How Russia Treats “Compatriots”: The Case of Tatyana Kotlyar

A residence permit on Lermontov Street: why a human rights activist from Obninsk violates the laws of the Russian Federation
Julia Vishnevetskaya
October 3, 2015
Deutsche Welle

Human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar, who has registered over a thousand immigrants at her home, is on trial in Obninsk. DW got to the bottom of the case.

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Human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar

The latest hearing in the case of human rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar, on Friday, October 2, at the Obninsk Magistrate Court, began with a surprise. It transpired that the judge hearing the case had resigned a mere two days earlier.

“I wonder if there is an article in Criminal Code for causing a judge to resign?” joked defense counsel Illarion Vasilyev.

He does not rule out that the resignation was connected to the Kotlyar case. Earlier, 43-year-old Judge Svetlana Baykova sent the case back to the prosecutor’s office because new circumstances had come to light: the list of immigrants the defendant had been accused of having registered in her “rubber” flat had changed. Along with the new circumstances has come a new judge, Dmitry Trifonov. Now everything has to begin again, complains Vasilyev, although, during the previous phase, examination of the witnesses alone lasted two months. Since none of the witnesses was present at the October 2 session, a substantive consideration of the case was postponed until October 12.

The substance of the case
Former Obninsk City Assembly deputy Tatyana Kotlyar does not deny that she has registered over a thousand people in her three-room flat on Lermontov Street. She registered them deliberately and made no secret of the fact, even mentioning it in an open letter to President Putin. Former residents of such different countries as Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Germany, Israel, and even Brazil are registered in Kotlyar’s flat.

“There were Old Believers from Brazil, who had decided to return to Russia seventy years later,” recounts Kotlyar. “They sold everything  and left. When they showed up on my  doorstep in their old-fashioned caftans, I thought a folk music ensemble had arrived. Now they have received land in rural areas, they have received Russian passports, and they are fine.”

Most of Kotlyar’s wards arrived in Russia under the state program for the resettlement of compatriots. In operation since 2006, the program involves a simplified procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for people “brought up in the traditions of Russian culture, [and who] speak Russian and do not wish to lose touch with Russia.” Kaluga Region is one of the regions participating in the program. In these regions, new residents of the Russian Federation are supposed to get full support from the state, including assistance finding employment and even relocation expenses.

“But no one warned them that the first thing they would need to do would be to register themselves at their place of residence,” complains Kotlyar. “Without registration [propiska] it is impossible to draw up documents, send children to school, and register for care at a local health clinic.”

“She didn’t take a kopeck from us”
This was the problem faced by Diana Tigranyan, who moved with her family from Yerevan to Obninsk.

“At the Russian consulate in Armenia they promised us mountains of gold! No one said we would need a residence permit,” recounts Tigranyan. “But here it turned that the owners of the flat we rented were afraid to register strangers. There are firms that charge 15,000 rubles a person for this service. But I have a husband, parents, and two children. Where would I get this money?”

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Diana Tigranyan and family

It was not just anyone who advised Tigranyan to turn to Kotlyar, but the Federal Migration Service itself.

“The female employee who was processing my documents said, ‘I cannot help you in any way, but out in the hallway there is a woman. Try approaching her.'”

At first, Tigranyan thought Kotlyar also made money from residence permits.

“I offered her money, and she turned it down. When we told about this in court, no one believed it. But she really is a saint. She didn’t take a kopeck from us.”

Criminal case
Tatyana Kotlyar became an offender on January 1, 2014, when the so-called law on rubber flats came into force. It makes registering a person somewhere other than their place of residence a criminal offense. Criminal charges were filed in March 2014. Kotlyar was charged under Article 322.2 of the Criminal Code (“Fictitious residence registration of foreign citizens in residential accommodation in the Russian Federation”) and Article 322.3 (“Fictitious local registration of a foreign citizen in residential accommodation in the Russian Federation”). Interestingly, on the list of twelve names entered into evidence by the prosecution, there are two people whom Kotlyar has never seen herself.

“Apparently, some woman at the passport office or post office who handles registration knew about my flat and just registered some more people there, for money or as a favor.”

In recent months, Kotlyar has registered several hundred Ukrainian citizens.

“They come to see me every day. They include both refugees from hot spots and men from other regions who are threatened with being drafted into the army in Ukraine. The Russian government has promised to help, but ultimately these people face the same problem as all immigrants.”

Kotlyar is certain that the law on rubber flats violates human rights.

“This did not happen even under Stalin. Then they sentenced people to camps for residing without a passport or residence permit, but at least they didn’t punish the landlord.”

According to Kotlyar, the government is trying to fight the effect rather than the cause.

“Where there is demand, there will always be supply. The problem is not rubber flats, but the very institution of the residence permit. It should be a matter of simple notification, and its presence or absence should in no way affect the provision of civil rights.”

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Illarion Vasilyev, Tatyana Kotlyar’s defense attorney

She helped solved the crime
Illarion Vasilyev, Kotlyar’s attorney, understands that the human rights activist has deliberately put herself in the way of the new law to draw attention to the problem.

“Yes, it’s her civic stance. She knows she will be held liable, and she has issued a challenge,” says Vasilyev in an interview with DW. “Has she harmed anyone? Yes, she probably has. The service of legalizing compatriots costs a lot of money, and Kotlyar constitutes competition for the firms that make money on this. But the people who are questioned as prosecution witnesses at the trial bow at her feet and say thank you.”

Article 322.2 of the Criminal Code stipulates a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 rubles or imprisonment for up to three years for fictitious registration. The article, however, contains an important proviso.

“A person who commits an offense under this article shall be exempt from criminal liability if he helped solve the crime and if his actions do not constitute another crime.”

According to Vasilyev, no one has helped solve the crime as much as Kotlyar herself has.

Translated by the Russian Reader
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Irina Bogatyreva: How Opinion Polls Are Conducted in Russia

How Opinion Polls Are Conducted in Russia
Irina Bogatyreva
July 23, 2015
About Russia

11151029_877218092326378_2792365210284757073_nIrina Bogatyreva

I just took part in one of the famous polls by VTsIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center). They actually exist!

You are warned the survey is anonymous. First, you are asked your name (no surname), whether you are a citizen of the Russian Federation, whether you have a residence permit and whether you have had it for long, your age, education, and, finally, your occupation, income level, and your address, after all.

I was warned the survey would be about the erection of monuments, but in the event I was asked about my attitude to the president, the prime minister, the government, and the mayor, which party I intended to vote for at the elections, about Moscow’s problems, about [the incredibly controversial compulsory residential housing renovations fee, now included in monthly housing maintenance payments in Moscow], whether I am planning to emigrate abroad, and whether I consider emigrants traitors.

This was all prefaced with the phrase, “Of course, maybe you consider questions about politics uninteresting, but . . .”

I was asked twice about the monument to Dzerzhinsky, at the beginning and the end. (“Why twice?” “I don’t know, I’m just the interviewer.”) The first time I could reply as I chose, the second time, I could not. I wonder: if people give different answers, which one counts?

[Translator’s Note. It appears the Communist Party itself has just called off its proposed referendum which would have asked Muscovites whether they wanted a controversial monument to Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky, torn down in August 1991, returned to its former site on Lubyanka Square.]

There were three possible answers to the question of [where to place a 24-meter-tall monument to Prince Vladimir, which has caused a huge public outcry in Moscow]: on Lubyanka, on Borovitskaya Square, in the Sparrow Hills. Saying “I don’t want it at all” was not an option.

Here and there, the survey was worded quite quaintly. For example, “Which party, in your view, has made the greater contribution to Moscow’s development?” All the existing parties where listed off, although only the Udrussians [United Russians], the commies, and one Zhirinovskyite sit in the Moscow City Duma. (“Your question is worded incorrectly.” “I don’t know anything, I’m just the interviewer.”)

They rang me at 1:00 p.m. I just happened to be at home. Working people are usually at work at this time, while it is pensioners and housewives who are at home then. I have long suspected that it is these people who “shape” all these polls.

Translated by The Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade SC for the heads-up. This is the latest in a series of occasional posts about the Russian authoritarian regime’s use of public opinion polling, which I have dubbed pollocracy. After all, what kind of “anonymous” polling requires the respondent to identify their address?

Why Migrant Children Are Expelled from Russian Schools

“Moscow for Muscovites”: Why Migrant Children Are Expelled from Moscow Schools
Darina Shevchenko
June 18, 2015
Yod

Russia had long made it possible for all children living in the country to get an education. The right of every child to an education was untouchable. Beginning this year, circumstances have changed. The Federal Migration Service (FMS) has obliged schools to expel unregistered children under the threat of stiff fines. Yod has tried to find out why Moscow schools are prepared to teach only children who hold Moscow residence permits.

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Alla, a Ukrainian national, arrived in Moscow last year from the city of Chernivtsi, located in Western Ukraine. Alla says that food prices have greatly increased in her hometown, and it has become hard to find work. In Moscow, she quickly found a manager’s job at a small company, rented a flat, and in spring of this year decided to move her son Alexander to Moscow. She went to School No. 1524 and asked what she needed to do to enroll him in the eighth grade.

Alla was told documents for enrolling in school were now submitted through the District Information Support Services (DISS). At DISS, she was informed that her child could be enrolled in school only if he had a yearlong temporary residence permit for Moscow. Alla and Alexander now have a three-month temporary residence permit. Their landlady has refused to register them for a longer period. At DISS, Alla was told that without this document her son had no right to study in a Russian school.

“Alla’s story is now typical. A family from Ukraine recently turned to us for help. For a whole year, a school had refused to enroll their son in the first grade. First, they needed a resident permit, and then they were denied enrollment due to the fact the child had turned eight, and eight-year-olds are too old to study in the first grade. This child’s parents were forced to return to Ukraine,” says Stasya Denisova from the Civic Assistance Committee.

According to the human rights defender, they now are dealing with a very large number of appeals from migrant and refugee families concerning expulsions and non-admission to schools. The most common reason is that their resident permits have run out. School directors cite Ministry of Education Decree No. 32, dated January 22, 2014. The decree divides children into two categories. Priority for admission to school is given to those who have permanent registration, while those who have temporary registration are admitted in second place.

“There is nothing in the decree about children without registration. Apparently, officials believe this means that such children do not have to be enrolled in school at all,” says Denisova.

Another human rights activist, Bakhrom Ismailov, says this year he has begun receiving many complaints from migrants whose children have been kicked out of school because they lacked documents.

“For a long time, Russia made it possible for all children who were living in the country to get an education. And the right to an education for all children was untouchable. The situation has changed this year. The FMS has obliged schools to expel children without resident permits,” says Ismailov.

“Just this week, I got several phone calls from Central Asian migrants who told me their children were going to be expelled from school because they had no medical insurance. Last year, a law requiring migrants to buy health insurance came into force. Without it, they cannot be employed. But we are talking about adult migrants. I don’t understand why high schools are making this demand on their pupils,” says Gavkhar Jurayeva, head of the Migration and Law Center.

Several teachers in different Moscow schools who wished to remain anonymous confirmed to Yod that at the beginning of the academic year, school principals were told at staff meetings that Moscow was now prepared to teach only children holding Moscow residence permits.

It is not only Moscow schools that now require residence permits.

“Our principal’s granddaughter, who is registered in Moscow, goes to school in the Moscow Region. At the school she attends, they demanded a Moscow Region residence permit from her. They said they were different budgets. Moscow was ready to educate only its own children at its own expense, and the region also educated only its own children at its own expense,” recounts a Moscow schoolteacher.

However, Isaak Kalina, head of the Moscow Education Department, does not agree with this take on the situation and says that stories of migrant children being expelled are myths.

“These stories are examples of journalistic myths. Any child who is legally in Moscow can study in Moscow’s schools,” says Kalina.

In February of this year, Uzbek national Nurbek, who has lived in Russia for ten years, was told by Vera Pankova, principal of School No. 34 in Tver, that his two teenaged sons, who had been pupils at the school since the first grade, would either have to be registered within five days or she would expel them.

“Not once in all these years had anyone at the school asked about my sons’ registration. The boys were good pupils, and they had no problems with their teachers. I also respect Russian law. I have always done all the paperwork for my family promptly,” recounts Nurbek.

The three-year residence permits of Nurbek’s sons had expired this past fall. Nurbek has a Russian residence permit, owns his own home in Tver, and is employed full time. Nurbek also wanted to apply for permanent residence permits for his sons and wife. But he was turned down on the grounds that his wife was unemployed, and the children were inscribed in her passport.

“I explained that my wife stays at home with our youngest son and our daughter. How can she work? And I own my own home and have a job. All the same, the boys were not allowed to get permanent residence,” says Nurbek, outraged.

The FMS also refused to register Nurbek’s sons, explaining that the boys had to exit and re-enter Russia.

“I earn forty to fifty thousand rubles a month [approx. 650 to 800 euros] for the whole family. I cannot afford to buy the children a two-way ticket. I have to set aside money and save up for this,” explains Nurbek.

In February, Nurbek was summoned by the principal, who demanded that he immediately present his sons’ registration. The school gave him five days to do the paperwork.

“The children were expelled the same day. They were required to turn in their textbooks. The school did not even suggest temporarily transferring them to home study. I asked that they be allowed to finish out the school year and promised to secure them their resident permits by this deadline. The principal replied that if she didn’t immediately kick out my children, the FMS would fine the school 400,000 rubles [approx. 6,500 euros]. The kids were very upset. The oldest loves school. He intends to study engineering at university, and then move to Germany. The teachers say he has great aptitude for foreign languages. After finishing school, my younger soon planned to study be a mechanic at vocational college. I have worked so much so that my children would not have to be uneducated street sweepers, and I decided to fight for them,” recounts Nurbek.

He filed a lawsuit against the school and won the case. According to the Civic Assistance Committee’s Stasya Denisova, the court ruled that the expulsion of Nurbek’s children had been illegal, because it violated the federal law “On Education,” the Russian Federal Constitution, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Russia has ratified.

“The demands of the local FMS office to expel children due to a lack of registration also had no legal grounds. The court ruled it was not the school’s business to identify foreign nationals among its pupils and expel them due to a lack of registration,” says Denisova.

According to Nurbek, Principal Pankova came up to him after the trial and said she would challenge the court’s ruling.

“She was very indignant that, I, a migrant, had dared file suit against a Russian school. I tried to convince her I had not wanted to humiliate or insult anyone. I just needed my children to get an education. Then she said, ‘If you have money for lawsuits, you can afford to pay for your children’s education,’” recounts Nurbek.

Pankova told Yod she had no plans to prevent Nurbek’s children from attending school.

“I only ask that they register as soon as possible. No, the FMS is not pressuring me. It just has to be done,” said Pankova.

Nurbek claims that his children have already received a temporary residence permit. They have been registered, a

The Tver Region FMS office accommodated Nurbek only after Civic Assistance Committee lawyers intervened.

“Secondary schools now require registration not only from Central Asian migrant children but also from Russian citizens who have moved to a new town and from refugees. For example, in the Moscow Region town of Noginsk we opened a school for the Syrian refugee children, who are not admitted to Russian schools despite the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We were unable to find common ground with the FMS office in Noginsk. When we arrived to meet them, their staff illegally checked the documents of the human rights defenders,” recalls Olga Nikolayenko, director of the Adaptation and Education Center for Refugee Children.

The FMS was unable to reply to Yod’s request for a comment before this article went to press.

Nikolayenko says she does not understand what the FMS hopes to achieve by forcing schools to expel migrant children for bureaucratic reasons.

“Some migrants will leave Russia due to the fact their children won’t be able to go to school here. But most will remain. Their children will also continue to live here, because things are even worse at home. I don’t think they will have a good attitude towards a country that has deprived them of the opportunity to get an education. World know-how shows that first-generation immigrants are never integrated. But it is easy to integrate the second generation if the host country makes a minimal effort,” says Nikolayenko. “For some reason, our government is trying to make sure that neither the second nor the third generation is integrated. It generates a number of people in this country who are excluded from social processes, and so society cannot tap their potential. These people could get a high school diploma or a higher education and pay taxes. I don’t see any logic in the actions of the schools and the local FMS offices. First and foremost, we are wantonly sabotaging ourselves.”

Ismailov says that observance of immigration law has now been put above the right of children to get an education.

“In the past two years, the requirements for migrants have become tighter and tighter. Pressure has been put on them via minors,” says Ismailov. “Why pressure children? Let the adults be fined and penalized. Children should not be treated so cruelly.”

Nurbek’s friend Abdul-Aziz, from the town of Elektrostal in Moscow Region, is planning to send his children back home to Tajikistan this week. Due to the lack of registration, none of his school-age sons and daughters is admitted to Russian schools.

“They can go to school at home. They will grow up and come to Moscow to work. There is no work in Tajikistan anyway. But if they don’t know Russian and your customs, that will be your own fault,” says Abdul-Aziz.

This is the second in a series of posts dealing with Central Asia, Central Asians, and immigration. The first post in the series, a translation of Sergei Abashin’s essay “Movements and Migrants,” can be read here. Photo, above, courtesy of Yod. Translated by The Russian Reader.

Rubber Apartments

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A bill against fictitious residential registration has been approved by parliament and is likely to come into force before the end of 2013. MPs who voted for the law insisted it targeted “rubber apartments” where hundreds of people are fictitiously registered and, more broadly, illegal immigration. Lenta.Ru has read the text of the bill along with lawyers from the Public Verdict Foundation and concluded that the tightening of controls over registration and movement will directly impact Russian citizens as well.

Introduced by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the bill, which has the neutral-sounding title “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation,” contains several subsections. Amendments have been made to the law on the freedom of movement of Russian citizens, the Administrative and Criminal Codes, and the law on the registration of foreign nationals by migration authorities. The preamble to the newly revised third article of the law on freedom of movement states residential registration is for informational purposes only, rather than a compulsory action. Whether someone is registered or not “cannot serve as grounds for restricting or a condition for exercising the rights and freedoms of citizens” as stipulated by the Constitution and other regulations.

This is consistent with the style in which new Russian laws are drafted: all attempts to prohibit something by law are based, allegedly, on a concern for protecting rights and freedoms. So it is in this case: a direct quotation from the Constitutional Court’s 1998 ruling that residential registration should not restrict the rights of citizens is followed by a list of the ways in which citizens will be restricted.

Thus, Russian citizens who have traveled outside their home regions must be registered within ninety days. If this does not happen, people renting housing and landlords may be held administratively or, in some cases, criminally liable. For living in an apartment without registering, tenants will be fined two to three thousand rubles [approx. 45 to 65 euros]; apartment owners, two to five thousand rubles [approx. 45 to 110 euros] and legal entities, 250 to 750 thousand rubles [approx. 5,500 to 16,500 euros]. Fictitious registration will be punishable by a fine of 100 to 250 thousand rubles, up to three years of hard labor or a similar term of imprisonment under Article 322 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

— Andrei Kozenko, “Who’s no longer a tenant here: how the ‘rubber apartments’ law will impact Russians,” Lenta.Ru, December 18, 2013

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There is a stark political economy to the illegalization of migrant labour that goes unremarked in much of the election-season hand-wringing over the city’s growing population of nelegaly (“illegals” in derogatory officialese). For one thing, demand for labour that is low-paid, verbally contracted, un-unionised, and flexible far exceeds the city’s (deliberately minimalist) quota of work permits. Perhaps as many as four fifths of the city’s migrant workers are therefore employed without an official work permit, or individual patent permitting private employment. There is an open market for official work permits, as well as a (near indistinguishable) market for fakes. As I have explored in my research on the difficulty of creating documented selves in Russia, the degrees of intermediation for obtaining a work permit means that “cleans” and “fakes” are often distinguishable only at the point that they are checked by the police.

At the same time, the gulf between average wages and average rental costs in the city mean that many migrant workers live in conditions that violate administrative regulations: in multi-tenant “rubber apartments” (rezinovye kvartiry) without corresponding residential registration, in container-dormitories on building sites, or in the unventilated basement of a multi-storey apartment building entirely unrecorded within city housing stock. The choices here are stark: for those on a typical migrant wage in the catering sector of 15-17,000 roubles (around £300-£330 per month) the only way to make ends meet in a context where the rental costs exceed average wages three or four-fold is to share an apartment illegally with 15 or 20 other tenants, paying money to a notional “landlord” (another migrant who takes a cut) and paying off the local policeman to ensure that the apartment is protected from raids. In a city where the 2010 census identified over 92% of the city’s registered population to be ethnically Russian (russkii), the economic constraints upon legal migrant labour have made for an easy popular conflation between being visibly non-Russian, being a “guest worker” (gastarbaiter), and being an illegal.

Xenophobia is not new in Moscow. But the combination of a laissez-faire wage policy (with a race to the bottom for undocumented labour), together with excessive restrictions on legally documented labour, and the widespread use of bribes to circumvent administrative regulations has allowed for the normalisation of a casual racism in which discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is justified through concerns for security and comfort—or protection against “illegals”. One commercial website offering temporary accommodation to non-Muscovites, for instance, cites its own policy of ethnic selection in the following terms:

[W]e don’t have racist prejudices, but today the situation has developed such that the largest demand for a place to stay in Moscow comes from Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians. In accordance with the existing demand for inexpensive hostel accommodation in Moscow, we attempt only to house people of Slavic appearance (litsa slavianskoi vneshnosti), for the comfortable living conditions of all residents, and in so doing avoid any conflictual situations.

 — Madeleine Reeves, “Mayoral politics and the migrant economy: talking elections and ‘illegals’ in Moscow,” cities@manchester, September 5, 2013

 

Photo courtesy of The Moscow News