My father died two years ago; my mom, a year and a half ago. Both of them were fifty-nine. They worked their whole lives, my mom a little longer. She taught physical therapy and physical education. Dad was a military man and volcanologist. He went into business after perestroika.
I don’t want to generalize, but they had very different, very complicated lives. They did not communicate with each other for the last twenty years. But they had one thing in common: they did not think in terms of the future. They did not look forward to anything. They did not dream of traveling. They did not plan to move house or look for better housing. They did not want new friends. They did not pursue hobbies. They never got the hang of computers. (Although Dad used them, he did not like them at all.)
One another annoying but important thing was that they drank a lot. When they were on binges, they would turn into people who could not care less whether there was a future or not. In the aftermath of their binges, they would experience an agonizing sense of guilt.
I find it horribly painful to write this, but it is not only my family’s story. It is the story of many families in Russia.
When we cannot choose our own reality, we do not think in terms of the future. Along with poverty and helplessness, we learn the important lesson that we cannot change anything, and all that awaits us is death.
I have always asked myself whether anything would have been different if my parents had more money and opportunities. When it comes to alcoholism, I don’t know. Maybe nothing would have changed. As far as despair was concerned, maybe they would have made a difference.
The new retirement age in Russia will be sixty-three for women, and sixty-five for men. The government has been instituting this reform hastily, while people are watching the World Cup.
Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Apahonchich for her kind permission to translate and publish her piece on this website.
“We Are Treated like Schmucks”: How and Why Volga Region Pensioners Have Rebelled against the Regime
Yeveniya Volunkova Takie Dela
April 4, 2017
Certain benefits for pensioners, disabled people, and other beneficiaries were cut in Samara at the beginning of 2017. Monthly payments for housing services and utilities were replaced by compensation for actual expenses. People now have to pay their bills first, then show the authorities the receipts, and only after that, if they have no debts, are they compensated for their expenses. The system has not been put through its paces and does not function, so there have been problems with assembling documents and getting compensation. In addition, a charge for major renovations has been added to the housing maintenance bill, a charge that many people do not pay as a matter of principle. Also, free public transportation for working pensioners has been abolished, and the number of free rides on the subsidized transport pass has been limited to fifty. This lasts many people two weeks; moreover, people complain the “rides” disappear more quickly. The frosting on the cake was the cancellation of monthly cash payments for working pensioners, who number 175,000 in Samara Region. People have lost their supplementary pensions, which ranged from 600 to 1,200 rubles. Non-working pensioners, whose pensions are over 19,500 rubles, have also been stripped of supplementary payments. The Samara administration did not give permission to hold a protest rally on the city’s central square, allowing it only in a remote neighborhood. Despite these precautions, the protesters packed the square.
The fourth large-scale protest by pensioners took place in Samara on April 2. The old folks first rebelled against Samara Region Governor Nikolai Merkushin in early February, when around 300 people attended a protest rally. The number of protesters has grown each time, and yesterday, according to unofficial statistics, around 4,000 people gathered on the square near the Athletics Palace. The protesters told our correspondent Yevegniya Volunkova what they were protesting and how they had succeeded in coming together when the rallies have not been mentioned on television at all.
Nina Dmitrievna and Tamara Petrovna
Both women are seventy-nine years old. They heard about the rally from flyers and the internet. Their main complaints are Mordovian produce in the city and a fountain during the plague.
We’re upset about our poverty, the judicial system, and very many other things. But first of all, we want to see Merkushkin replaced. He squanders money and imports everything from Mordovia, including crushed stone, paving tile, and cement. Whatever shop you go to, the produce is all Mordovian. It’s no wonder his nickname is the Mordvin Pasha. During these hard times for the region, he wants to build the best fountain in Europe on the river embankment. Is now the time for it? Replace the pavement and benches, sure, but why the heck do we need a fountain right now? My friends and two children live in poverty, and it’s hard to buy bread. But this stadium [Samara is one of the host cities for the 2018 World Cup — TD], good God, how much money they’ve embezzled, and it’s not clear whether they’ll finish it or not. They took their kickbacks, but there’s no money left to build the thing. If we could see that everything was being done on behalf of the people, we would put up with it, but they have been stealing. Merkhushkin pumped three million into the wall on Samara Square [the Wall of Honor on Glory Square, which cut off a beautiful view of the Volga and Zhiguli Mountains, popularly known as the Wailing Wall — TD). It’s in terribly bad taste! And so much money was spent.
Seventy years old, he heard about the rally from friends. His main complaint: how can he survive on his pension?
How the mean regime deals with veterans! Yesterday, villagers told me their family had a monthly pension of 8,000 rubles [approx. 133 euros] or so. What is that? How can a person survive? Today, I went to get milk and bread. I also bought some biscuits and something to put in a soup. 600 rubles [approx. 10 euros] was gone just like that. Is the governor here? He didn’t show up? Shame on him! He stole kopecks from pensioners. Down with our government! They have not made a single effective move to improve the well-being of veterans.
Sixty years old, she heard about the rally from a girlfriend. Her main complaint is that she has been forced to work to survive.
My monthly pension is 7,700 rubles, and I used to get a veteran’s bonus. I worked as an educator my whole life. Merkushkin took way the 621 rubles I got as a veteran’s bonus. I have no husband and no support. I’m forced to work to survive, but I have a whole passle of ailments. Should I approve his policies? He can go back to his native Mordovia. Besides, he lies and lies and lies. He shamelessly lies that he gives us a pension. I wrote a letter to him asking him to help me find work. Do you think he helped me? He didn’t do a damn thing for me.
Sixty-three years old, she found out about the rally from the internet. Her main complaint is shamefully low pensions.
I came out of a sense of solidarity. I don’t receive any discount benefits: my length of service was too short. There should other slogans here: “Decent pensions!” Give us a decent pension and we wouldn’t need discounts. We’ll pay for public transport passes, for apartment maintenance costs, and so on. But it’s impossible to live on our miserly pensions.
Twenty-two years old, he found out about the rally from the internet. His main complaint is bad roads.
I came to the rally to voice my dissatisfaction with Nikolai Merkushkin’s social policies. It’s a pity our pensioners have to stand in the cold, demanding a few miserable kopecks. I’m sick of the state of the roads in this country. I’m tired of the fact the regime treats me hypocritically not only as a disabled person but also as an individual. It treats everything as a resource that can be sent off to war, god knows where. And yet it cannot organize a decent urban infrastructure, a decent life. I think the government needs to revise its policy of restricting the number of rides on public transport one can take if you have a discounted travel pass. I ride public transport all the time and I travel around town more than the authorities think I do.
Seventy years old, she heard about the rally on the internet. Her main complaint is that the governor was decorated “for his contribution to cosmonautics.”
Merkushkin is impudent. He’s an outsider in Samara. My colleagues, who have worked all their lives at the cosmodrome, were decorated for their service. But why the hell did they did stick an honorary pin on him for his contribution to cosmonautics? He has made no contribution whatsoever to cosmonautics. A persons should be more modest. Yet our colleagues where shown on TV standing off to the side, while he was shown in close-up. How did Samara manage without Merkushkina? Probably, it didn’t manage. But little Nikolai showed up, and it has been once achievement after another since then.
Sixty-five years old, he heard about the rally from his grandson. His main complaint is that the restricted number of trips on the discounted public transport travel pass make it hard for him to travel to the Volga.
Can you deceive people like that? They compare us with Penza, where forty-eight rides is more than enough, supposedly. Samara is a huge city: fifty trips a month is not enough here. When I’m traveling, all my rides get eaten up by he transfers. It’s a huge city. In the summer, I want to go to the Volga to swim. How many transfers is that? Fifty trips runs out in two weeks. Then there are housing services and utilities. We are forced to pay for utilities, but the discounts come later, after we’ve paid. Yet officials have included a fee for major house renovations in our bills. I don’t want to pay it. What am I paying for? I’ve lived half my life in the same building, which is falling apart at the seams. Major renovations have never once been carried out in that building.
Sixty-nine years old, she heard about the rally from reading flyers. Her main complaint is how the money owed to pensioners has been used to pay for the governor’s palaces and the World Cup.
That scumbag Merkushkin took away all our benefits. How did he dare? He built himself palaces on Rublyovka, four palaces at three hundred million each. Does he have a conscience? Today, he was on Channel Two saying he built all the roads for us. The roads are all good, and everything in Samara is good. Only our pensions will have to pay for the World Cup. He’s a real bastard, a scumbag. We should send him packing back to Mordovia, where he can choke on his sons and relatives. Let’s keep coming out for protest rallies and demanding he resign.
Irina Olegovna and Lyubov Andreyevna
Forty-six and seventy-seven, they heard about the rally on the internet. Their main complaint is that the regime embezzles money and treats people like schmucks.
Irina Olegovna: I’m not a pensioner, but I came to stick up for them. I’m outraged by the injustice that flourishes in our country. The authorities have found the right people to rip off: pensioners. They holler about being a super power, that they defeated the fascists. Who beat whom? What’s the standard of living in Germany and the standard of living in Russia? Who did they defeat? Pensioners and sick children?
Lyubov Andreyevna: We’ve been spat on from all sides. You cannot get in anywhere to talk to anyone, whether it’s housing services and utilities or healthcare. Everywhere they could not care less about us. I’m seventy-seven. I use the internet and I know everything. I was a decision-maker when I was employed, but now I’ve been utterly humiliated. Thank you, Navalny, that you exposed Medvedev. We must send him packing
IO: It’s absolutely clear to everyone that regime embezzles money, and the fact they are silent is additional proof that thievery is going on. What happened to Serdyukov and Vasilyeva are proven facts. There was a trial, and they were let go. They sold off the property of the defense industry and lined their pockets. I don’t understand who needed this demonstrative flogging. They pulled out their dirty underwear, showed it to everyone, and put it away. I’ll be damned!
LA: Because they consider us idiots.
IO: Stupid schmucks!
LA: Stupid schmucks, cows, that’s who we are!
IO: I agree with you completely. But ultimately they have to understand a point of no return will be reached, when it all goes to hell. What, are they waiting until people come after them with pitchforks? The country has already reached the boiling point. What the heck do we need Crimea for when our country is poor? I used to support Putin. He inherited a heavy burden, the country was in ruins. He seemed decent. I believed he’d put the country in shape. But then I realized what was what.
LA: Putin works for the oligarchs, not for himself. And we cows will all die off.
Eighty-two years old, he found out about the rally from a flyer. His main complaint is that payments have not been made to people who went through the war as children.
Look, I’ve brought a newspaper from 2014. Merkushkin promised to make monthly payments of 1,000 rubles to people who went through the war as children. But he didn’t give us fuck-all. We spent the war on a collective farm. Cold and hungry, we supplied the front and the cities with produce, while we ourselves ate grass and dirt. We survived, we were victorious, and now what? Now we are dying in poverty.
Sixty-eight years old, she heard about the rally on the internet. Her main complaint is that her family has been stripped of all benefits, and that the regime takes people for idiots.
I’m a history teacher, I worked my whole life. Three years ago, my daughter died, leaving me to take care of my granddaughter Lada. She’s thirteen and in the sixth grade. By order of the city administration, the city paid the difference in the housing services and utilities bills for her as an orphan for the whole of 2016. The payment was small, but it made a difference. I’m a veteran of pedagogical work and disabled. We were supposedly divided into two groups: “rich” pensioners, who got 19,000 rubles a month, and poor pensioners. Money was taken away from us under the pretext of giving it to the poor. Money was taken from 175,000 people and then returned, allegedly, but we still haven’t got the money back. I don’t think they took the money in order to give it back. I take my granddaughter to school. I have to transfer, and I use four rides on my discounted travel pass. When they limited the number of trips to fifty, they took us for idiots. They also sucker us out of rides. My friends recorded every trip and noticed that they were shorting us by ten rides. They run out before the month ends, and they kick us off public transport. They’re secretly stealing even from these crumbs, from the fifty rides, as if we couldn’t check how many rides we were getting. I feel ashamed of this regime. We worked honestly our whole lives, and now they’re punishing us, punishing orphaned children and disabled people. It’s disgusting.
Sixty-one years old, she heard about the rally on the internet. Her main complaint is the thieves in the government.
I have been denied the chance to travel by public transport. I need to drop off and pick up my granddaughter nearly every day. Of course, the number of rides on the travel pass is not enough. It’s just digusting. Why did they decide to limit us? What made them think fifty rides was enough for us? Merkushkin says that somebody made a thousand trips in a month on a seasonal pass. That’s utter rubbish. Even if it’s true, does that mean everyone has to have their benefits slashed? How many crooks and thieves are in the government? How many cases of corruption have been proven? In keeping with Merkushkin’s line of reasoning, all governors should be hauled into the Investigative Committee, no?
Organizing People through Their Wallets
The main organizer of the rallies, Mikhail Matveev, a Communist MP in the Samara Regional Duma, is certain that his best organizer, the person who gets people out to the protest rallies, is Governor Merkushkin himself, the man whose decisions have driven people to the edge.
“Our old ladies don’t just read newspapers and watch TV. They’re not as backwards as they seem. They read social networks and blogs. Young people tell them things. Plus, we leaflet mailboxes and residential building entryways. We printed around 15,000 leaflets for the March 19 rally. The printing was paid for by the party and by ordinary people. It’s not a lot of money, but we don’t have anymore. Residents help us by leafletting for free and printing the leaflets at home on their printers. But the main organizing factor is people’s wallets, and the main organizer is Merkushkin. It used to be that pensioners weren’t aware that the number of trips on public transport was limited, but suddenly they were kicked off buses. The pension checks arrived, they were 700 rubles less, and so on. Dissatisfaction has been growing. We are grateful to Governor Merkushkin for the fact that his blunt propaganda pisses people off. There are all the phrases he tosses off at meetings with constituents, like, ‘It was you who did it so that we did nothing for you,’ and so on. They make the rounds. There will be more protest rallies until we get the pensioners their benefits back and send the governor packing.”
How the Partisans of Suna Have Spooked Karelian Officials
Valery Potashov Bilberry (Muistoi.ru)
February 7, 2017
It seems the Presidential Human Rights Council’s visit to Karelia, scheduled for February 8, has frightened the republic’s authorities so much that they have made every possible effort, if not to disrupt the council members’ meeting with the defenders of Suna Forest, who for several years running have been trying to assert their constitutional right to a healthy environment, then, at least, to discredit their better-known activists. Several days before the HRC’s on-site meeting, Karelian news websites loyal to the republic’s leadership published articles, written under pseudonyms, meant to persuade the council members that the conflict over Suna Forest had been “sparked” not by the pensioners from the village of Suna, who are opposed to clear-cutting to make way for a sand and gravel quarry in a forest where villagers have traditionally harvested mushrooms, berries, and medicinal herbs. And during a February 6 meeting with members of the Karelian Legislative Assembly, Alexander Hudilainen, head of the republic, stated outright it was not the village’s pensioners who were standing watch in the forest in winter, but young people whom someone had supposedly “stimulated.”
Actually, we could expect nothing else from the current governor of Karelia. Several years ago, when a grassroots campaign calling for his resignation kicked off in the republic, Mr. Hudilainen saw the machinations of “foreign special services” in the mass protests of the Karelian people. However, when a resident of the town of Kondopoga phoned the governor live on Russian Public Television (OTR) and asked him what solution he saw to the issue of Suna Forest, Hudilainen promised to “sort out” the situation.
“We will not allow the environment and the residents to be hurt,” the head of Karelia told the entire country.
In the intervening two and a half months, however, neither Mr. Hudilainen nor anyone from his inner circle has found the time to visit the Suna Forest and see for themselves who exactly is standing watc in the minus thirty degree cold in a tent to stop the clear-cutting of a forest the village’s old-timers call their “provider” and “papa forest.” Moreover, when it transpired that members of the Presidential Human Rights Council planned to meet with the defenders of Suna Forest, Karelian officials attempted to move the meeting to the administration building of the Jänišpuoli Rural Settlement, which includes the village of Suna. But the so-called partisans of Suna insisted council members come to the forest and see what the village’s pensioners have been defending.
“Why should we meet in the administration building? We have been standing vigil in the forest for over six months, in the rain and the frost, and we will stay here until the bitter end,” said pensioner Tatyana Romakhina, one of Suna Forest’s most vigorous defenders.
Romakhina also told Bilberry that the day before she had got a call from the Kondopoga District police department, and a man who identified himself as Captain Viktor Korshakov had cautioned the old-age pensioner against unauthorized protest actions during the visit by the Presidential Human Rights Council. Romakhina regarded the phone call as yet another attempt to put pressure on the defenders of Suna Forest, noting the partisans of Suna had long been ready for anything.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up
Residents of the Village of Suna Address President Vladimir Putin (October 2016)
The Partisans of Suna Karelian pensioners have gone into the woods to save a pine forest from logging
Alexei Vladimirov Fontanka.ru
October 26, 2016
Residents of the small village of Suna in Karelia’s Kondopoga District, mainly pensioners, have rebelled against the authorities, loggers, and a mining company that plans to develop a sand and gravel quarry in the scenic pine wood alongside their village. The area resembles the front lines during a war. The loggers have brought in their equipment, but have been stopped in their tracks by the pensioners, who have set up camp there. The pensioners have been keeping a 24-hour vigil in the woods for four months. Local journalists have dubbed them the “partisans of Suna.”
The conflict flared up much earlier. Saturn Nordstroy, a company specializing in the development of sand and gravel beds in Karelia, had its eye on a plot of land in the vicinity of Suna and decided to open a sand quarry there. The Karelian Nature Management and Ecology Ministry supported the idea. Permissions were received, an auction was held, and the company was awarded a license in 2011 to extract sand and gravel at the site for a period of twenty years. However, neither the officials nor the businessmen suspected they would encounter vigorous resistance from local residents, mainly pensioners, who have strongly opposed the quarry development plan and exercised their inalienable right to a decent life.
There is a pine forest on the site where the businessmen have decided to dig the quarry, the only one in the whole area, a place where the locals harvest berries, mushrooms, and medicinal herbs. The wild plants are a good supplement to their tiny pensions. Once upon a time, the village of Suna was known throughout the Soviet Union for the nearby poultry farm, also called Suna. The farm was considered one of the best in the country, but in the “fat years” of the noughties, it was shut down. This has meant a slow death for the surrounding settlements. Young people have left the area in search of work, while the old people have stayed in the village to live out their lives. The money to index their pensions could not be found, but the prime minister has told them to “hang on.”
The locals learned a quarry would be dug near their village only at the presentation of the development plan. Opponents of the logging of Suna Forest planned to hold a people’s assembly on May 14, but they were forced to abandon the idea. On the eve of the assembly, police visited one resident of Suna, pensioner Nina Shalayeva. According to the elderly woman, the police all but accused her of extremism.
In the autumn of last year, the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”) began investigating the pensioners. One of them had rashly said it would be a good idea to block the Kola Federal Highway, which runs from St. Petersburg to Murmansk, since the village is located a kilometer and a half from the highway. That would get Moscow’s attention right away. Naturally, someone snitched to the proper authorities. Law enforcement and the secret services reacted instantly. The settlements along the Kola Highway were mobbed with large numbers of law enforcement officers, from riot police to the highway patrol. To stop the protest rally in its tracks, the pensioners were threatened with criminal charges for extremism.
“The deputy head of the Kondopoga police was polite. He gave me a warning for extremism and left. I had run into him in the spring, when I had also been accused of organizing an unsanctioned rally. The local beat cop said they had learned we were planning to block the highway, and that I was organizing the whole thing. What kind of organizer am I? There was also an FSB officer from Kondopoga. He asked to talk with me privately. He said flat out that they had specially trained people who did not like to be bothered. They would arrive, break all of us, and imprison us, despite our age,” recounted Nina Shalayeva, an anti-quarry activist.
Then the villagers suddenly had a bit of luck. In the spring of 2015, scientists from Petrozavodsk State University discovered a valuable species of lichen in the Suna Forest, Lobaria pulmonaria. It is listed in the Red Book of Russia as an endangered species: destroying species listed in the Red Book is not only forbidden by law, but is even considered a criminal offense. The scientists’ find occasioned an inspection by the prosecutor’s office in the area of the planned digging. Consequently, the Karelian Interdistrict Environmental Prosecutor’s Office issued a warning to the director of Saturn Nordstroi about the inadmissibility of violating the law while extracting sand and gravel from the South Suna Quarry. The pensioners now had grounds to sue.
The plaintiffs demanded “the license issued to Saturn Nordstroy LLC be terminated and the company prohibited from engaging in all exploratory and economic activity that may lead to the destruction of protected plant species and their habitat in the pine forest near the village.” In April of this year, the Petrozavodsk City Court partly granted the claim lodged by the residents of Suna. The company was forbidden from carrying out exploratory and other work detrimental to endangered species discovered in the forest. However, the court could find no grounds for terminating the license for subsoil extraction issued to the company.
However, the Karelian Supreme Court has overturned the Petrozavodsk City Court’s ruling. The case is currently under investigation by the Russian Supreme Court. The pensioners think the case will be heard in December or thereabouts.
The Partisans of Suna
Immediately after the Karelian Supreme Court’s ruling, logging equipment was moved into Suna Forest. People formed a human shield to block the road to the loggers. The whole village came running to see what the noise and fracas were about. The villagers told police, businessmen, and officials of various ranks they would not surrender the forest: they would have to chop them down with it. Arriving on the scene, the police warned the pensioners they would be forced to detain them if they did not leave the logging site, because they were interfering with the work of the loggers. The pensioners set up camp and kicked off a round-the-clock vigil in the forest.
“Medvedev said we had to be patient. We are patient. Just don’t take away the last thing we have! I don’t know what price we’ll have to pay, but we are not going to give up this forest, because we won’t survive without it. The [Karelian] Supreme Court’s ruling made us sad. However, it is only the latest step in the case, albeit one not in our favor at the moment. We will defend our rights!” said pensioner Tatyana Romakhina.
The logging equipment retreated, and a “pre-election” calm set in until October 7.
On the morning of October 7, the engines of the forestry equipment could again be heard droning in Suna Forest. The first on the scene was Nina Shalyaeva. She stopped the harvester.
“When I went to my shift in the forest, I saw that a harvester was running. I stood in front of their equipment and said that my fellow villagers would be right behind me, and we wouldn’t let them cut down the trees. They promised the police would come and take me to Petrozavodsk. However, after we talked, they stopped logging and drove off the lot,” said Shalyaeva.
Karelia’s Suna Forest has become something like Khimki Forest. District police officer Vitaly Ivanov, summoned by the loggers, interviewed the locals, wrote down their internal passport data, and said that if the actions of the loggers were ruled legal, the defenders of Suna Forest who impeded the logging would be forcibly removed from the allotment. In turn, the pensioners promised the entire village would rise in rebellion. The loggers conversed with the pensioners rather unceremoniously. They demanded to see papers [prohibiting them from doing their work] and told them in harsh tones to go back to the village. Everyone’s nerves were on edge. The loggers were irritated by the annoying, unplanned downtime, while the pensioners were annoyed by police’s actions. They could not understand why the police had asked them to produce their passports, written down the information in them, and tried to drive them out of the woods. In the end, the loggers retreated. Fortunately, things did not come to blows.
Meanwhile, the controversy over the forest has spread beyond Karelia. Major publications and national TV channels have covered the “partisans of Suna.” In Petrozavodsk, a grassroots movement has been organized to help the pensioners. Young people have begun standing watch in the woods along with the old people. Residents of Murmansk Region have sent them a winter-proof tent.
The pensioners are still on watch in the woods and getting ready for winter, while officials and businessmen are looking for ways to resolve the conflict.
An “Artificially Simulated” Conflict?
After a long silence, the Government of Karelia finally organized a round table on the issue. Officials believe the controversy surrounding the Suna Forest has been “artificially simulated.”
“We organized a meeting to discuss the situation with the development of a sand and gravel quarry in the South Suna subsoil resources allotment, and the reasons why the license holder has been hindered from engaging in legal activities, and to work out a solution to the conflict that has emerged. A situation around Suna Forest really has emerged, and it is our job to figure what caused this artificially simulated social conflict. I would like to draw the attention to the people involved in the process that the question of the legality of the license holder’s activities has been considered in court, and the rulings, which have entered into force, were in their favor. Multiple studies have not established evidence that endangered plant species are being destroyed. Thus, the license holder has all legal grounds to engage in their business activities,” Alexei Pavlov, first deputy minister for nature management and ecology in Karelia, said at the outset of the round table.
Igor Fedotov, director of Saturn Nordstroy LLC, was of the same opinion.
“Everything is too seriously organized. When we presented the project in Yanishpole in May of last year, the experts told us someone was stage-managing this drama. Everyone accuses me of wanting to come in, dig everything up, destroy everything, and do nothing [for the area]. So let me do something. I want to do something good for Suna. I can donate the material I am going to be extracting. The district needs it: they do not have good sand. I can help out the local council, which is gasping for breath, just like every district in Karelia. We are building a road to the quarry, and it will still be there [after we are gone]. I am not planning to build anything there. The local residents will be the better for it. And the reforestation of the area will begin,” said Fedotov.
No decisions were made at the round table, however. Talks have been rescheduled for October 26.
All photos courtesy of Alexei Vladimirov/Fontanka.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up
Female Pensioner from Leningrad Region Beats Official with Stick
November 23, 2015 Rosbalt
SAINT PETERSBURG, NOVEMBER 23. Criminal charges have been filed against a sixty-one-year-old woman who assaulted the head of a municipal district in the Lomonosov District.
As the press service of the Leningrad Regional office of the Investigative Committee informed Rosbalt, the official had gone to a village to deal with the populace’s discontent over construction of a parking lot. During the discussion, a local woman hit him with a stick.
She has been charged with the criminal offense of “inflicting violence on a public official.”
And yet a little over ten years ago, it was the old-age pensioners (rather than portfolio investors like Mr. Rabinovich or the “rising middle class”) who mounted the first serious, massive grassroots challenge to Putin’s policies and his rule.
Maybe the old-age pensioners have gone silent now and no longer want to mount such challenges to Putin’s rule. But it is quite amazing to observe so many able-bodied and mentally competent folks in the prime of their life engaged in casting around for whole (mostly imaginary, mostly disempowered, mostly lower) classes of people to blame for Russia’s slide into totalitarianism lite. What sense does it make to say that any whole class of people “votes” for Putin and constitutes his “base,” when we know that elections in Russia are rigged six ways to Sunday?
This is not say that Russia’s old-age pensioners shouldn’t be distressed by their deteriorating economic fortunes, as reflected in the distressing and real figures cited by Mr. Rabinovich, above, but the search for the “rubes” who have buttressed Putin’s rise to minor godhood should start with the classes of Russians who have really benefited from his rule. It has most signally not been the mass of old-age pensioners who have made out like bandits, although they may be more vulnerable, in some instances, to Putin’s propaganda machine and, at the local level, to the blandishments offered by the United Russia electoral machine.
But it must be nice for Russia’s worldly and well-heeled urban hipsters, thirty- and fortysomethings, and go-getters (whose brains, again in my limited experience, are no less addled by the popular prejudices of the Putin era, and whose bodies are no less averse to putting themselves in harm’s way) to imagine that Putin’s “base” is made up of old-age pensioners, the chronically poor, blue-collar workers, and residents of the Russian hinterlands.
Putin Reforms Greeted by Street Protests
Steven Lee Meyers
January 16, 2005 New York Times
KHIMKI, Russia, Jan. 15 – Mikhail I. Yermakov, a retired engineer, has never before taken to the streets to protest — not when the Soviet Union collapsed, the wars in Chechnya began, the ruble plummeted in 1998 or President Vladimir V. Putin last year ended his right to choose his governor.
On Saturday, however, he joined hundreds of others in the central square of this gritty industrial city on the edge of Moscow in the latest of a weeklong wave of protests across Russia against a new law abolishing a wide range of social benefits for the country’s 32 million pensioners, veterans and people with disabilities.
Demonstrations were held in at least three other cities in the Moscow region, in the capital of Tatarstan and, for the fourth straight day, in Samara in central Russia. In St. Petersburg, several thousand demonstrators blocked the city’s main boulevard, with some calling for Mr. Putin’s resignation.
Taken together, the protests are the largest and most passionate since Mr. Putin came to power in 2000. They appear to have tapped into latent discontent with Mr. Putin’s government and the party that dominates Parliament, United Russia.
“It is spontaneous, and this is the most dangerous thing for the authorities,” said Mr. Yermakov, 67, as speakers denounced the government from a step beneath a hulking bust of Lenin. “It is a tsunami, and United Russia does not understand that it is going to hit them.”
The law, which took effect on Jan. 1, replaced benefits like free public transportation and subsidies for housing, prescriptions, telephones and other basic services with monthly cash payments starting at a little more than $7.
In a sign of bureaucratic inefficiency, some of those eligible have yet to receive any payments.
Mr. Putin and United Russia’s leaders have defended the law as an important reform ending a vestige of the old Soviet Communist system, but they clearly failed to anticipate the depth of opposition from those who relied most on the subsidies: millions of Russians living on pensions of less than $100 a month.
The protesters have denounced the payments as insufficient to cover the cost of the benefits and as miserly for a country that recently reported a budget surplus of nearly $25 billion.
As the protests unfolded in city after city across Russia, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksei II, who typically allies himself with what is known here as “the party of power,” questioned the law and the government’s handling of it.
“What counts is that this policy should be fair and effective,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “It should be met with understanding by the people. The latest events show that these principles are not observed in full.”
Aleksei P. Kondaurov, a Communist member of the lower house of Parliament, said the law and the protests underscored the shortcomings of the political system that had evolved under Mr. Putin, one dominated by United Russia, which has refused to debate with opposition parties, let alone compromise with them.
“It was clear that it was not carefully calculated,” Mr. Kondaurov said of the new law in an interview.
Mr. Kondaurov predicted the protests would grow and spread to other pressing social issues, which he said Mr. Putin’s government and United Russia were ignoring.
At a minimum, the protests have raised doubts about Mr. Putin’s other proposed reforms, including those in banking, housing and electricity, which were supposed to be the centerpieces of his second term.
“It’s not going to be like Ukraine,” Mr. Kondaurov said, drawing a parallel, as some have here, to the far larger demonstrations that overturned the election there for president in November. “But it is clear to me that a political and economic crisis is taking shape in Russia.”
After first brushing off the protests, United Russia’s leaders have begun scrambling to respond. They have accused the Communists and other parties of inflaming tensions and have tried to deflect blame to regional governments, which they say are responsible for implementing the benefit changes.
Some local governments, most prominently the Moscow city administration, have vowed to reinstate the benefits stripped at the federal level, but few other regions are wealthy enough to afford to do so.
On Friday, the chairman of Parliament’s social and labor committee, Andrei N. Isayev, said that next week, lawmakers would consider raising pensions by 15 percent in February, rather than 5 percent in April, as now planned.
Others in United Russia have also tried to distance themselves from Mr. Putin’s new government, which has been in place for only 10 months. The deputy speaker of Parliament, Lyubov K. Sliska, said Friday that she did not rule out the dismissal of Prime Minister Mikhail Y. Fradkov and his cabinet.
But the protests have continued to grow. They began quietly, with a rally organized by the Communist Party in Solnechnogorsk, near Moscow, on Jan. 9, the 100th anniversary of the 1905 uprising.
A day later, here in Khimki, several hundred people briefly blocked the main highway to St. Petersburg in what several of those involved called a spontaneous uprising. After a scuffle with the police, 12 elderly protesters were arrested, but initial threats to prosecute them were quickly dropped.
Since then the protests have erupted in at least a dozen other cities, drawing thousands. In Tula, 110 miles south of Moscow, aging protesters clashed with bus conductors who refused to allow them to board city transport without paying, prompting the city to post police officers on the buses.
In Novosibirsk, in Siberia, a dozen pensioners mailed their cash payments for transit — the equivalent of a little more than $3 — to Boris V. Gryzlov, the leader of United Russia and parliamentary speaker, according to the Regnum news agency.
The protesters here in Khimki’s central square on Saturday represented those who have fared the worst in Russia’s post-Soviet transition.
Mr. Yermakov’s monthly pension equals roughly $85 a month. As a resident of the Moscow region, a separate administration from that of the city government, he qualified for a supplement of $7 to replace the subsidies lost under the new law. The bus fare for three trips to the small tract of land he is allowed for planting a vegetable garden, four miles away, will take nearly half that amount.
Vladilena T. Berova, whose given name is an homage to Vladimir Lenin, served at the end of World War II as a corporal in Soviet intelligence and went on to work as a psychotherapist for five decades in Moscow. Now 78 and widowed, she survives on 2,000 rubles a month, about $71.
“The fascists took my youth,” she said, referring to the war. “And now these people are taking away my old age.”
The protests have included something still rare in today’s Russia: personal criticism of Mr. Putin, who has remained popular by projecting an image of stability, one carefully protected by officials and state television.
“Instead of listening to us, he is listening to an organ,” Mr. Yermakov said, referring bitingly to Mr. Putin’s participation in the unveiling of a newly restored organ in St. Petersburg on Friday with Germany’s president, Horst Köhler.
The benefits law has already been credited, at least in part, with a slip in Mr. Putin’s ratings, as well as a general decline in the public’s mood.
A poll by the Levada Center, released on Saturday, said that only 39 percent of Russians considered Mr. Putin the most trusted politician. That is still higher than anyone else, but a drop from 58 percent a year ago.
Sergei Y. Glazyev, a member of Parliament who challenged Mr. Putin during the election for president last year, said in an interview that “the people’s struggle for social rights” should be decided in a national referendum, rather than imposed by the Kremlin and its governing party. Voters, he said, had been fooled.
“A majority of those who voted for Putin,” he said, “had a quiet different expectation of what they would get.”
Mr. Rabinovich’s Facebook post translated by the Russian Reader. Image, above, courtesy of the Moscow Times