy. After Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, Boris Savelyevich wrote poems condemning the invasion. He was arrested in 1981 and charged with violating Article 70 Part 1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code [“anti-Soviet agitation”]. The Leningrad City Court convicted him, sentencing him to three years and six months of forced labor. He served his time in the camps of Perm Region. After his release, Boris Savelyevich worked as a lathe operator at the Krasny Vyborzhets factory in Leningrad, a trade he had picked up in the camps. In 2004, he wrote and published a book of memoirs and poems entitled I Face the Music (Derzhu otvet...).

The book included this poem, which he wrote in a labor camp in Perm Region in 1982.

Since childhood I hated lies.
They sickened my soul.
Truth alone is light and power,
Piercing the heart like a knife.
Those who lied from podiums
And pulpits, who regaled
The baron’s hollow tales
As truth, I found odious.

Who sent us far not knowing why,
Who knew only head-on attacks,
So no one got off with a scratch,
Who marched us to heaven not knowing the way.

Alas, to this day the liars thrive,
Ignoring the truth for falsehoods.
Oh, the world is filled with mugs,
The smug faces of those who worship lies.

People are invited to pay their last respects to Boris Savelyevich Mirkin from ten to eleven in the morning on April 5 at the morgue of the Elizabeth Hospital, 14 Academician Baykov Street.

Source: Iofe Foundation Newsletter, April 4, 2019. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Russia Has Over a Million Slaves

Russia Plans to Fight Slavery: The Country Has More than a Million Slaves
Ivan Ovsyannikov
PROVED.RF
June 26, 2018

The Russian government has tabled a law bill in the State Duma that would ratify the protocol to the convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) outlawing forced labor. Russian officials claim ratifying the protocol is a formality, because there is no slavery in Russia. However, the government itself employs forced labor. PROVED has written about how the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) sells the labor of inmates to commercial companies, although it is forbidden by the convention. The Walk Free Foundation (WFF), an international human rights advocacy group, estimates there are over one million slaves in Russia.

The Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (No. 29) was adopted by the ILO in Geneva in 1930. The Soviet Union signed it only at the dawn of the Khrushchev Thaw in 1956. In 2014, the convention was supplemented with a protocol introducing  new restrictions on the use of forced labor. In particular, the original convention had stipulated people could be forced to work for public purposes. Such voluntary forced labor was widely practiced in the Soviet Union. Blue- and white-collar workers spent their weekends laboring at so-called subbotniks, while university students were sent to the fields of collective farms to harvest potatoes, carrots, and cabbages. The protocol to ILO Convention No. 29 deems this coerced labor a criminal offense.

Post-Soviet Russia has not ratified either the first or second versions of the convention. The Russian Labor Ministry has decided to correct the omission and tabled a law bill in the State Duma approving the statutes in the protocol to the convention.

The protocol requires signatories to take vigorous measures for eliminating slavery. They must pay compensation to victims of compulsory labor, educate law enforcement officers and employers about prohibited labor practices, and develop strategies for combating the slave trade.

The Labor Ministry’s draft bill says slavery has been banned in Russia as it is, and so it does not suggest any special measures for combating compulsory labor nor does it amend existing laws.

Seventh Place in Terms of Slavery
Experts claim, however, that Russian officials are disingenuous. In fact, in its 2016 survey, the WFF estimated there are least one million people in Russia subjected to some form of slavery, i.e., 0.73% of the country’s total population. Russia was thus ranked seventh in the WFF’s 2016 Global Slavery Index of 167 countries in terms of absolute number of people subjected to modern slavery. According to the index, only India (over 18 million), China (approx. 3.4 million), Pakistan (approx. 2.1 million), Bangladesh (approx. 1.5 million), Uzbekistan (approx. 1.2 million), and North Korea (1.1 million) had more slaves than Russia did.

slavery indexAn excerpt from the 2016 Global Slavery Index

Russian officials have not analyzed slave labor in Russia and do not acknowledge the problem. In their way of thinking, the president has not given them any instructions on the matter and nothing needs to be done, explains Yelena Gerasimova, director of the Center for Social and Labor Rights.

“I cannot say the government is a party to the scheme, but it closes its eyes on it. Russian Criminal Code Articles 127.1 (Human Trafficking) and 127.2 (Use of Slave Labor) are vaguely worded. While the ILO has a clear definition of slavery, the Russian police often do not understand what we are talking about. They ask us, ‘What slaves? Where are the shackles?’ But no one has ever kept slaves in shackles, for they have to work,” adds Oleg Melnikov, head of the grassroots organization Alternative.

The Government Protection Racket
Slavery includes forced marriages in which women are used as domestic servants, prostitutes forced to work in brothels, and migrant workers whose passports are confiscated by employers. As Gerasimova notes, however, Russian police, prosecutors, and labor inspectors refuse to acknowledge the problem and do nothing to identify people subjected to slavery.

She cites the example of the slaves of Golyanovo, twelve men and women freed from the basement of a grocery story on the outskirts of Moscow in 2012.

“The police were running protection for the store, which had kept people in bondage for years. They had their papers confiscated and were not paid for their work. Golyanovo is the tip of the iceberg,” argues Gerasimova.

The Russian government is willing to sell the manpower of inmates to commercial clients. For example, as PROVED discovered, Arkhangelsk Commercial Seaport LLC, a subsidiary of Evraz, purchased “workers from the inmate population” at the local penal colony for 860 rubles a day per person [approx. €12 a day]. The contract was posted on the government procurements website, although Arkhangelsk Regional Governor Igor Orlov hotly denied the deal. Now it is clear why. The ILO convention permits courts to impose work as a punishment, but it forbids leasing inmates to private companies.

Russian convicts usually work within the FSIN’s own system. Thus, the FSIN’s Main Industrial and Construction Department used inmates to build an entire residential complex for penitentiary service employees on the outskirts of Krasnoyarsk. Ironically, the complex is located on Work Safety Street.

However, the temptation to pursue public-private partnerships in the field of hard labor is too great. For example, FISN officials in Krasnodar Territory not only make no bones about their cooperation with business, but even brag about it. Inmates there sew uniforms for regular police and the Russian National Guard, cobble shoes, produce construction material, and are employed in woodworking and animal husbandry. Krasnodar Territory subsidizes businessmen who buy the goods produced by convicts. The entire enterprise is part of the territory’s official industrial development program for 2017–2020.

The Slave International
Forced labor is popular not only in the Russian penitentiary system but also in the outside world.

Melnikov describes a typical path to slavery.

“People from the hinterlands who go to Moscow and other major cities to improve their lot can end up as slaves. Someone approaches them on the streets, offering them a job in another region working on a rotational basis. He offers them a drink. Two days later, they wake up as they are arriving in Dagestan, Kalmykia or Stavropol Territory. Usually, the slaves work in cottage industries. The victims are told they have been bought. When they try and escape, they are captured and given a beating in front of everyone,” he says.

Moscow has recently been deluged with young women from Nigeria. Allegedly, they have come to study, but ultimately they are forced into prostitution. The farther workers are from home, the more vulnerable they are, adds Melnikov.

Fly-by-night firms, registered in Russia, recruit laborers in the rural regions of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. So-called foremen act as intermediaries between the firms and the local populace.

“They are often ethnic Russians from Central Asia or elders of the local communities, the mahallahs. They bring young men and women from the villages and hand them over to the managers of the companies that operate as agents. From the viewpoint of the UN and international law, this is human trafficking. But the migrant workers themselves do not see it that way. Many of them regard it as the natural order of things, an act of initiation. If you have not worked as a migrant laborer, you’re not a real man,” notes Andrei Yakimov, an expert on migrant workers.

People who are employed in this manner usually sign no work contracts with their employers. They do not know the names of the companies where they work or the names of their supervisors.

“A female cleaner from Uzbekistan knows only that she works for someone named Feruz. Feruz is her foreman or her foreman’s manager. At most, she will have heard that somewhere at the top of the food chain her work is supervised by someone named Andrei Nikolayevich, say. If I am an unskilled worker named Abdullo who has not been paid his wages, I am going to find it hard to figure where my money is. The foreman, the manager, his managers or contractor could be holding on to it. The chain of command can consist of dozens of links, especially in the construction business,” Yakimov explains.

There is no one to whom the migrant work can complain. If the migrant worker’s ID papers have also been confiscated, his or her enslavement is complete.

Slave labor is employed in different sectors of the economy. In Dagestan, slaves are sent to work at brick factories, while in Moscow they are employed as shop clerks, beggars, and prostitutes. In Novy Urengoy, they work in construction, while in Tver Region they are employed in sawmills.

Employment Off the Books
Yakimov argues that slavery in Russia is one of the shapes taken by undocumented employment. Russian nationals are fine with the fact that foreigners from Central Asia do the dirty, poorly paid jobs. These workers never turn to the authorities for help, fearing they will be punished for not having residency papers and work permits.

Russian nationals sometimes also avoid turning to the authorities, since many of them are employed on the black market and have not signed employment contracts, either. State Duma MP Oleg Shein has calculated that 34 million able-bodied Russians are employed in the illegal labor market, earning 10 trillion rubles [approx. €136 billion] annually. They constitute 40% of Russia’s entire workforce, says Shein. Such workers risk ending up as forced laborers, according to the wording of ILO Convention No. 29.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE (July 24, 2018). The 2018 Global Slavery Index has updated the figures for modern slavery in Russia. It has this to say in particular about slavery in Russia and efforts to combat it. Continue reading “Russia Has Over a Million Slaves”

Happy New Year, Happy New Punishment

People sentenced to forced labor may be sent to facilities owned by state corporations. Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Odinokov/RIA Novosti

New, Alternative Form of Punishment Comes into Effect in Russia on January First
RIA Novosti
January 1, 2016

A new, alternative form of punishment—forced labor—comes into effect in Russia on January 1, 2017. According to the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), it will be a reasonable alternative to terms of imprisonment from two months to five years for minor or moderately severe crimes, or for severe first-time offenses.

However, people sentenced to forced labor will not be isolated from society, which will encourage their socialization. Experts says the measure is also a good way of combating overcrowding in Russia’s prisons and penal colonies.

There are few restrictions under the punishment. Convicts cannot choose their own work, quit their jobs, and leave the correctional center without permission of the wardens. Convicts are wholly forbidden from consuming alcohol and gambling. On the other hand, they enjoy a guaranteed salary, medical insurance, and other rights enshrined in the Labor Code. The convicts will live in dormitories at the correctional centers. In addition, convictions will have the right to a paid holiday. However, holidays will be granted only to convicts with whom the wardens have no complaints.

The first four correctional facilities are already open for business: as of January 1, they can take in 900 people sentenced to forced labor. The correctional centers are located in Stavropol Territory, Maritime Territory, Tambov Region, and Tyumen Region. The FSIN claims that such centers will open in all regions of the country in the near future. They will be located mainly at work-release penal colonies. However, those sentenced to forced labor will be housed separately from the correctional facilities’ other inmates.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to OVD Info for the heads-up