Our Own Private Romania

ilieni-dinu-lazar

Wages in Russia Catch Up to Wages in Romania
Anastasia Manuylova
Kommersant
July 23, 2018

Wages in Russia are higher than those in the other CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries and comparable with those in Central and Eastern European countries. Those are the findings of the experts at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) who have issued the report “Wage Comparisons among Countries in 2011–2017.” They used purchasing power parity (PPP) indicators to do their calculations.

As 2017 came to a close, Russia was the leader in terms of wages among the CIS countries. Taking PPP into account, the average monthly wage in Russia last year amounted to $671. Kazakhstan lagged behind this benchmark less than the other CIS countries. Its average monthly wage in 2016–2017 was $459 and thus lower than the average wage in Russia by 30–40%. Tajikistan was the farthest behind, with an average monthly wage of $147. The study’s authors note the wage gap between Russia and the other CIS countries has continued to widen since 2011. In particular, this has been due to a deterioration of economic conditions in Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in  2015–2017.

However, Russia’s position looks less attractive when compared with other groups of countries. Thus, among the countries of Central Europe, the level of wages in Russia is comparable only with Romania ($678 a month) and Bulgaria ($602 a month). The average monthly wages in Czech Republic and Croatia, for example, are considerably higher than the average monthly wage in Russia (by 80–90%), despite a downward trend in wages that has been observed since 2011. There is also a considerable gap between wages in Russia and wages in Poland and Hungary. In 2017, they outpaced Russia by 60–70%.

Among the BRICS countries, Russia exceeds the same indicator for Brazil by 5%. This gap has been narrowing in recent years, however. Wages in China outpaced wages in Russia as early as 2014, and the gap between the two countries is now almost 30%. In the long term, as the HSE’s Svetlana Biryukova, the report’s co-author, explains, if the current wage trends in all the countries, including Russia, continue, Russia would retain its leadership only among the CIS countries, but would find itself in last place among Central and Eastern European countries.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of romaniatourism.com

The New Serfs

kozyrev-muscovitesPhoto by Yuri Kozyrev for the project Muscovites. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

The New Serfs
On July 9, Millions of Migrant Workers and Foreign Students Will Be Stripped of the Right to Freedom of Movement in Russia in a Single Bound. What Has Happened?
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Tatyana Vasilchuk
Novaya Gazeta
July 6, 2018

On June 28, Vladimir Putin signed Federal Law No. 163-FZ, which clarifies the guidelines for immigration registration in Russia. According to the amended law, such notions as a foreign national’s place of residence and the party hosting the foreign national have been defined more precisely. The majority of media outlets have described the new law as making the lives of migrant workers less burdensome, since the new law says foreign workers can be registered as dwelling in construction site trailers. This has provoked grumbling among “tolerant” Russians, who have complained migrant workers will arrive in even greater numbers and occupy all the country’s trailers.

In fact, the situation is quite different. The new rules are a blow to all law-abiding migrant workers and nearly all foreign students. Any legal entity that attempts to hire foreign nationals to work or study in Russia could find itself in violation of the law.

Even people who have all the papers and permissions for staying in Russia could be deemed lawbreakers.

The July Eighth Law
When a foreign national arrives in Russia, she is obliged to present herself to the immigration authorities and register her place of residence. However, she cannot register herself: the people or entities who invited her are obliged to do this. If she has come on a private visit, this would be the owner of the flat she has rented or the hotel where she is staying. If she has come to Russia to study, the university where she will be studying is obliged to register her. If she has come to Russia to work, the company in which she is employed must register her. (The last instance is more flexible, because her company is obliged to register her with the immigration authorities, but they may or may not register her place of residence as they wish, apparently.) Private landlords are a separate topic, but legal entities would take the easy way out. The law used to permit them to register the university or the company’s main address as a student’s or employee’s domicile. However, the foreign national could actually live somewhere else. It was understood, however, that if the police or other competent authorities were looking for her, they could do so at the address where she was officially registered.

The old system had its advantages and its shortcomings.

“There are companies that have five or six thousand foreign nationals on staff. It is convenient for them to register people at their business address to oversee whether their employees are paying for work permits and extending their residence permits on time,” says migration expert Svetlana Salamova.

The other side of the coin has to do with the poor living conditions of some foreign workers. This is most often the case among migrant workers from Central Asia.

“Employers would sometimes accommodate fifteen people at a time in trailers, in which the living conditions were rough. Besides, finding people via their legally registered domicile was often quite complicated,” explains human rights defender Andrei Babushkin.

To solve these problems, the definitions of key notions in the immigration laws have been amended. Actually, however the circumstances of migrant workers and their Russian employers have been considerably worsened, not improved. The amendments signed into law on June 28 stipulate that the place where the foreign national stays cannot be a normal domicile, but it can be other premises where the foreign national or stateless person actually resides, i.e., regularly uses for sleep and relaxation. If she is registered by a Russian organization, the foreigner must live for all intents and purposes in premises belonging to the organization. However, the premises must be equipped as a dwelling space.

In other words, if a foreign worker wants her company to register her with the authorities, she is obliged to reside full time in the company’s living accommodations.

The catch is that most legal entities simply do not having living accommodations. Construction companies will have the easiest time of it. They will now actually be able to register workers as legally residing in trailers and makeshift barracks at construction sites. All other companies have nowhere to accommodate their employees from other countries. A sofa and a microwave are not sufficient conditions for turning a room into a legal residence.

“Legally speaking, a domicile is a place that has been registered as such,” says Salamova. “An office with a sofa in it is not a domicile, but if your company lets you keep your suitcases there and install a stove and refrigerator, theoretically you could be registered as dwelling there. In this case, however, the employee from the personnel department who registers you with the Russian Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] will have to supply the immigration authorities with paperwork showing the room has been registered as a domicile.”

Will Russian companies be willing to turn their offices into bedrooms? The answer is obviously no.

Large auditing and consulting agencies, a field in which many foreign nationals are employed in Russia (not only expatriates but also graduates of Russian universities who are nationals of the former Soviet republics) have started to warn their employees about the need to look for a place where they can be registered as residing. Victoria Plotinskaya, marketing and public relations director at AT Consulting, told us that foreign employees at her company must register at their actual addresses before July 9. Previously, AT Consulting registered them at its business address, but now it is willing to provide them with legal assistance. Plotinskaya assumes their employees will have no difficulties, since registering oneself as residing in a rented flat is not a problem,  she claims.

We, however, have learned that several employees of major companies have been thinking about quitting their jobs or transferring to their home countries because their landlords have no intention of registering them.

“Companies will lose the ability to keep track of the immigration registration of their foreign national employees, while  foreign nationals who live in rented flats will have to negotiate with their landlords about registering them,” says Roman Gusev, director of Ernst & Young’s taxation and legal services department. The company does not plan to lay off any employees.

“In practice,” Gusev continues, “we see that many landlords refuse to deal with this procedure, because they don’t want the added administrative burden. In such cases, foreign nationals will have to urgently look for new accommodations. On the other hand, landlords who agree to meet the new requirements will have to keep close watch over their foreign tenants’ arrivals in the Russian Federation, since they have to be registered with immigration authorities after each such arrival.

“There are also risks for conscientious landlords. If their foreign national tenants arrive in the Russian Federation and fail to inform them, the landlords will be breaking the law without knowing it. On the other hand, foreign nationals could also find themselves in a pickle if their landlords suddenly refuse to register them with the immigration authorities or are simply unable to do what the law requires of them because they happen to be out of town,” concludes Gusev.

Unfortunately, the new rules are also retroactive, apparently, meaning everyone who is registered as residing at a business beyond July 8 will be in violation of the law come this Monday—unless, of course, they are unable to swiftly persuade their landlords to register them. In this case, however, no one can vouch that landlord will supply this service for free. Rental agreements presume that landlords pay taxes on the rent they charge. Verbal agreements to rent someone a flat and register them while not paying taxes could lead to a rise in the price of flats let to foreign nationals in Russia.

Formally, nothing has been said about the retroactive force of the amendments to the law, as signed by Putin. However, human rights activists have already been getting reports of attempts to deport migrant workers for dwelling in places where they are not registered to reside. In fact, the Interior Ministry already has the power to deport a non-Russian national if an inspector discovers him somewhere other than his registered domicile, say, at another flat in the evening.

This was what happened to Uzbek nationals in Omsk Region, says human rights activist Valentina Chupik. The Uzbeks went to a immigration center with registration papers obtained from a middleman, and they were sent off to be deported, allegedly because they did not live at their registered domicile.

In other words, under the new law, migrant workers no longer have the right to spend the night somewhere other than their legally registered, actual residence.

Under Article 54 of the Russian Constitution, laws cannot be applied retroactively. This was underscored by the specialists at Alliance Legal Migration, a firm based in Petersburg. In theory, then, all registrations issued before July 8 should be valid for their full terms. This can be proven only in court, however. Yet Russian courts rarely side with migrant workers.

Dormitory Hostages
Foreign nationals employed by Russian companies are only half of the problem. If push comes to shove, they can pay landlords extra money to register them. All foreign students in Russia are now at risk as well. Previously, universities would register their main buildings as the legal domiciles of their foreign students, but now they will be obliged to register all of them in university dormitories. However, the number of rooms in the dorms does not match the number of foreign students, and out-of-town Russian students have to live in dorms as well. Besides, there are students who do not want to live in dorms and can rent flats, students who have children, for example. Previously, they could count on their universities registering them, but now they will have to take care of their own registration.

The new law also applies to students who left for summer holidays not knowing they would return to Russia in the autumn on new terms. In addition, students who are registered in dorms are virtually their hostages.

Any violation of university regulations or, for example, attendance at an opposition rally gives university deans the chance to opportunity to revoke the registration of “troublesome” foreign students, which automatically means they are in violation of immigration laws and can be deported. Considering the fact that many international students have never experienced serfdom, they behave like free women and men. Their freedom will now be harshly restricted by the hours when the dorm’s main entrance closes.

Universities themselves seemingly have not yet figured out yet what they are going to do. The new rules have been a big surprise to most of them. The main issue they face is how they will now enroll international students if registering all of them legally has become impossible.

The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) refused to comment on the amended rules. We were told by a spokesperson at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) that they were in the process of working out a way of dealing with the new rules. However, we have in our possession correspondence between students and the HSE’s immigration department, who categorically informed the students they could be registered only at their actual places of residence.

At Moscow State University (MGU), we were told, “The issues of timely migration registration and visa extensions for foreign students residing in rented flats is currently being examined by university management in order to find the optimal solution.”

“The university has not contemplated any limitations to enrolling foreign students due to the adoption of Federal Law No. 163-FZ, dated June 27, 2018,” a MGU spokesperson added.

Other universities failed to respond to our inquiries before this issue of the newspaper was sent to the presses.

“If a university does not have a dormitory or does not have enough room in its dormitories, students can ask for a written request from the university to landlords, asking them to register the students at their actual domiciles. And then the landlords can register them if they want to do so,” explains Salamova.

Closely Watched Flats
You should not imagine that all of the above is a headache for foreigners, but has nothing to do with you.

According to the new rules, Russian nationals who let flats to foreign nationals are automatically regarded as “hosts,” meaning they are obliged to register them as residing in their dwellings and are responsible for them.

“There will also be increased check-ups and fines in the case of noncompliance with the laws for people who let flats to foreigners,” predicts Salamova.

In all fairness, such fines also existed earlier, but they were almost never issued. We have been informed that as soon as the World Cup ends, the police will make an extra effort to inspect all residential buildings and search for unregistered foreigners living in them.

Moreover, Russians are currently responsible for foreign nationals, even if they have left the country but their immigration registration is still valid. A law bill, sponsored by Irina Yarovaya and on the verge of its second reading, has been tabled in the State Duma. If passed, it would make it possible to remove foreigners from the immigration registry instantly and on one’s own via the web. This means landlords would also be able to remove tenants from the registry whenever they wanted, claiming, for example, that they had lost touch with the migrant workers in question. Foreign tenants would thus be subject to the whims of landlords, who could raise their rent at the drop of a hat, threatening to remove them from the immigration registry if they failed to pay. Besides, if a migrant worker does not live in the flat where she is officially registered, she can find herself without papers at any minute because, according to yet another amendment, she can be stricken from the rolls as residing in a particular flat without her knowledge. This means that beat cops can stop her on the street and automatically fine and deport her.

In mid June, the State Duma approved yet another law bill in its second reading. If passed, it would make organizations that invite foreigners to Russia wholly responsible for their actions. For example, if a foreign national works somewhere else than the organization that invited him or “is up to no good,” as MP Viktor Karamyshev has put it, the authorities will pay a call to the foreigner’s primary host organization. In addition, companies would have to make sure that when an employment contract ends, the migrant worker leaves the country instantly. Otherwise, the companies would be fined.

At the same time, the State Duma approved a new list of fines for noncompliance with all these rules on the part of organizations and ordinary Russians.

Under the new regulations in the Administrative Offenses Code, individuals will pay fines of up to 4,000 rubles for violations involving migrant workers, while officials will pays up to 50,000 rubles, and legal entities will pay up to 500,000 rubles [approx. 6,700 euros].

Beneficiaries  
By and large, the batch of laws that have been adopted or are still under consideration (the Interior Ministry, for example, has launched an expert group to draft a Migration Code) should at least be sent back to the relevant committee for revision, since, as Babushkin says, “The harm they do outweighs the good.” But the way the new rules have been drafted and adopted behind the scenes—they did not warrant a single public hearing nor, as far we have ascertained, did their authors consult with independent migration lawyers—suggests their oppressiveness is advantageous as they currently stand.

Who stands to gain, however? MP Irina Yarovaya, for example, argues that certain changes, such as the ability to remove migrant workers from the registration rolls on one’s own, are in the interests of ordinary Russians. She states her case in a clarification to the law bill that the MP’s aides sent to us in reply to a request for comments. On the contrary, human rights activists argue the Interior Ministry, which now has complete oversight over immigration, has received yet another tool for extorting bribes. Any migrant worker can be stopped on the street by the police and threatened with deportation: he will find it easier to pay them off. Any landlord can be intimidated with fines.

The threat of deportation is a convenient tool for dealing with troublesome individuals.

Our newspaper published the story of Gulchekhra Aliyeva and her family. She and her son were locked up for five days without food and water at the Ramenki District Police Station in Moscow. They were let out of their cells twice a day to go to the toilet. According to the Aliyevs and human rights advocates, the police tried to extort them, promising to deport them if they did not pay up. The ostensible cause was the tightening of security on the eve of the World Cup. After human right defenders intervened, the Aliyevs were released, and a criminal investigation into allegations of torture was launched.

“However, when the Aliyevs were summoned for questioning, it transpired  the police planned to deport them for being registered at their place of work rather than where they actually lived,” says Chupik.

Moreover, this happened before the new law had taken effect.

“We basically saved them by escaping the police station,” recalls Chupik.

The special services also stand to benefit from the new law. As we have learned from a source with ties to the academic world, special services officers have connections to the immigration departments in several Russian universities.

This is tantamount to reviving the Soviet system of “working” with international students at universities. Given that they inevitably violate the rules, they can be inclined to “friendship” and “cooperation” when necessary.

Besides, foreigners per se will now be unable to take the slightest step in Russia without official registration. Nationals of our allies Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan will also be punished, but that is collateral damage.

Finally, fly-by-night fake migration registrars stand to gain from the law, since their entire business will disappear into the shadow economy. Even now, migrant workers who travel to the Multi-Purpose Migration Center (MMTs) in Sakharovo, in the far southern outskirts of Moscow, cannot have their domiciles registered while other papers are being processed, including their work permits. Human rights activists say the MMTs has lost this right due to the new law.

“Everyone mobs Kazan Station, getting registered by people who give them counterfeit papers,” claims Chupik.

As far as we know, the neighborhood around the Kazan Railway Station, in central Moscow, has the largest number of people offering such dubious services. Moreover, these deals are made more or less in plain view of law enforcement officers, who do nothing about them: maybe they know something important we do not know or know more thane we. The price of counterfeit registration papers is between seven and eight thousand rubles [approx. 95 to 110 euros], a hefty sum of money for migrant workers.

The Interior Ministry stubbornly persists in saying nothing about how the new law will be enforced: it has not published any official clarifications. We have sent the ministry a request to comment, but when this newspaper went to the print, the ministry had not yet responded.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

How Rosstat Stopped People’s Incomes from Falling by Fudging the Stats

1024px-Centrosoyuz_Moscow_-_Ak_Sakharova_viewThe Tsentrosoyuz Building, on Sakharov Avenue in Moscow, was designed in 1933 by Le Corbusier and Nikolai Kolli. Originally built as headquarters of the Central Union of Consumer Cooperatives, it now houses Rosstat and the Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Rosstat “Stopped” Populace’s Incomes from Falling
Analysts Accuse Agency of Fudging the Figures
Yelizaveta Bazanova and Filipp Sterkin
Vedomosti
February 19, 2019

Evgeny Shtorn: How the FSB Tried to Recruit Me

“I Had a Night to Say Goodbye to My Whole Life”
Sociologist Evgeny Shtorn Left Russia Because the FSB Tried to Recruit Him
Elena Racheva
Novaya Gazeta
January 20, 2018

On January 5, sociologist Evgeny Shtorn, an employee at the Centre for Independent Sociological Research (CISR) in St. Petersburg, left Russia for Ireland. In December, his application for Russian citizenship was rejected, and immediately afterwards he was summoned to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), according to Shtorn, where he was interrogated about CISR’s financing and the foreign organizations it collaborates with. (Since 2015, the CISR has been classified as a “foreign agent.”) According to CISR director Viktor Voronkov, Shtorn is at least the fourth CISR employee whom the FSB has attempted to recruit.

Shtorn was born in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, but in 2000 he left the country to study in Petersburg. In 2004, he was granted Russian citizenship at a Russian consulate in Kazakhstan. He lived for eight years on his Russian passport, but in 2011 he was told by authorities the passport had been issued groundlessly, and he was not a Russian citizen.

Shtorn’s Kazakhstani citizenship had been annulled long before, but he found himself a stateless person after living in Russia for eleven years. The only paper the authorities would issue him was a residence permit for a stateless person, which allowed him to live and work in Russia. After five years, one can apply for Russian citizenship on this basis. This was what Shtorn did in July 2017, after passing the obligatory Russian language exam, assembling a whole dossier of paperwork, and standing in endless queues.

During this time, Shtorn, who is thirty-five, enrolled in the Higher School of Economics MA program and continued working as manager for development at CISR, one of the oldest and most respected independent sociological research institutes in Russia.

“I went to the local Federal Migration Service (FMS) office in late November to pick up my passport,” Shtorn recounts. “I was told my citizenship application had been rejected because I had provided false information about myself. The FMS had decided I did not lived at my registered address, because they had come checking in the afternoon, when I was not home, and I had not listed all the addresses where I had lived in Russia, although in the application I filled out there was a footnote saying I was not obliged to list all of them.”

The rejection meant Shtorn could resubmit his application for citizenship only in a year. Two weeks after his application was rejected, Shtorn was telephoned by a person who identified himself as an FMS employee. He said he was handling Shtorn’s application and asked him to stop by their office.

On December 7, Shtorn went to the FMS office that handles the registration of statelesss persons.

“I was met by a person my age. We went up to the second floor and walked into an office with no plaque on the door,” Shtorn recounts. “I caught sight of a picture of Andropov on the wall, an old-fashioned, insipid, Soviet-era portrait. I immediately understood everything.”

The man showed Shtorn a FSB officer’s ID. Shtorn did not remember his rank, but he did memorize his name and surname, but he is afraid of identifying him publicly.

“He quickly got down to business,” recalls Shtorn. “He said when the FSB reviewed my application, they were quite surprised I worked for a ‘foreign agent’ and at the Higher School of Economics, although I am actually a student there. He asked me what I did at CISR. He was polite, but his vocabulary was bizarre. ‘Who is your patron?’ he asked. I explained we did not have patrons, that researchers operate differently. There are things a person wants to research, and he or she tries to research them. To have something to say, I told him about Max Weber, and the difference between quantitative and qualitative sociology.”

Evgeny Shtorn. Photo from his personal archives

Then, according to Shtorn, the FSB officer asked him where the “foreign agent” got its money and what western foundations CISR worked with.

“I said, ‘What, do foreign agents have money? The American foundations you declared undesirables are gone, and we have big problems with financing.’

“‘So people transport cash from abroad, right?’ he asked.

“I explained I didn’t have a passport, I hadn’t been abroad for many years, and I didn’t have access to those realms, but I didn’t think anyone was transporting cash in their underwear. Then he asked whether I had met with foreign intelligence officers as part of my job.”

According to Shtorn, the FSB officer was well informed about the work of Shtorn, CISR, and related organizations. He knew about academic conferences and listed the surnames of foreign foundation directors, asking whether Shtorn was acquainted with them. He asked what Shtorn was researching at the Higher School of Economics, although he clearly knew Shtorn was researching hate crimes against LGBT. He asked what foreign languages Shtorn spoke.

“Is English your working language?” he asked.

According to Shtorn, the FSB officer was not aggressive, but twice during their ninety-minute conversation he quoted the articles in the Russian Criminal Code covering espionage and treason, commenting they applied to everyone who flirted with foreign special services and foreign organizations.

In the middle of the conversation, the FSB officer asked him whether he had read Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book The Grand Chessboard.

“He said that, way back in the nineties, Brzezinki had written Ukraine would go over to the US in 2012, and this was what had happened. He advised me to read the book.

“At the end of the conversation, he said, ‘How unlucky you were with your citizenship application.’ He explained he was unable to help me in any way. ‘Many believe we are an all-seeing eye, but it’s not like that at all. We also have a tough time obtaining information.’

“He insisted I tell no one about our conversation. When I was getting ready to leave, he said, ‘If I call you again, you won’t be scared? Because some people get scared and change their telephone numbers.’ I said, ‘Of course not. You’re a polite person. What do I have be afraid of?’

“‘And you are such an interesting person, and educated. It’s interesting to chat with you. Thank you for your time,’ he said.

“We left the office, and that was when I caught sight of a bust of Felix Dzerzhinsky behind the coat rack, a life-sized bust.

“‘And here is Felix,’ the FSB officer said.

“I left.”

The FSB officer telephoned Shtorn the very next day. According to him, the FSB officer suggested meeting for coffee.

“I realized that was that. They were going to try and recruit me,” says Shtorn.

He believes if he had refused to work for the FSB, as a stateless person he would have been sent to the Temporary Detention Center for Migrants.

“I felt paranoid,” says Shtorn. “I imagined the FSB had access to all my channels of communication, that they could see all my emails. They realized I had nowhere to go, that without papers I was caged. I realized I had to make a run for it, so I turned to Team 29, LGBT Network, and Civic Control. I got a lot of help from human rights activist Jennifer Gaspar. In 2014, she was also invited to have a chat with the FSB, who stripped her of her residence permit and expelled her from Russia. Jennifer put me in touch with Front Line Defenders, who asked the German, Lithuanian, French, and US governments to issue me a visa. They all turned us down, saying they could not put a visa in a residence permit.”

On the evening of December 21, Front Line Defenders informed Shtorn Ireland was willing to issue him a visa. The next morning he had to fly to Moscow, apply for the visa at the Irish Embassy, and fly to Ireland without any hope of ever returning to Russia.

“I had a night to say goodbye to my whole life,” recalls Shtorn. “It felt like I was standing on the edge of an abyss and jumped off.”

In Moscow, it transpired that, due to the short working day, the Irish consular officials would not have time to draw up his visa, and he flew back to Petersburg. He obtained the visa only on January 4. The next day, he tried to board a Lufthansa flight to Dublin, but the airline refused to let him board the plane. The German Federal Police had informed the airline it would refuse to let a person with a residence permit enter the transit zone. It was clear Shtorn would not be allowed to fly via any of the EU countries. The next flight from Domodedovo Airport to Dublin had a stopover in Moldova.

“I went to the check-in counter,” recounts Shtorn. “The folks there were reasonable. They realized a person with an Irish visa would not want to stay in Chișinău. I bought a ticket. There was 45 minutes until boarding, and the whole time I sat waiting for them to come for me. When the plane took off, I started shaking.”

Shtorn is now in Dublin on a three-month short-term visa.

“Thanks to Front Line Defenders I have a place to live and money for food,” he says. “I don’t know what will happen next. I cannot go back to Russia. If my situation was bad, now I have made it worse. Initially, I wanted to keep mum, but I decided I had to warn the employees of other NGOs. When the law on ‘foreign agents’ was enacted, it stated the penalties did not apply to people who worked for such organizations. My story shows this is not the case.”

•••••

Фото: «Новая газета»

Viktor Voronkov, director, Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR), Petersburg 

Of course, the FSB is interested in CISR. Four of our employees have approached me and said, “They’re trying to recruit me. What should I do?” I think they have tried to recruit nearly everyone at CISR. Some have told me, others have turned them down and not told me, and still others, perhaps, did not turn them down. In conversation with the people they were trying to recruit, FSB officers have mentioned numerous facts they could have learned only from our employees.

It is normal. I know the practice well from the Soviet Union. When they tried to recruit me in 1981, they also asked questions that came out of left field. “Maybe you could describe your critical view of things at the institute? Maybe we could work together? You want to help the Motherland, don’t you?” They always associate themselves with the Motherland. They offered me help traveling abroad via the Soviet-East German Friendship Society. They blackmailed me.

I met with them three or four times. One time, a KGB officer tried to take me into a cubbyhole under the stairs at the institute to work me over. He looked in there, said, “Excuse me,” and closed the door. Another officer was already working someone over in the cubbyhole.

You can get rid of them. They have the right to recruit, and we have the right to turn them down. When they tried to recruit a pal of mine, he simply opened the door of his officer and shouted, “Get the hell outta here!” The KGB guy left. But I do not advise anyone to start talking with them. You cannot win against them. Nowadays, I advise my employees to give FSB guys the bum’s rush.

They tried to blackmail our other employees over trifles, but they were not as vulnerable as Evgeny was. I told him him to pay no mind to the blackmail, but it was not worth taking risks in his position. When a person is guided by fear, it is better to give into that fear.

I think we have to talk about such stories publicly. We could do a flash mob hashtagged #HowTheyTriedToRecruitMe. If there is no public oversight of the KGB, it means the KGB oversees society.

I realize this story could affect CISR, but we have been taking different measures to soften the blow. CISR is currently split. The majority of our employees argues we should disband the center and establish a new one. The minority argues we should not surrender. I have taken the most radical position. Everyone wants to find the means to survive. I want to show there is way to fight we can fight to the end. I hope to their end, not ours.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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

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

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

“Have you heard they want to merge the Russian National Library with the Lenin Library in Moscow?” Boris Kolonitsky, a senior researcher at the St. Petersburg Institute of History (Russian Academy of Sciences) asked passerby.

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

Most bystanders heard about these developments for the first time. But after a short briefing, passersby agreed it would be wrong to merge one of the country’s most important academic and cultural institutions.

“It is not so much the library, St. Isaac’s or anything else that causes people to protest, as it is the fact that no one reckons with them,” Viktor Voronkov, director of the Centre for Independent Social Reseach, explained to Novaya Gazeta. “Why is everything being centralized? To make it was easier to control. The entire country is being formed up into a [power] vertical, and it is the same way in every field.”

“It matters that people from the outside, people who don’t work at the library but understand its value, speak out,” said journalist Daniil Kotsiubinsky, who organized the rally.

“The people who came here today are not random, but one of a kind. Petersburgers should listen to them.”

As the rally was drawing to a close, the overall enthusiasm was disturbed by a police officer.

“We’ve got a solo picket here,” the guardian of order reported on his cell phone, asking the picketers to show him their papers.

“It’s an A4-sized placard,” the policeman reported. “What does it say? ‘A great city deserves a great library.'”

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

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander Bikbov: The Neoliberal State of Higher Education in Russia

Sociologist Alexander Bikbov
Sociologist Alexander Bikbov

Sociologist Alexander Bikbov: “I’m Inspired by Small University Trade Unions”
Lena Chesnokova
Inde
June 27, 2016

Where fee-based higher education came from, why universities are jockeying for places in the ratings, and what a lecturer should do if she disagrees with her university’s administration

Part of last weekend’s Summer Book Festival was the fourth edition of the lecture series “Theories of Contemporaneity,” a joint project between Inde and the Smena Contemporary Culture Center (Kazan). One of the speakers was Alexander Bikbov, Ph.D., deputy director of the Center for Contemporary Philosophy and Social Sciences at the Philosophy Faculty of Moscow State University, and an editor of the journal Logos. Among Bikbov’s interests are the theory and practice of neoliberal reforms in the fields of education and culture. Inde spoke with Bikbov about the circumstances in which today’s Russian tertiary institutions find themselves, and what “effective management” and the pursuit of profitability could lead to over time.

Neoliberalism
A term used by scholars since the late twentieth century to describe government policies that reduce social spending (on education, culture, health care, and pensions and benefits) and promote universal competition and the free market. However, the rules of the market are set, supposedly, by the state. In theory, such policies should cull inefficient businesses (which, for neoliberal reformers, comprise everything from factories to tertiary institutions, hospitals, and theaters), provide people with a higher quality of services, and make them richer and freer. In reality, neoliberal reforms often exacerbate income equality and lower the overall cultural horizons of a large part of the populace. Neoliberalism, then, is a state of affairs in which liberal values, such as democracy, individual liberty, and freedom of speech and conscience, are subjugated to the principal value: the free market.

_________

In the last five to ten years, great changes have taken place in Russian higher education. Large universities have absorbed smaller ones, and a system for auditing the efficiency and performance of teaching staff has been put in place. When did these neoliberal reforms kick off, and what stages have there been?

State-controlled reforms began after 2003, when the Russian Ministry of Education signed the pan-European Bologna Declaration. From 2003 to 2005, certain universities served as flagships for the reforms by introducing a division between the bachelor’s and the master’s degrees, and ratings to measure student progress and the success of teaching staff. But the new model was adopted nationwide between 2008 and 2012. In 2009, the Unified State Examination (EGE) was made mandatory for school leavers, and nearly all universities abolished their own entrance exams. In 2010, Federal Law No. 83 came into force, which brought all the country’s tertiary institutions under the new economic model.

But if we speak on the whole about the permeation of Russian higher education by the neoliberal rationale, the process got underway much earlier. In 1991−1992, when state financing of tertiary institutions was abruptly slashed, some universities simply had no way to pay the electricity bills. University administrators were forced into crisis management mode, making sure their universities did not go bust as economic units while simultaneously becoming the full-fledged “proprietors” of these institutions. In the early 1990s, it was totally natural for a university lecturer to be working two or three jobs. It was then that the model for the labor relations that the state is now institutionalizing top down were predetermined: relatively unencumbered hiring and redundancy procedures, hourly pay, and precarious forms of employment with no social benefits.

The intermediate stage between the spontaneous reforms and state-driven commercialization happened in the late 1990s and mid 2000s, when universities established a system of fee-based instruction. By the mid 2000s, so-called commercial students accounted for about half of all students. Now the laws have been amended so this percentage can increase further.

What have been the most significant changes over the past ten years?

The most significant change is the new procedure for financing universities. Universities no longer receive core funding from the state and have begun to get vigorously involved in the fight for project and grant monies. Naturally, this leads to an uneven distribution of resources: economically stronger and weaker universities have begun to emerge. The “weak” universities are forced into subordination to the “strong” universities, despite the fact that higher education institutions deemed economically ineffective may be stronger in intellectual terms.

A very important date on the timeline of reforms is late 2008, when the government abolished the unified wage rate scale. This was a real revolution that instantaneously rocked the entire state sector, including medical care, culture, and secondary and higher education. The original version of the unified scale was adopted way back in 1936. It had evolved over the entire Soviet period and had continued to exist in the post-Soviet period. The Soviet system assumed an individual who worked at his or her job for a long time was a priori competent to perform that job. The older the lecturer, the more serious was his or her academic title, the higher was his or her pay grade, and the more he or she earned.

The new mode of compensation was introduced very quickly, literally in a couple of months. People were summoned one by one to the boss’s office and confronted with a choice: either they signed a new contract or they went looking for a new job. People who had previously been considered valuable employees lost all their privileges. According to the new rules, they are on a par with inexperienced employees and must annually certify their competence. I am not saying the old system was flawless. Obviously, it did not always guarantee the competence of teaching staff and a high quality of education. It had to be changed. But it is just as obvious that the new reforms are excessively radical. One extreme system has been replaced by another, without any steps in between.

In parallel with the new system of wages, a system of Key Performance Indicators, including publication citation indices, student attendance, and so on have been introduced. The duration of contracts has been reduced. The experiments are still underway, but permanent contracts no longer exist at most universities. Rigid market-based relations have now come to higher education.

Does the pan-European Bologna Process assume that changes follow the same scenario everywhere, or does each country go its own way? 

There is definitely no common way. In France, for example, the transition to the new labor relations was smoother: lecturers who already had permanent contracts when the reforms were adopted kept them. In Italy, however, junior lecturers can work for years without being paid, because they are listed as trainees. The Russian approach is radical, and I am guessing that, as time goes by, it will experience more and more serious glitches. Permanent confirmation of competencies makes winners of those who are better at playing the game, for example, who are better at writing reports in bureaucratic newspeak or filling out applications for salary bonuses. This does not always mean the person has a profound knowledge of his or her subject or is a skilled teacher.  In addition, lecturers have been subjected to a new set of conflicting rules. On the one hand, the recommended number of instructional hours has been raised from 750 to 900 hours a year. On the other hand, lecturers need to demonstrate high citation indices annually. But when is a lecturer supposed to do her own research when she spends more and more work time on classes, on preparing for them and checking homework assignments?

Are there any universities left in Russia that have either bucked the trend completely or follow the new rules only in part?

Yes, but things are not simple in those places, either. One of the flagships of the reforms, the Higher School of Economics, has full professorships. Full professors are the most protected category of employees. They sign permanent contracts with the university, and collegial methods of decision-making operate within their community. They elect each other, and they solve many problems without interference from the administration. Yet this special regime in which full professors exist is made possible by discriminating against the rest of the teaching staff. Less protected than the full professors, they are involved in the struggle for classroom hours. Their benefits and bonuses are cut, and the administration may suddenly refuse to renew their contracts.

Why have all these changes taken root so quickly in Russian universities? It’s hard to believe no one has protested.

One would imagine that if it is an international reform aimed at uniformity, its aftermath would be similar in all the participating countries. But it turns out that a fairly successful resistance has been mounted against it in France, while in Germany tuition fees were abolished. In Russia, however, the commercial model indeed became dominant quickly and triumphantly.  The short answer to the question of why this happened is that collegial organizations and social bonds among teachers have been traditionally weak in Russia. This was a legacy of the Soviet period, and it was exacerbated by the “crisis management” of the 1990s. Such organizations exist in Western European universities. For example, there was a months-long university strike in France in 2009 in which over two thirds of the country’s universities were involved. Decisions to close universities were approved by vote at general assemblies. There were street demos, and medical workers, postal workers, and other state-sector workers who were going through similar circumstances supported the university lecturers. At the same time, unofficial classes, organized by students themselves, continued on the campuses of certain universities. They invited intellectuals and lecturers they found interesting. The students insisted the strike should not be a period of inactivity. Unfortunately, the strike did not lead to a complete halt of the reforms, but protesters did cushion some of the commercial pressures.

With the raising of neoliberalism to the rank of state doctrine, independent quasi trade unions have also popped up at Russian universities. They are not like the trade unions that existed formally in the Soviet years and arranged trips to health spas. Instead, they are capable of saying a collective no to state-driven lawlessness. They interact with rectors, putting pressure on them and trying to ensure that university administrations negotiate more acceptable conditions with the state as embodied by the Ministry of Education.

Where are these quasi trade unions operating in Russia? Have they achieved any results?

In the late 2000s, an independent organization known as the MSU Pressure Group (Initsiativnaia gruppa MGU) emerged at Moscow State University.  Initially, its members fought for the right to free entry to the dormitories and the abolition of silly prohibitions concerning the use of lecture halls. Basically, they tried to solve very practical issues. The more often the activists got what they had set out to achiever, the stronger they felt. Nowadays, the Pressure Group is part of University Solidarity, a independent nationwide trade union.  All over the country, members of University Solidarity have been defending the rights of lecturers to legal employment contracts. At the Russian State Universities for the Humanities, for example, members have been fighting to abolish the practice of dismissing lecturers for the summer so the administration does not have to give them holiday pay.

Do such organizations exist in the regions?

They do, but they are not as active as in the capitals. Early experience of involvement is vital to civic and professional activism. The conditions for this have to exist. If a university administrations cracks down too harshly on students who make demands, the desire to defend rights and engage in vigorous protest is lost at the time in people’s lives when they are university students or postgraduates. For now independent trade unions have thus been emerging in cities with a traditionally strong culture of activism. I know for sure that, aside from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, such organizations exist in Yekaterinburg and Voronezh.

Given the circumstances, what tactics should lecturers and students choose? What is more effective: joining the new trade unions, starting a rebellion or switching to another line of work?

I am inspired by the small university trade unions, despite the fact they often admit to achieving limited results themselves. But any effective union is a voluntary association of professionals, and the more lecturers and students who are involved in it, the more it is capable of achieving. True, it is not all that simple. We can blame lecturers as much as we like for sluggishness and timidity, but 900 instructional hours a year and the need to think constantly about additional sources of income simply do not encourage many people to make the time to actively pursue their rights or, often, even just contemplate this possibility.

Do the reforms we have been talking about always entail a change of university leadership? In Kazan, for example, the scholar who had been elected to the post of rector was replaced by an appointed manager.

The federal universities tend to have a geopolitical function, and they are structured according to the same rationale that defines relations between Moscow and the regions. The government regards the old universities as platforms for professional and political loyalty where exceedingly abrupt shake-ups can produce uncontrolled change. If a university has a direct line to the ministry or the presidential administration, the changes are likely to be milder. Otherwise, the university faces an abrupt change in management. I gather that regional universities often find themselves in these circumstances.

Can we regard this round of reforms as completed, or are there more shocks on the way?

I have already mentioned the foundations for the situation we are now experiencing were laid in the early 1990s. Back then, Yeltsin’s reformers wanted to shift tertiary institutions to full self-financing, meaning one hundred percent commercial self-sufficiency. This bar has not yet been achieved, although in this instance Russian universities have considerably outstripped their European counterparts: at least half of their costs are covered by extra-budgetary resources. (This figure ranges from ten to twenty-five percent at different European universities.) I doubt the radical dream of full commercial self-sufficiency will ever be realized, because that would be tantamount to a total collapse of the higher education system.

The current leadership sees the universities as economic enterprises that should be cost-effective. This is not specific to Russia: England and Germany continue vigorously slashing “loss-making” departments and programs in philosophy, philology, and Slavic studies. There are also regions in Russia where such things are happening. Another consequence of this take on the problem is the constant desire on the part of university administrators to drastically reduce labor costs. Experiments with forms of employment will thus continue. So-called performance contracts have already been introduced: a lecturer’s salary and continued employment now depend on whether he performs a precise list of official obligations. In addition to giving lectures, the list includes getting published in highly ranked academic journals (there should be no fewer than a certain number of such publications per year), obtaining external financing, performing an extracurricular workload, and other factors that used to be more a matter of valor than obligation for educators.

In the early 2010s, some universities discussed introducing a system under which all lecturers would be casualized and hired under temporary contracts for ongoing projects, for example, for a semester-long or yearlong academic module. It is only at the idea stage for the time being, but it suggests that movement in this direction will continue.

What could be the long-term consequences of these reforms?

A shift to increasingly short-term and precarious contracts with lecturers will produce increased social insecurity. Further reduction of all “unprofitable” spending will increase inequality in academia. In addition, the gap in the quality of education will grown between individual universities and departments.

It is important to understand that a university’s intellectual level is inseparable from the social and financial standing of its teaching staff and the patterns of their employment. An individual who constantly changes the subjects she teaches, regularly experiences periods of unemployment, and is forced all the time to worry about maintaining at least a minimum income, ceases to see high-quality, creative teaching as a priority.

Universities have sought to increase the ratio of students to lecturers, class sizes have been growing, seminar hours have been reduced, and advanced optional courses are often not counted as part of the instructional load. The outcome is that a meaningful dialogue between students and lecturers has been rendered almost impossible. They find themselves in the positions of suppliers and consumers of standardized services, which are delivered along with increased formal monitoring of discipline on the part of both groups.

The draft federal budget for 2016 has again shown that spending on education is slated for cuts. This means the burden on family budgets will grow, and tertiary institutions are going the way of primary and secondary schools, where money for repairs, computers, and other necessities are collected from pupils’ parents. Such levies can be direct, but they can take the shape of rising tuition fees. In any case, the focus of the reforms is slashing the number of full-ride scholarships.

I have already talked about the closure and merger of unprofitable humanities departments. The trend has been deepening. Often, even if a department is kept open, its program is commercialized. A good number of liberal arts teachers even now can allow themselves to work only because they have other sources of income in addition to their university salaries. It is the same with students. The choice of a humanities specialization is often determined by the availability of free time and the absence of the need to start contributing to the family budget immediately. In ten years or so, philosophy and philology will probably become bourgeois disciplines, not in the Soviet sense of the word bourgeois, but in the sense that only wealthy people will be able to study them.

Tertiary institutions have already begun competing with each other for students and financing. The same rationale will probably penetrate even deeper. Departments and programs will begin competing amongst themselves for pieces of the university budget, and universities will open resource centers that will rent space to their own schools and departments for academic conferences.

Are the neoliberal reforms reversible at the national level? Are there forces within the system capable of slowing down the process?

I believe the only potentially effective force are lecturers themselves, united to defend their professional interests, the quality of their work, and the quality of education. That is why independent university unions are so important now.

There is also an alternative within the system, but it is a variety of neoliberalism. This is neomercantilism. The state’s rationale in this case is not extracting as much profit as possible from students, but keeping young people in the area, tethering their consumption to the local market, and protecting borders. Because the major federal universities, which were established in a dozen or so cities around the country, are basically a geopolitical project.

But then you might want to create a better environment for teachers and students?

Right. And here we approach the neoliberal model’s most important and intrinsic internal contradiction. The demands of reformers contain conflicting codes right from the get-go. For example, one neoliberal slogan is the absolute flexibility of skills and expertise that individuals build up over an entire lifetime. But this is contrary to reducing the time to the degree. In the Russian recension, the approach of neoliberal officials goes like this: we have too many people getting a higher education, but nobody to put to work in the real sector of the economy. Yet the assumption is that people employed in the real sector should be sufficiently competent. And there are more than one or two such fatal contradictions.

You ask why the reformers are so persistent in ploughing ahead with the changes. Don’t these contradictions bother them? But the fact of the matter is the neoliberal model is not a well-shaped ideology, but a technique for governing. It is almost impossible to imagine it as a consummate, consistent set of rules that could be checked for internal consistency. So that is why it is impossible to fully implement it in practice. But this is a challenge and incentive for commercially minded officials, who see the educational field as unnecessarily complicated, confusing, weak, dependent, and unproductive. I think reformers will keep trying to tame it for a long time to come.

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

The Decline Has Gone Uphill

Silhouette figures trying to keep a ten-ruble in the air next to an inscription that reads, "Not everything is in our hands." Petersburg, May 23, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
Silhouette figures trying to keep a ten-ruble coin in the air next to a stenciled inscription (left) that reads, “Not everything is in our hands.” Petersburg, May 23, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

Russia Level with Kazakhstan in Wages
Maria Leiva
RBC
May 24, 2016

In 2015, the average Russian salary, in terms of US dollars, was equal to the level of wages in Kazahkstan, according to data from the Higher School of Economics (HSE). Compared to 2014, the salaries of Russians dropped by almost a third last year.

The observed decline in wages in Russia has led to their drawing level, late last year, with average wages in Belarus and Kazakhstan in previous years, experts at the HSE have calculated in their May monitoring of the populace’s socio-economic status and social well-being. Computed on the basis of exchange rates, the average wage in Russia last year was $558 a month, which is lower than the 2014 level by 34% or more than a third. By way of comparison, in Kazakhstan and Belarus, the average monthly wage, calculated using the same method, was $549 and $415, respectively.

From 2011 to 2015, Russia had the highest level of wages in the CIS, but in 2014, compared with 2013, it dropped by nearly 10%, from $936 to $847. The experts at the HSE note that the gap in economic performance indicators between Russia and certain CIS countries has been constantly contracting. For example, the average salary in Armenia in 2008 was around 52% of the 2015 Russian wage, but by the end of the period in question, it had grown to 60%. During the same period, Belarus has gone from 61% to 75%, and Tajikistan, from 17% to 26%. However, over the same period, the relative positions of Azerbaijan, Moldova, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan have declined.

If we compare the average wage in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe, the wage in those countries has exceeded the average in Russia for the past five years. Thus, last year, the average Russian wage came to 60% of the average wage in Hungary, and 50% of the average wage in the Czech Republic. However, in 2015, Russia came close to the level of wages in Bulgaria during 2013–2014.

Trends in the average monthly wage in Russia, Brazil, and China over the past five years show that wages in Brazil were higher than in Russia last year. Despite the fact that data on wages in China for 2015 have not yet been published, the figures for Russia in 2015 were lower than for China in 2012, 2013, and 2014, indicating the gradual reduction of the gap between the two countries in terms of this indicator.

Last week, Sberbank also reported a fall in the average monthly Russian wage below China’s average wage. The bank’s principal analyst, Mikhail Matovnikov, cited data that the average monthly wage of Russians had fallen below $450 a month, lower than that in China, Poland, Serbia, and Romania.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Valentin Urusov for the heads-up.

Smychka

Naziya600

When you can’t think of anyone else to blame (and especially when you wouldn’t think of blaming your collective self), blame the Russian peasants:

Leonid Vasilyev, head of the Laboratory for History Studies at the Higher School of Economics, believes that the times are very bad not only in Russia, but throughout the world.

“Poverty and ignorance have come to the fore: they are the twin pillars of the world today. Over the past half century, the population of the Earth has increased from 1.6 billion people to 7 billion, of whom 6.2 billion are poor and ignorant. We are seeing the same thing in Russia,” he said.

Vasilyev believes that the Russian peasant commune—archaic, ignorant, inert and hostile to innovation—has now come to power in Russia. The commune has acted as a powerful canopy over the history of Russia or, rather, it  has not let our country’s history come into its own.

“After all, what was the Russian commune for most of its existence? A nomadic population. The commune would use slash-and-burn agriculture to exploit a piece of land from four to eight years, and then it would pick up stakes and go cultivate a new plot. Hence the lack of horizontal ties, of solidarity, in Russia. Serfdom was a blessing for this population; it reduced the costs of encampment. Please note that the Russian commune never raised a rebellion against serfdom. Cossacks and Old Believers protested, but not the Russian commune. The folk liked living under serfdom,”  the historian argued.

At the end of nineteenth century, the commune rejected the intelligentsia’s campaign of “going to the people,”  but the Bolsheviks were able to reach out to peasants by giving them simple slogans and restoring serfdom in the form of collective farms.

“Eighty years have passed, and commune members have moved into the Russian cities. They have not changed much: there is still the same old archaism and ignorance. That is, they are the people whom the current regime represents. If you held fair elections, they would win a stunning victory,”  lamented Vasilyev. “What hopes are there that the situation will change? Hope is almost nonexistent.” *

* Quoted in Pavel Pryanikov, “The child is crying, demanding the pacifier of xenophobia,” Russkaya Planeta, November 23, 2013; photo courtesy of Russkaya Planeta and RIA Novosti.