MP: Astrakhan Region Headed for Deep Social Catastrophe Rosbalt
November 18, 2016
Astrakhan is among the regions undergoing a social catastrophe, argues MP Oleg Shein, who sits on the State Duma’s Committee for Labor, Social Policy, and Veterans Affairs. As the MP told our correspondent, both federal and regional authorities are to blame for the situation.
“Astrakhan Region is currently undergoing a fiscal disaster due to the fact the regional budget has collapsed. This year, it has been slashed by 15%, from 38 to 33 billion rubles. Next year, the regional authorities have proposed cutting the budget by another eight billion rubles. Accordingly, the budget will have shrunk by about 40% in two years. Already this year, financial aid to the poor has been completely eliminated, and subsidies for parents paying fees to kindergartens have been canceled, causing kindergarten fees to increase by one and half times. The upper grades have been eliminated in a number of schools. Schools have gone from eleven grades to nine grades, and this has caused overcrowded classes in the remaining schools. Payroll has been reduced by 7% for public sector employees: doctors, teachers, and cultural workers. Actually, 7% is the average figure; large numbers of people have had their salaries cut much more considerably. So the region really is headed downhill, and the regional government sees no ways of heading off the disaster,” said Shein.
“The regional authorities—and there is some truth to this—explain what is happening by referring to the loss of tax revenues from the oil industry. Several years ago, the State Duma—or rather, the United Russia party—freed Lukoil from paying taxes on its oil rigs in the Caspian Sea. This year as well, United Russia has voted to transfer the profits from oil production in the Caspian, the income tax revenue, from the regional budget to the federal budget. The regional authorities were really counting on the money, but they have ended up with nothing. But there is a second reason: their completely devil-may-care approach to drafting the regional budget and the loss of the local tax base. Sometimes, the regional government has literally abetted hostile takeovers of local companies, as, for example, happened to the local company Bassol, which supplies 60% of the salt to the Russian market and now pays taxes outside of Astrakhan Region. Paradoxically, the regional government welcomed this,” said Shein.
The MP said that despite its socio-economic difficulties, Astrakhan Region was also marked by high levels of corruption and the waste of money on mega projects like a musical theater and so on.
According to a rating compiled by the sociology department at the Russian Federation Government Financial University, Astrakhan was among the Russian cities with populations of 500,000 or more where the lowest indices for quality of life had been recorded. According to Astrakhanstat, during the period from January 2016 to August 2016, the real disposable income of Astrakhan Region residents was 89.4% of what it had been during the same period last year.
“I am the pug who barked at Voldemort”: High school teacher in Ryazan Region forced to resign after refusing to campaign for United Russia
October 30, 2015 Yod
Raivo Shtulberg, thirty-six, taught physics, computer science, and German for thirteen years at the only secondary school in the village of Olkha, in Ryazan Region’s Ukholovo District. Before elections to the Ryazan Regional Duma, in September of this year, the school administration demanded that teachers persuade at least six villagers to vote for the ruling United Russia party. Instead, Shtulberg shot a video in which he explained how teachers were being forced to campaign and posted it on the web. Shtulberg was forced to resign, and can now longer find employment as a teacher. Yod learned the details of the story.
The teachers were given questionnaires and asked to return them filled out with the names and signatures of the people they had successfully canvassed. Shtulberg was outraged by this request.
“At first, we filled in the names of distant relatives so they would leave us alone, but we were told it had to be fellow villagers. I got angry then. We were doing repairs at home, but I had to canvas the village for signatures. Other teachers also resented this. In particular, one of them said something about ‘Russian idiocy,’ but they dutifully went out canvassing.”
Shtulberg recorded a video in which he related how teachers had been forced to campaign for United Russia and posted it on YouTube.
“I acted spontaneously. You might say it was the revolt of the underdog. I am like the pug who barked at Voldemort. Village teachers are paid tiny salaries. I wore the same blazer to work for eight years or so, until two years ago it was completely tattered and I had to buy a new one. The principals have bigger salaries, and they can be ordered to campaign, but a full belly does not understand an empty one. I am not against any party or politician: I cannot reconcile myself with the low quality of life of teachers. If tomorrow, United Russia provided good roads and decent wages, I would vote for them or anyone else [who does these things]. Ultimately, it is my legal right to choose whom I vote for,” says Shtulberg.
The video garnered around 15,000 views on YouTube. It was seen by Yuri Bogomolov, co-chair of the regional branch of the opposition Solidarity and RPR-PARNAS parties in Ryazan. On the basis of what he heard, Bogomolov filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office asking that United Russia be barred from the elections. It was after this, according to Shtulberg, that a crackdown against him was launched at school.
The school’s principal called a faculty meeting, which was attended by Shtulberg’s mother, who also taught at the school. Shtulberg did not attend the meeting himself. He says that the principal made it clear to his mother they both had better resign, otherwise they would be quietly “removed.”
“You can always find fault with a teacher. For example, by doing a full review of all the subjects he teaches and visiting his classes every day, then giving a series of quizzes and removing him for incompetency, and by carefully studying his record keeping,” says Shtulberg.
Yuri Bogomolov urged the disgraced teacher not to resign voluntarily and offered him legal assistance.
“I have no doubt that the campaign questionnaires were handed out at the school where Shtulberg taught. We know that employees at other schools, factories, and hospitals in Ryazan Region were forced to persuade people to vote for United Russia. In my recollection, Shtulberg is the only public sector employee who has openly and personally alleged violations,” says Bogomolov.
Shtulberg turned down the politician’s assistance and voluntarily resigned. His mother also resigned.
“To be honest, I was scared. I was not ready for such an abrupt turn of events,” he says.
Shtulberg’s colleagues responded neutrally to his dismissal.
“Village teacher are mostly good people. They perform their duties conscientiously, but they try and not speak out on political topics, because [they think] it isn’t worth the effort.
“Sit tight, go along with things, do what they ask you to do, get your salary, and don’t dare oppose not only the authorities but even the principal. My colleagues told me reproachfully, ‘United Russia pays our wages. Why can’t [you] live peacefully like other people? We have to vote for whomever the boss tells us to vote,” says Shtulberg.
His fellows villagers were also indifferent to the teacher’s firing. Only the children whom Shtulberg had taught wrote him messages of support on a social network.
Shtulberg says he really loved his job.
“I tried every lesson to give [my pupils] something insightful. In German, I would often offer them extra texts of my own. I would try and make sure the computer games were more interesting, show them lots of videos, and do presentations. I would not say I was pals with my pupils. I kept my distance, but I treated them respectfully.”
After he was fired, Shtulberg tried to find a work at a school. At first, he was offered a job teaching computer science in a neighboring village, but then he was turned down for the job with no explanation.
“I cannot confirm it, but probably they called my previous place of employment and were told what sort of person I was,” says Shtulberg.
He tried to find a job at a school in Ryazan, but realized he would not be able to move to the city. A teacher’s salary would only cover the rent.
Shtulberg says that he now works as a copywriter and earns enough to get by.
His only regret is that his mother lost her job at the school because of him.
“Mom worked forty-five years at that school. She was an excellent public educator. Mom really misses the school and her pupils. She is in bad psychological shape now. I am very scared for my brother. He also works as a teacher, in a nearby village, and I am afraid he also might suffer because of me,” says Shtulberg.
At the Olkha Village School, Yod was told that Raivo Shtulberg had never worked there. In turn, the Ukholovo District Department of Education and Youth Policy told us that Raivo Shtulberg had taught at the village school in Olkha.
“The school’s principal had to cover for him all the time, because he drank and skipped classes. Because of his alcoholism, he recorded a video, posted it on the web, and dragged all of us through the mud,” our source told us.
Shtulberg is not surprised by these comments.
“I did not abuse alcohol and did not skip classes. But a response like this from bureaucrats does not surprise me. For the authorities, public sector employees do not exist as it were. We are these also-rans pottering about somewhere. We behave peacefully, do not ask for a lot of money, and that is fine. Public sector employees are viewed as a silent constituency that can be used at [the regime’s] discretion.”
Translated by the Russian Reader
I guess I am a sucker for these stories of underdogs from the Russian hinterlands and margins of Russian society fighting the powers that be practically on their lonesome. There sure do seem to be a fair number of them in the press lately, which is encouraging.
They tell us two things. First, that it is a lie that Putin’s “base of support” is found in places like the village of Olkha in Ryazan Region, where the indomitable Raivo Shtulberg worked as a high school teacher until he was summarily fired for refusing to canvass for the ruling United Russia party in the run-up to regional parliamentary elections there this past September.
If people in places like Olkha “support” Putin and UR, it is not because these mighty rulers have improved their lives in any substantial way. It is because these people are passively afraid of losing what they already have and actively afraid of political authorities in general. History has taught them this lesson.
More importantly, in many cases, they are simply intimidated, upon pain of firing, into “throwing their support” behind the ruling party during elections.
So, among such “losers” like Raivo Shtulberg, Putin is not “popular.” On the contrary, he has been “popularized” among such “simple” and “disempowered” folk through a whole armory of tactics including relentless media propaganda, outright intimidation, and vote rigging.
When push comes to shove, as I hope and think it might someday, folks like Raivo Shtulberg’s fellow villagers will remember his “foolish” deed from several months ago or a few years back, and that will be all she wrote for Putin and UR.
All the pundits, analysts, and journalists who had been excitedly citing polls and 600% approval ratings for Putin in the interim will suddenly do an about-face and pretend they were on the side of the “ordinary people” all along.
Second, Putin’s real base of support is among those who have made out like bandits, either on a major or minor scale, over the past fifteen years. Some of these people might also, technically, be classified as “public sector employees,” like Raivo Shtulberg, but they do not work as village schoolteachers, and their pay grade is way higher. And the kickbacks and perks they enjoy are astronomically better.
And these real-live Putin supporters do not live, for the most part, in villages like Olkha, but in cities like Moscow, Petersburg, and even London.
It is a story too long and convoluted to tell in this slapdash afterword, but to some extent (although certainly not entirely), the Fair Elections movement of 2011-2012 was an attempt by a segment of this pro-Putinist class to save face in its own eyes and the eyes of the “civilized” world by opposing itself feebly to Putin’s “electoral dictatorship.”
Be that as it may, when you are tempted to imagine or encouraged by a lazy journalist or “analyst” to think that Russia’s anti-democratic woes are caused by Putin’s “popularity” among the simple toilers and rural yokels in the “heartlands,” think about what Raivo Shtulberg did and what happened to him, and think again. Russia is where it is today because well-educated people from Moscow and Petersburg with tons of connections to start with wanted it to happen that way.