Alexei Gaskarov: A 25,000 Ruble Minimum Monthly Wage Is a Good Idea

Rank-and-file Russians deserve a mandatory minimum wage, argues Alexei Gaskarov, and it would be good for the economy. Street scene near Haymarket Square in Petersburg, 4 February 2017. Photo by TRR
Rank-and-file Russians deserve a mandatory minimum wage, argues Alexei Gaskarov, and it would be good for the economy. Street scene near Haymarket Square in Petersburg, 4 February 2017. Photo by TRR

A 25,000 Ruble Minimum Monthly Wage Is a Good Idea
Alexei Gaskarov
Snob
February 8, 2017

How would a high minimum wage help Russia turn into a developed country? Why is Alexei Navalny’s campaign pledge not stupid at all? Financial analyst Alexei Gaskarov shares his opinion. 

What’s Wrong with Russia?
Russia ranks at the very top in international ratings of social inequality.

There are different means of combating inequality, including progressive taxation and raising unemployment benefits. But as soon as someone proposes a solution to the problem, he is immediately dubbed a populist.

This fate has befallen Alexei Navalny. In his presidential election program, he proposed setting a minimum wage of 25,000 rubles a month [approx. 400 euros at current exchange rates].

Is This Populism?
Let’s see how the structure of Russia’s GDP would change if this measure were implemented under current macroeconomic parameters. And let’s compare Russia’s GDP with the GDPs of the G20 countries.

GDP is the market value of all goods sold and services rendered in the country during the year. Costs are always someone’s income, so GDP can be calculated not only in terms of consumption, investment, government expenditures, and net exports but also in terms of income.

STRUCTURE OF RUSSIAN GDP IN TERMS OF INCOME IN % (PER ROSSTAT)
2015 2016 2017
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT 100.0 100.0 100.0
Compensation of employees, including wages and mixed income not captured by direct statistical methods 47.2 45.0 46.6
Net taxes on manufacturing and imports 13.9 11.1 10.7
Gross economic profit and gross mixed income 38.9 43.9 42.7

There are three types of income:

  1. Compensation of employees, includes expenditures on insurance and pensions.
  2. Net taxes on production and imports. Essentially, this is revenue from the extraction of natural resources and their subsequent import abroad.
  3. Business income: company profits, capital gains, incomes of individual entrepreneurs.

The table shows that business income is nearly equal to the income of all employees.

Indirect taxes (e.g., income tax and VAT) are not included in GDP in order to avoid duplication, since they are based on the same profits and wages.

This is what average income distribution looks like in the G20 countries:

Source: The Labour Share in G20 Economies (ILO, 2015)

The labor share in Russia is 6–7% lower than the average for the G20 countries. The reason for the difference is the weakness of democracy and civic institutions in Russia. Election results do not depend on the opinion of the populace, trade unions are weak, and protests against social policy are far and few between. So it makes no sense to redistribute incomes to benefit employees.

How Much Would We Spend?
72,323,000 people are employed in Russia. We have to subtract entrepreneurs [i.e., the self-employed] from this figure. According to the Unified State Register of Individual Entrepreneurs (EGRIP), they amount to approximately 3.5 million people. We also have to subtract those people who work part-time: according to Rosstat, there are around one million such people, if we discount those involved in small business. So the upper limit of full-time employees in Russia is 67,820,000 people. Within this group, 50.3% earn less than 25,000 rubles a month.

However, 1.4% of employees earn between 5,000 and 5,000 rubles a month, and 20.9%, between 17,000 and 25,000 rubles a month. Another 50 percent of employees receive an average monthly wage of 15,329 rubles [approx. 240 euros].

Accordingly, the poorest wage earners would benefit most of all from the introduction of a mandatory minimum wage. On average, every employee currently earning less than 25,000 rubles a month would be paid an additional 9,671 rubles (i.e., 25,000 rubles – 15,329 rubles = 9,671 rubles ).

We would thus have to reallocate almost 3.96 trillion rubles annually: 9,671 rubles (the average pay rise) x 67,820,000 (the number of employees) x 50.3% (the share of those currently earning less than 25,000 rubles a month) x 12 (months) ≈ 3.96 trillion rubles.

Let us add in insurance premiums and pension contributions, which amount to 30.2%. The overall total would be around 5.15 trillion rubles (3.96 trillion x 1.302).

Russia’s GDP in 2015 was 83.23 trillion rubles. If we reallocate 5.15 trillion rubles from profits to wages, we arrive at the following ratio.

2015 2015 (%) 2015* 2015* (%)
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT 83.233 trillion rubles 100 82.233 rubles 100
Compensation of employees 37.471 trillion rubles 45 42.621 trillion rubles 51
Net taxes on manufacturing and imports 9.272 trillion rubles 11 9.272 trillion rubles 11
Gross economic profit and gross mixed income

 

36.489 trillion rubles 44 31.339 trillion rubles 38

In the resulting structure, the share of labor income is slightly higher than the average figure among the G20 countries.

Obviously, many people would lose their jobs after a minimum wage of this kind was introduced, primarily those people who dig pits with a shovel where an excavator should be doing the work. These jobs are safe nowadays only because you can pay people almost nothing in Russia.

In turn, employers would seek to maintain profits by increasing prices for finished products. In aggregate, these effects would shape an economy typical of developed countries.

What Do We Risk?
Many people fear inflation. Let’s evaluate the risks. To introduce a mandatory minimum wage of 25,000 rubles a month, according to the structure indicated above, we would have to increase wage costs by 13.7%. The share of labor costs in the economy is 45%. Accordingly, to cover the increased costs, the price of finished products would have to be increased by 6.165% (13.7% x 45% = 6.165%). That would be the upper limit of possible inflation.

In reality, however, a rise in prices decreases consumption and forces prices to creep downwards. In addition, unemployment and inflation are inversely proportional to one another, meaning the higher the unemployment rate, the lower the rate of inflation.

Additional inflation would be two or three percent, and for the most part it would be spread out over the whole of society, meaning that people who earn a lot would forfeit this percentage of income, while the incomes of the poorest workers would increase significantly.

Of course, such a drastic rise in wages is a rather radical measure, given that the minimum wage is currently even below the subsistence level, and it is bound up with a variety of social benefits that would also automatically increase. But the tenor of the reform is absolutely correct and corresponds to successful examples in world practice.

The introduction of a statutory minimum wages in Germany has lead neither to inflation nor unemployment. In the US, increases in the minimum wage have increased the salaries of low-paid workers while maintaining employment.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Alexei Gaskarov for the heads-up. For another take on the Russian economy’s performance and the figures provided by Rosstat, see yesterday’s featured post, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics,” a translation of an op-ed piece by liberal economist Sergei Aleksashenko.

Sorting the Trash (Recycling in Petersburg)

Veronika Madyarova
Sorting the Trash
Snob.ru
June 3, 2016

Plastic: burn it or throw it away? A hundredweight of cast iron: turn it in for money or just leave it? And what do Jews have to do with anything? On the eve of World Environment Day, Snob introduces you to people involved in something quite unusual in Russia: waste sorting.

Blaming the Jews Again

Petersburg has five million residents. Four of them are involved in waste sorting. That would be us, Collection Point [Tochka sbora], and our several thousand customers.

We put our green trailer in a supermarket parking lot south of the Obvodny Canal. We accept almost anything recyclable.

The Obvodny Canal, Petersburg, May 27, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
Obvodny Canal, Petersburg, May 27, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

If you could see the people who bring us their trash.

A handsome young deaf man who looks like DiCaprio. A young woman with a pet raccoon. Little old grannies who tell us nothing should go to waste. University lecturers whose courses we once attended. Lena, a rural agronomist, who comes from Leningrad Region once a month with a trunk full of garbage. Darya, a ballerina and biker who collects broken dishes all over the city and makes mosaics from them. We help her out.

Enthusiastic recycler Masha and her pet raccoon. Photo: Ilya Snopchenko. Courtesy of Collection Point
Enthusiastic recycler Masha and her pet raccoon. Photo: Ilya Snopchenko. Courtesy of Collection Point

There is also the middle-aged woman in a beret who brings us newspapers and empty kefir bottles, and pushes her theory on us every time she comes.

“My neighbor says he won’t turn things in for nothing. If it’s for money, then he will do it. You know why he is that way? Because he’s Jewish!”

“I’m Jewish too. And so is our director, who thought all this up.”

She freezes, her mouth twisted to one side. In a couple of weeks, however, she will be back again with her bottles, and the conversation will be repeated.

They say you can earn big money on recycling. Certain types of waste are actually worth something, such as waste paper or metal. But the collection and recycling of everything else, such as glass and especially petroleum-based plastics, are subsidized the world over as a long-term investment that will bring future environmental benefits.

We accept everything free of charge. The profit from the metal and paper covers (or, should cover) the losses from handling the non-valuable types of waste. We are making a go of it. But so far a lot of independent action is demanded of our customers, for example, washing and sorting plastics into four categories, and remembering what we take and when we take it. The most amazing thing is that they do it.

A Plastic Icon: Burn it or Throw it Away?

Two priests, one younger, one older, often stop by. The young priest, Father Sergius, skips along: he is overflowing with the joy of life. He once shared a moral and ecological dilemma with us. His parishioners often drag cheap plastic icons to church. You cannot really throw them away, can you? The only dignified way of disposing of sacred items is burning them. But burning plastic is bad for the environment. For the time being he has been piling them up because he cannot decide what to do.

Father Vladislav carefully cuts the labels off of bottles of Sacred Spring brand mineral water. I tell him not to bother. We take them as they are, with the labels on or off. It turns out he collects the labels separately and burns them, because the spring is sacred, after all. But it wasn’t this that impressed me about him, but the expression on his face when I told him there had been a fire at the collection point. The only other person I have seen with a face like that was a psychotherapist. It expressed not just compassion, but an absolute willingness to delve into the problem, to hear me out and draw me out, and to do it as necessary and as long as necessary. It was a professional reflex.

Collection Point's green trailer, April 5, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
Collection Point’s green trailer, April 5, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Another regular customer is Svetlana, a veterinarian and former top model. Having conquered the modeling business, she has switched to saving kittens. She catches them, treats them, sterilizes them, and finds them a home. For every cat she treats and gets adopted, there are ten more cats that end up on the streets and multiply wildly.

Svetlana cares about the environment. She lives according the zero waste principle, recycling everything she can. Once she crawled into a basement to save kittens that had got stuck there. She somehow managed to tear off the metal grating covering the basement window. She telephoned me to ask whether I knew where there was a scrap metal collection point nearby. She wanted to recycle the grating.

She dragged it there and turned it in. She got four rubles for it.

We have more female customers than male customers. Many women get it after having kids. They think hard about the place where heir children are going to be living and what they will be breathing. Fumes from waste incineration plants? There is a special category of customer we have dubbed “the wife sent him.” Women often send us their husbands or boyfriends with the recycling. The men promise to take care of everything, but in fact they toss their bags any which where, making more work for us. And some men just toss the recycling in the nearest dumpster. We try and warn gals with environmental impulses that they had better rely only on themselves.

The Customer Is Always Right

They say the customer is always right, because he or she brings in the profits and can go to your competitors. That works in stores and restaurants, only not in our business. We have no competitors, and there is no question of making a profit, only of surviving. But we also get our share of customers who are always right.

For example, we do not accept light bulbs or plastics that are hard to process, such as polystyrene packaging and polyvinyl chloride.

Collection Point's home in the parking lot of the Auchan supermarket on Borovaya Street in central Petersburg, April 5, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
Collection Point’s home in the parking lot of the Auchan supermarket on Borovaya Street in central Petersburg, April 5, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Some people react strangely.

“You are obliged to take everything I have brought! I have connections, and you will be out of here in twenty-four hours!”

Or there was this.

“And I am also supposed to be helping you earn money?”

This was my favorite.

“I have a university education, and you dare to tell me what to do?!”

Exactly. It is people who have achieved nothing in life who work with trash. Why should successful people even listen to them?

Fortunately, we have other customers. For example, Alexander, the plumber at the Institute of the Arctic and Antarctica.  He brings his own trash and always stays around to help. He and I once spent several hours in a row breaking down and flattening a large number of boxes.

By the way, in the midst of heavy physical work, people always switch to the informal “thou” [ty] form of the second-person pronoun. It just somehow happens of its own accord. When the work is over, they switch back to the polite “you” [vy] form.

That same plumber also bought us recycling collection bags at a time when we were having to choose between buying the bags and eating dinner. He also once hired us to sort through piles of junk in the basement of the institute, which spared us the choice for a couple of weeks. Thank you, Sasha!

Why People Are Not That Way

I have already said there are four of us. We are Collection Point, a tiny firm consisting of four people. The guy who started it all is Igor Babanin, the founder of Greenpeace’s Petersburg office and designer of an experiment in waste sorting that covered nearly the entire city in the noughties, but then fizzled out. Nowadays, Igor has shouting matches with building janitors, ships waste paper, does our miserable books, and in his rare spare moments pens vicious neo-Malthusian texts.

Dmitry Kuznetsov is professional ecologist, and works for us as a driver and loader. It is a total mystery how Dmitry’s GAZelle van is still running. Life-threatening breakdowns somehow fix themselves.

Dmitry used to work as an environmental inspector. He met a femme fatale on a fishing vessel. Between kisses, the beauty queen tried to persuade Dmitry to permit her to use a bottom trawling net, an infernal bit of fishing tackle that is dragged along the bottom of the sea, destroying everything in its path.

Dmitry refused to give her permission. Now he works with us. But he still remembers the beautiful woman.

Andrei Madyarov is a chemist by training, a builder by profession, co-founder of the RazDeln’nyi Sbor [Separate Collection] movement, and a near-legend in environmentalist circles. And he impressed me so much I even married him.

And there is me, too.

A member of the Collection Point team at work, April 5, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
A member of the Collection Point team at work, April 5, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Separate waste collection is a popular topic. Yeah, it would be a good thing. Yeah, the landfills are growing. Yeah, recycling is much better for the environment. But what are we to do if our government is the way it is, and we ourselves are lopsided? In Europe, however . . .

There is no legal framework for what we do. We do not have the support of a core business, and however much we would like to do it, we are not going to make everyone happy by doing separate waste collection. We do what we can. And, despite the difficulties, it would seem we have done the impossible. On a daily basis we see people taking responsibility for their own waste, meaning they are gaining control of their own consumption and their own lives.

If a person has once thought hard about the resources spent on producing goods and what happens to the things thrown into the trash, no advertisement will ever get to her again.

Basically, our provisionally commercial organization is supported by the commitment and awareness of these very same people.

It is a model of the green economy, which, allegedly, cannot be built, because “people are not that way.” Our people are that way.

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

Don’t Film That or You’ll Go to Jail (Russia’s Diggers’ Law)

A digger wandering in a passageway under Moscow in 2012
A digger wandering in a passageway under Moscow in 2012

Pavel Chikov
Don’t Film That! You’ll Go to Jail
Snob.ru
May 4, 2016

A new trend has emerged in Russia that is a logical sequel to the state’s policy of intimidation. Diggers, roofers, base jumpers, bloggers, and other curious folk who like going to places and, especially, filming places not everyone goes and films are under threat of investigation and prosecution. Law enforcement’s arsenal includes heavy fines, arrest, and criminal charges for disseminating state secrets, followed by up to eight years in prison.

In late April, activist Yan Katelevsky was jailed for twelve days after videotaping outside the Ramenskoye police station in Moscow. He wanted to broach the topic, on his YouTube channel, of how policemen illegally park their police vehicles and personal vehicles, but it transpired he had been filming a “sensitive facility” and had “resisted the lawful order of a police officer” when he refused to stop filming.

A few days earlier, Meshchansky District Court in Moscow sent digger Gennady Nefedov to a pre-trial detention facility for “contacts with the media” (!) and with other defendants in his criminal case. Nearly a year and a half ago, Nefedov and five other guys had wandered into an underground passage in the Moscow subway in downtown Moscow. They were initially fined for “trespassing on a secured, restricted site” (Article 20.17 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code). A year later, they were detained and charged with “illegally obtaining and disseminating information constituting a state secret” (Article 283.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code).

Article 20.17 of the Administrative Offenses Code demands special attention. As they say, keep your eyes on the ball. On the first working day of 2016, Russia’s official government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta published a largely unnoticed article bearing the prophetic headline “Freeze! It’s 15 Days for You: If You Sneak into a High-Security Site, You’ll Go to Jail.” Its topic was something its author dubbed the “diggers’ law,” meaning a set of amendments to the Criminal Code and Administrative Offenses Code that have considerably stiffened the punishments for trespassing on restricted-access areas. The fine has been raised from 300 rubles to 200,000 rubles (i.e., 666 times), and punishment now includes confiscation of “the weapon [sic] used in the commission of the offense, including photo and video equipment.” In addition, fifteen days in jail has been stipulated as possible punishment “as long as the act does not contain evidence of a criminal offense.” In the worst case, diggers, roofers, base jumpers, and bloggers can face the above-mentioned Article 283.1 and eight years in prison.

It is noteworthy that one of the people who drafted the diggers’ law was Tatyana Moskalkova, who would become Russia’s human rights ombudsman a few months later. In the same article in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the author complains that diggers and “just plain thugs” are not spooked by restrictions, but unnamed sources in law enforcement explain to him that fifteen days in jail is not a soft punishment “but, so to speak, a mere makeweight to a whole passel of other criminal charges [including] disseminating state secrets, resisting arrest, theft, and property damage.”

No sooner said than done. In 2016, a schoolgirl who took a stroll on the roof of the Mariinsky Place, home of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly, roofers and just plain tipsy young people who climbed the TV towers in Tver and Arzamas, respectively, and schoolchildren in Astrakhan who decided to take a selfie at the airport next to a TU-134 passenger jet and jumped the fence to do it have all been written up for “trespassing on restricted-access sites.” And these are just the incidents that have been reported in the media.

Thus, the Russian Federal Interior Ministry’s Inter-Municipal Directorate for Closed Jurisdictions at Important and Sensitive Sites in the Moscow Region (the Vlasikha Inter-Municipal Directorate of the Russian Federal Interior Ministry) has reported that from April 12 to April 19 of this year, it had uncovered six incidents of “trespassing a secured, restricted-access site.” If such statistics are being recorded, it usually means there is an order from the higher-ups to push up the numbers.

For example, according to his attorney, Vitaly Cherkasov, Petersburg digger Andrei Pyzh has already been charged with six administrative violations, including two for trespassing on secured sites: Engineering Design Bureau Center JSC and the Naval Academy’s experimental model basin.

The climax so far has been the case of the Moscow diggers. The authorities have followed the classic pattern for implementing their plans. Laws are amended right before a big holiday. They are tested out at the local level, and then a landmark, high-profile criminal case is staged to teach everyone else a lesson. Because even if you have been fined for the administrative offense of trespassing on a restricted site, it is far from certain that FSB officers will not burst into your home a year later and charge you with criminal violations such as “Illegal Entry into a Secured Site” (Article 215.4, amended December 30, 2015; punishable by up to four years in a penal colony) or “Illegal Acquisition and Dissemination of Information Constituting a State Secret” (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 283.1). No one will pay any mind to the fact that “dissemination,” as in the case of the Moscow diggers, amounted to reposting a photograph of the Moscow underground on the VKontakte social network, and that the “state secret” was something the accused would have no way of knowing by definition, since they had no physical access to it and were not privy to it. Moreover, it will sound like a legal travesty in such cases when prosecutors argue there were no signs of high treason and espionage (Articles 275 and 276 of the Criminal Code, each punishable by twenty years in a penal colony) in the actions of the accused. Meaning the creative scope, range, and freedom that law enforcement can exercise in such cases will be complete and unconditional.

Lawyer Dmitry Dinze said that a colleague told him the story of his client while they were waiting in line at the Lefortovo pre-trial detention facility in Moscow. The client had been arrested for photographing clearings in the woods near Bryansk and charged with treason.  It turned out the place was an abandoned military airfield.

Also, considering how investigators and prosecutors juggle articles of the Criminal Code, various forms of “daching” and investigations involving drones and video cameras will be at risk.  It is safe to say that the case of the Moscow diggers is the first harbinger and, unfortunately, it clearly won’t be the last.

A new element in the establishment of a police state has thus been born. There is a clear understanding in law enforcement that orders have come down to suppress attempts at photographing and filming special facilities and sites, moreover, in the broadest sense of these words, and posting what you have shot on the web. This is probably due to the latest secret report on a study of the Internet and the popular video hosting websites and social networks where such matter is usually posted. Under the guise of prudent counter-terrorism and maintaining public safety, the authorities have apparently ratcheted up the requirements for guarding sensitive facilities. True, so far, it seems, they are more inclined to use the traditional methods of intimidation and arrest. What is sad is that they deem even a vacant parking lot outside a police station a “sensitive” facility.

Pavel Chikov is chair of Agora, an association of Russian human rights lawyers and activists that was ordered shut down by a court in Tatarstan in February 2016. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Russian Beyond the Headlines, from a now-hilarious article entitled “Moscow diggers reveal secrets of the underground world.” Oh well, goodbye to all that.

Pyotr Pavlensky: We Live between Fascism and Anarchy

Pyotr Pavlensky: We Live between Fascism and Anarchy
afoniya.wordpress.com
February 19, 2016

pyotr

With the news that actionist artist Pyotr Pavlensky was sent to the notorious Serbsky Institute of Psychiatry in a clear case of punitive psychiatry (for more on the case and its context, read Gabriel Levy’s excellent blog post), there is obviously a need to highlight and protest this fact but also a need to listen to Pavlensky’s own ideas and concepts. Here is a small excerpt, published in a Russian online magazine, which will be part of a forthcoming book on the artist in the context of Russian actionism. 

The original interview with Anastasia Belyayeva was posted on the website Snob on February 16, 2016.

—Giuliano Vivaldi

________

It was recently announced the organizers of the Innovation Contemporary Art Prize had disqualified Pyotr Pavlensky’s performance Threat, in which he set fire to the doors of the FSB building in Moscow. This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, Pyotr Pavlensky in Russian Actionism, which publisher Ilya Danishevsky has kindly allowed Snob to run.

* * * * *

Let’s talk about your audience. I am curious about this. In an interview with a Ukrainian television channel you stated that art should articulate, because it is rather difficult for people themselves to articulate why the state is crushing them. Your mission is to articulate?

A kind of diffusion has been taking place. We all find ourselves in a similar situation politically. Certain controversial things are happening to us, fairly unpleasant things. The issue is what is happening and how. Everyone senses it one way or another. But the problem is articulating what the authorities are doing, for they diffuse everything. A persons reads the news, goes to a shop, goes outside or has to go to work, and he sees that for some reason everything is bad, but this badness is somehow diffused.

You articulate this for your audience?

Well yes, for those who can see and hear it. 

When you articulate, if you want your message to be heard, you have to correct for the stereotypes people have, their cultural code, what they are ready for and what they are not ready for. It seems to me that, as a consequence, the people who need an explanation are simply unable to interpret your message, while those who are able, do not need an explanation. So the outcome is somehow nonsensical.

Those who are able do not need an explanation and those who are unable—

The audience of the national TV channels experience, at most, certain negative emotions when they see your actions. It is unpleasant and repulsive to them. Then they are told why you have done this. And this “unpleasantness and repulsion” get mixed up with the reason you did it.

That is exactly what I work for. These temporary gaps are intentional. The precedent remains, and then something happens, and a person comes back to it. One social network user wrote to me that, at one point, he was very much opposed to everything I did. I wrote something to him in response. And he told me in a letter that in the past he had written a lot against the actions, but then he was faced with certain situations in life. It seems the state apparatus had ground him down somewhere along the way. Now he supported this mode of action and apologized.

[…] 

photo_0_1

I have encountered many situations, and I have a rough idea as to how people react to my actions. An excessively emotional response usually can be found in abundance only on the Internet. In real life, when I meet people, I usually see they understand things quite well. Only once in the subway was there an altercation with someone, not even an altercation, but a guy simply went hysterical when he recognized me. A rather young guy recognized me in a subway car. He double-checked my image on the Internet and then began running round the car. We were all riding the subway, the train was moving, and he was running round this car calling on people to rise up against me, to join forces against me. Not a single person supported him. He stuck his phone in people’s faces, but they just brushed him aside as a crazy, hysterical individual. I observed how people reacted. Not having garnered any support, he accused me of humiliating our country, of humiliating him, [Red Square], and so on. It was clear from people’s glances that even if they had recognized me, I didn’t detect any incomprehension towards me or any aggressiveness amongst them. People are rather more understanding than not.

As for that social media user who wrote to you, was it pleasant to get such a reaction?

Of course, he supports some of my ideas.

Is this a rather unique case or does this “I have finally understood you” happen periodically?

Yes, it does happen now and again. There is a whole range of human responses. Sometimes, I feel the force of this whole range of reactions. When I prepare myself for an action, different public reactions flash through my mind at the moments of greatest tension. When you abstract yourself from it somehow, there is understanding to a certain extent. Why can I see this reaction even in my mind? Because we have the same sources: the Internet, maybe television, newspapers, and other things. We all feed on the same sources of information. I confront this range of responses afterwards, after the action has been carried out. Naturally, there are both positive and negative responses.

In the meantime, it remains somewhere in the same—

It will always stay like that, you were starting to say, this issue that some understand, while some do not. The thing is that if I begin to think in these terms so as to make the actions more understandable, and that in this case I need to do them such-and-such a way, it will end up as populism. I will end up trying to please people. That is not my objective.

That is not the objective. The objective is to get your message across in a minimum amount of time, straight away, in clear symbols.

A body wound up in barbed wire, what could be clearer? You understand that here there is no way you could be clearer.

718f

It seems to me there is a kind of clear reaction when people see a man nailing his scrotum on Red Square, and the first unfounded response is that people call you an exhibitionist or homosexual. That is the initial Russian response: he is not right in the head. In Russia, abnormality is associated with homosexuality, and if you are homosexual that means you are a pervert. Regarding such reactions, don’t you think the essential point is somehow diluted?

If you are talking about how the media tries to influence the response, then of course they are endlessly attempting to make the pendulum of reactions swing between regarding it as a criminal act and insanity, and so one can always expect a certain incomprehension. But it is another question how this influence affects people who actually see an action. During Fixation, one woman was constantly asking, “What’s wrong with him? Is he sick?” Of course, it is rather sad that the cult of psychiatry has such power over public consciousness. However, if a genuine conversation about psychiatric norms does start, that is just wonderful. That is a field that needs to be worked through. That is my first point. Second. About this gesture . . . I am not trying so much to invent or concoct something. The gesture of nailing one’s scrotum down is quite rooted in the culture. It is a gesture employed by prisoners.

Why do they make this gesture?

They do it in different situations.

As a protest?

Yes. They take their lack of freedom, the impossibility of movement, to an extreme. Often, there are wooden floors in prisons, and they nail themselves down. How are you going to move them then? A person is already imprisoned, and he has nailed himself to the floor. This is fixation. And you know, when I talk in my text about the way the country has been turned into a prison camp, about a police state, I am not talking about this lightly. November 10 was Police Day. Each year, banners hang everywhere in the city: November tenth, long live our beloved police! All these signs on the surface. I work with these signs because they are part of the culture. It is important where all this is drawn from if one talks about working with contexts. Without this, the gesture of prisoners would remain behind these fences, doors, and yet more fences. With this large number of barriers, information just does not get to us. You cannot even find photographs of this, because no one in the prisons would be prepared take them. Everyone knows this is happening somewhere behind a large number of doors. But here it is happening at the very center. However, if truth be told, a very conditional border was removed. November 10, banners, the memoirs of dissidents and prisoners: these are markers that link everything in a single statement. If this does not exist, then a passerby will start to think: Red Square, naked, I don’t know . . . I could argue that maybe he is a naked exhibitionist . . . I don’t know the degree to which it works. A naked man: why is he naked? A naked man is a man deprived of everything, even his clothes. It is a degree of impoverishment, an indicator of absence.

Of vulnerability?

No, not of vulnerability. That is not part of the message. The naked man is an expression of a condition, stripped, denuded, and deprived of everything. It is, on the other hand, the body as such. It is what can be found under everyone’s clothes. In any case, clothes always mark you, they are clothes of some kind; they build up an identity. While the body is simply the body. All bodies are similar in one way or another.

To what extent are the police part of your actions?

They are a very important part. To a large extent, they do it all themselves, they engineer everything. Everything changes places [during the action].

In the sense that they arrest you?

No, in the sense of how they react to it. It is not my body that turns out to be the victim. Everything is based on the fact that the authority figures are, in fact, victims of the situation, because they find themselves in the most subordinate situation. They have to obey regulations. I am working with subject-object relations. Above all, law enforcement officials are afraid, but they are obliged to exercise their authority.

They are obliged to free you.

To do something or free me.

Does the fact they are the authorities and are obliged to free you a revolution or something else?

They become the objects of the situation. That is, they . . . I think this is an important aspect: the state objectifies people, compels them to subordinate themselves to regulations, to move within the range of the permitted and the impermissible, to stay in this corridor. A person who submits is an object. When an action is carried out, they become objects, objects raised to a certain power perhaps. Besides the fact they are objects in the first place, performing certain functions, they also become art objects. They want to neutralize: their authority obliges them to do it. They are tasked with neutralizing and eliminating events, with mopping up streets or squares. But this compels them to serve an opposing end. They begin to engineer events. They become characters, actors. Everything is based on them. My own action is kept to a minimum. I simply sit there and do nothing. Or I just stand there. 

And if they had not come, would you have still sat on Red Square?

Yes. It is unclear how an event is going to develop until it actually takes place. It is enough to posit a figure of silence, and the situation is then constructed around the silence. Because the police, ambulance crew or just plain people who would attack me or do something else are simply part of the social body. Something happens: rejection is also a kind of interaction. A senselessly airtight situation: I came, I left. Another important fact is that I speak with everyone in the same way. I communicate with journalists, psychiatrists, and police investigators in the same way. There exist definite rules as to how everything is engineered. If one keeps to the rule of the figure of silence and does not react to the authorities, there should be no interaction. I remain static, but when the action phase ends, when the doors have closed, I start talking, and I talk with everyone in the same way. I make no distinction between journalists whom I am going tell all and, for example, a police investigator. I can, of course, mock the investigator as it were, but it is not mockery really. It is me who involves him in the art process. What has become of these dialogues? Who has achieved their goals in this situation, art or the bureaucratic apparatus? And with my cause I . . .

If everything in the country were fine, what would you have done?

I don’t know.

So you could say that the worse the situation is in the country, the more work you will have?

I understand. The situation is what? It is an unrealizable utopia. There will never be such an ideal society and state. It seems to me that there are certain defining things in people’s nature: subject-object relations and the concept of power. These things dominate all others.

You don’t particularly like the concept of power, do you? I take it that, roughly speaking, you believe it cannot be a good thing, something reasonable? Can power be a good thing?

I believe it cannot, because power’s objective is to create a fully predictable individual. Because an unpredictable individual is a dangerous individual. The closer a person gets to the condition of a subject, the more he goes beyond borders. He looks for something new, and this is dangerous for the powers that be, because he becomes ungovernable.

Would you have protested in any country in the world?

Not in the same way. You must understand there are different contexts. I’m not a professional protester.

Protest art?

Political art. I am not involved in protest art. Political art and protest art are far from one and the same thing. Protest art is when you take to the streets with a placard. There is a NO there, and here there is a YES. That would be a generalization. I take it as a premise that political art involves working with mechanisms of control.

Fine. Political art. Would you have done political art anywhere?

I don’t know. If I lived in another country, maybe I wouldn’t have done political art. Given how I think now, I would probably have found something to do. But maybe it would be something formally similar, because different countries and different control systems generate different ways of suppressing the human imagination. 

Is there a model or regime you find ideal? Anarchy perhaps?

Probably anarchy is an ideal model. I am aware its ideal rests on its impracticability. It is unlikely that humankind will decide to sacrifice the benefits of scientific and technological progress to utopian anarchy. Anarchy is liberation from certain paradigms, it is resistance, a rejection of certain impossible rules. Anarchy involves working with the concept of power.

Anarchy is what you find most congenial? Or is it something else?

Yes, I probably find it congenial in some way. There is insurrectionary anarchism, and there are other kinds of anarchism. Anarcho-communism is a contradictory delusion: the dictatorship of equality versus the dictatorship of freedom. Either there is the one or the other. It is difficult to imagine the emergence of punk culture in a dictatorial regime of universal equality.

Would you like to live in a state where anarchy ruled?

There can be no state where anarchy rules.

A city where everything takes shape in this way. There is anarchy, but something takes shape all the same.

Undoubtedly. That is why I say it is anarchy. The individual’s life is spent in permanent struggle for subjectivation and self-assertion, because all possible resources, forces, interests and, ultimately, other people or groups of people work towards objectivation, towards subjugation. Even if a pseudo-anarchist structure was to take shape, groups or structures would still emerge that would turn it all

Systematize it.

Yes, turn it into an ossified mass. And it is better to reject these dogmas before they have managed to become political disenchantment. History persuades us that the lessons of the twentieth century did not prevent the kibbutzim from reconciling the beautiful idea of communal property with the defense of the growing and sacred borders of the state of Israel. This constant self-assertion has to be rejected. It is like a never-ending process.

Is there an ideal model for individual existence? Is it possible the way you see it: that nobody usurps you, and you do not intersect with anyone? 

It’s difficult for me to say. It all depends on the person. A person must overcome the [rules] imposed on him—

Globally.

Globally, there is a movement towards the anarchist model.

Then everything will circle round again?

Without a doubt. There is a certain range or continuum, of course. As in the [Grazhdanskaya Oborona] song: “Everything that is not anarchy is fascism.” We are situated between these two poles. Fascism not in terms of the Italian model or some other model, obviously, but as a kind of generic term. Fascism as absolute diktat, absolute and total control. And there is the other pole: anarchy as a certain absolute freedom. In fact, all the oscillation occurs between them.

And in the middle, between these two extremes, normality rolls along?

I have never thought about what is in the middle. I don’t know what is in between. In between there is dull liberalism with its shoddy political correctness.

I am just trying to understand your goal in this essentially vicious circle. You understand that things will never be wonderful?

What actually changes society and generally produces transformation? Certainly not any political templates or schemes, because working with cultural codes is the most important thing. Semantic precedents influence how a person relates to what happens around him. They are his reflexes, developed vis-à-vis different situations. Which of his associative models are activated, and what kind of situational response does he make? He may give a quick response, or he may, upon reflection, make a decision. This is the field where the struggle takes place. Regimes change, of course. There was the Soviet regime. Before that there was the monarchy, the Russian Empire, and now there is this regime. In any regime, the siloviki [military and security services] are in power. In 1917, there was a revolution, there were changes, and there were significant changes in culture, art, and how people related to each other. Things were in motion for fifteen years, and then there was a reaction. The Bolsheviks suffocated everything, and things were rolled way back.

Do you have an overarching idea about you are doing? Where are you taking all this? What point between fascism and anarchy seems to you the most appropriate?

You undoubtedly need to push everything in the direction of anarchy because

Because something budges at least a little bit?

Even for things to remain as they are, you already need a certain effort. If you make a great effort you can move things a little further. On the other hand, there is a very strong force moving us in the other direction, towards fascism and absolute subjugation. The state apparatus with its huge resources, an entire system of agencies, is working towards this. It is a constant clash. It never stops. For me, the head-on collision takes place on this stretch of road. It is ridiculous to dream those forces that are a hindrance will eventually dissolve and disappear, and we will suddenly find ourselves in anarchy and living under a different model. I think this is a more realistic perspective on things. But speaking theoretically, of course, when you loosen frameworks and push back borders, you really help others, the people who come after you.

Translated by Giuliano Vivaldi and reprinted here with his kind permission. See my previous posts on Pyotr Pavlensky.

Kadyrov Is Not Chechnya

Kadyrov Is Not Chechnya
Grigory Tumanov
Snob
January 26, 2015

Kommersant newspaper correspondent Grigory Tumanov has returned from a trip to Grozny and reports everything you hear about modern Chechnya and its bloodlust is a myth invented by Ramzan Kadyrov

Фото: Дмитрий Коротаев/Коммерсантъ
Photo: Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant

If you said the pro-Ramzan Kadyrov rally, held last Friday in Grozny, was a kind of vote for Kadyrov, you would have to admit it was a failure. It has long been argued the event was meant to hide some of the Chechen leader’s deeper problems, and he had begun to haggle with Moscow not by offering stability in exchange for a free hand, but by offering the explosive situation in the region. But on the ground it turned out all the stories about how, as soon as Kadyrov resigns and loosens his grip, the entire republic would secede from Russia, immediately impose sharia law, and establish a free Ichkeria are a myth.

I remember January 19, 2015, in Grozny: the rally for the Prophet, which had also been organized not without the involvement of the local authorities, to put it mildly. The vast majority of the people at the rally had, of course, never seen any Charlie Hebdo cartoons on the web, the cartoons that sparked the brutal murders of the magazine’s journalists. Despite this, however, from early morning there was a huge traffic jam even on Chechnya’s border with the neighboring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan. Yes, there were state employees. Yes, ralliers were bussed into Grozny. Yes, there were quotas and roll calls, and prototype placards imposed by the higher-ups, and campaigning in dean’s offices. It is odd, of course, to try and assess the degree to which those people went involuntarily to the Heart of Chechnya Mosque that day, but it should be said they stayed on the square both at twelve o’clock to perform the midday prayer and afterwards.

Several days later, every other car was still sporting a “We Support the Prophet!” placard. It made sense. How, in a Muslim region, would you say no to the question, “Are you going to the rally for the Prophet?” You wouldn’t say it, of course.

“I have not seen the cartoons, but I am a Muslim, so I have no choice but to come out. Rally or no rally, how could I not come out? For some reason you all say we should not be offended by cartoons about something that matters to us. But why should you decide for us? You don’t believe in it!” one rally attendee told me.

It was a conclusive victory for Kadyrov. People really did come out for the rally, driven not only by official lobbying but also by their own indignation. So it was a great way for Kadyrov to announce his candidacy for the post of chief defender of Muslims in Russia.

Фото: Саид Царнаев/РИА Новости
Photo: Said Tsarnayev/RIA Novosti

Contrary to the official Instagrams posted by Chechen officials and Kadyrov himself, it turned out that the personal pull exerted by the head of the republic was still not comparable to that of Muhammad. The Chechen Interior Ministry reported that over a million people gathered on the squares of Grozny last Friday. This is not true. I stood on the roof of the judicial department of the republic’s Supreme Court and saw with my own eyes that there were hardly 100,000 people in attendance. And as soon as the officials moderating the rally announced it was over, all those one hundred thousand people literally evaporated from the square. It was impressive. I was especially touched by the way that people who were not employed in the state sector proudly said they would not be going to the rally.

“Oh no, I am going to stock up on potato chips and sunflower seeds and plop down on the sofa. If it is a day off, then let it be a day off. No one is going to force me to come out for the tsar,” a private entrepreneur in Grozny told me.

“Maybe we will not be allowed to work on this day, but we are not going anywhere, so if you suddenly feel like some tea, stop by,” the proprietors of a kebab place near the hotel where I stayed told me on the eve of the rally.

While it was true there was no smoke coming from their grills the next morning, all the place’s employees were in fact at work, watching with curiosity as state-sector workers carrying placards shuffled by them on their way to the Heart of Chechnya Mosque.

Yes, everyone with whom I spoke in the crowd on the square spouted off rote phrases about how Kadyrov had raised the republic from ruins, and that he needed support, since Ilya Yashin had launched a real vilification campaign against him.  But it was no less impressive to see how people squinted and smiled ironically as they said this, to see placards embossed with slogans about Kadyrov and against Navalny just lying in the flowerbeds after the rally, and how policemen quickly tried to clean them up when they noticed the interest they aroused among photojournalists.

All of today’s Chechnya is a myth invented by Kadyrov. The bloody seriousness and the obsession with sports and Islam are a myth. Another such myth is the stability Kadyrov provides, thus reining in the unbearable craving of Chechens for secession from Russia and terrorism. Talking about politics in the republic frightens everyone, especially talking about politics with reporters. There is the risk you will find yourself on a treadmill with your pants pulled down. Both critics and supporters of the regime agree on the main point, however: the wars are over, the bombing has stopped. However, if you get both critics and supporters to talk, all of them will admit that the choice between nocturnal visits by men in cars with KRA license plates [i.e., marked with Kadyrov’s initials] and Russian bombing raids is not great.

Фото: Дмитрий Коротаев/Коммерсантъ
Photo: Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant

Ruslan has a cafe. If you walk down Putin Avenue and then turn into the courtyards, walk past the houses, go down into a basement, and push the door with a yellow sign featuring a guitar, inside you will find something resembling the Mos Eisley Cantina in the first Star Wars movie. The place is terribly smoky, and there are strange groups of people sitting all round it. Only the drum kit is empty. The alien band that produced the whimsical sounds in the movie has been replaced by a young boy now quite long-windedly showing his support for FC Bayern Munich, whose match is on the telly.

Ruslan was a physical education teacher and was about to get housing in a dormitory when the first Chechen campaign started. On the day Russian forces stormed Minutka Square, he was trying to find bread. Ruslan says he cannot eat supper without bread.

Ruslan also cannot live without the blues. While he never has learned to play the guitar, he knows so many artists by heart it would blow your mind. The cafe is not even a business to him but the chance to live as he likes. Sometimes, friends come to the bar and perform jam sessions, and a bottle of cognac can always be found for regulars.

“Around the New Year it was totally excellent here. Everyone would dance until dawn to Pink Floyd, and they were barely standing when they would go home early in the morning,” says Ruslan.

He understands that even in Moscow a blues cafe is a very niche establishment, not to mention Grozny, but this is how he wants to live.

“I would have long ago earned money from the cafe by showing football matches and letting customers make bets. It is quite profitable, but in Chechnya you are not allowed to engage in bookmaking. It is permitted all over Russia, but here it is forbidden. It is forbidden, and that is that. Why should I regard this as normal?” he says, incensed.

Here it is not the custom to say out loud that there is anything wrong with Kadyrov, but the cafe owner does not like having to choose between war and autocracy.

“Look, no one here has any illusions. By all means, let it be Ramzan and Ramzan. But could they just leave us in peace? I want to work in peace, not to be hassled by anyone. People have nothing to eat, but all day long they show on the telly how Kadyrov went for a sleigh ride, what car he drove and where. It is like a reality show,” says another resident of Chechnya, who has a small business.

For him, the pro-Kadyrov rally was an additional irritant. I do not know whether some good people in Moscow actually explained to the Chechen leader he should not appear before his happy people on Friday or maybe he figured it out himself, but I heard a fair number of jokes about the big theatrical production without the main character on stage.

On the eve of the rally, there were rumors in Grozny that now as never before Kadyrov had to demonstrate people’s gratitude to him, and so the presence of media at the rally that were not subordinate to local authorities was undesirable. Allegedly, the nervousness of the local government had reached such levels that members of patriotic youth clubs had been instructed to seek out federal and foreign journalists in the crowd and prevent them from doing their jobs any way they could.

Ultimately, this did not happen, but such a nervous atmosphere could hardly have arisen if the leader were confident if not in the people’s absolute loyalty then at least in its absolute fear.

Some wonder what to do with the republic’s zombified population when Kadyrov goes. But it turns out that nothing in particular has to be done at all. Kadyrov is not Chechnya, and the Chechens are not the pumped men in camouflage you see in the Instagrams, signed with nicknames ending with the number 95 [i.e., the regional code for Chechnya on Russian license plates].

These are people who are insulted to hear they are wasting Moscow’s money. These are people who are afraid men will come for them in the night. These are people who want to open the kinds of cafes they want to open, and who do not want to stand holding identical placards at eight in the morning instead of going to work, and who do not want war. And what sets them apart from the vast majority of Russian citizens (it has become all the rage lately to oppose the two groups) is that they remember war quite well.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up. See Sergey Abashin’s recent comment on the same topic, as posted on this website.

Anna Gaskarova: What the Bolotnaya Square Case Will Leave Behind

What the Bolotnaya Square Case Will Leave Behind
Anna Gaskarova
May 26, 2015
Snob.ru

My husband, who has been behind bars for over two years as a suspect, defendant, and convict in the Bolotnaya Square case, and I have long had a tradition of giving theater tickets to our parents on birthdays, New Year’s, and other holidays, nearly always to productions by Teatr.doc. Our favorite, by the way, is Two in Your House, about the house arrest of Belarusian opposition leader Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu. It is one of the theater’s rare productions in which there are more laughter-inducing scenes than frustrating ones.

Six months ago I was contacted by the playwright Polina Borodina and asked to help collect material for a production about the Bolotnaya Square case for the theater that I loved so much. All that was required of me was to give an interview. At the time I thought that Polina would find it hard to write the play: there was nothing impressive about being the relative of a prisoner. It is very boring. I didn’t think she could manage to put together a story about the Bolotnaya Square case that would be interesting to anyone besides those involved in it.

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The premiere took place on the anniversay of the events on Bolotnaya. Policemen gathered outside the theater, and plainclothes officers sat in the audience. I saw the third performance of the production, and police were again standing on duty outside. It was raining, and Elena Gremina, the theater’s director, asked the officers to come inside.

“It is warm in here, and the play is quite good,” she told them.

They would not come in.

I fidgeted, giggled, and fretted, because I could not remember a thing I had said to Polina in the interview. It was scary to hear myself. And every time I recognized my own words in the lines of the actors, I cringed, buried my face in the shoulder of my sister, who was sitting next to me, and thought to myself with relief that it was a good thing I had not put my foot in my mouth.

The boring trials, the red tape of the remand prisons, the monotony of putting together food parcels, and the terrible anguish of the relatives in the Bolotnaya Square case has been turned into a very interesting story told by four actors in the words of the mothers, fathers, wives, fiancées, and friends of the arrestees. There are no exaggerations and distortions; only quotations from interviews with loved ones. They talk about how visits go, how to get married in a remand prison, how the defendants entertained themselves during the boring trials—and how to inform a defendant that his mother has died.

I had always wondered whether anything except shame, three and a half lost years, and painful memories would remain after the the Bolotnaya Square trial, something decent and instructive—not for us relatives but for those were there with us on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, and for those who were not.

I think this question has stopped vexing me. Stalin’s purges have left us Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales. The Bolotnaya Square case will leave behind Teatr.doc’s The Bolotnaya Square Case.

ee61b2c98d7567978852636630bb38f2Many thanks to Polina Borodina, Elena Gremina, Konstantin Kozhevnikov, Anastasia Patlay, Varvara Faer, and Marina Boyko.

Photos courtesy of Snob.ru

Moscow Doctors Go on Work-to-Rule Strike

Work-to-Rule Strike: What Moscow Doctors Are Fighting
Julia Dudkina
March 25, 2015
snob.ru

Moscow doctors have declared a work-to-rule strike. Disgruntled by personnel cuts and the introduction of time limits for seeing patients, they said they would now work strictly by the rules, without overtime. We found out how the strike has been going in the capital’s clinics.

“Our working day is not set,” explains Dmitry Polyakov, a neighborhood general practitioner at Diagnostic Center No. 5. “When forty-five people pass before your eyes in a single day, you feel awful.  And there have been staff cuts, many specialists have left, and their patients are referred to us. People are unhappy, of course, and they take it out on us. By the end of the day it is often difficult even to focus one’s eyes, let alone concentrate. Salaries have fallen, incentives to work have decreased, but the workloads have grown.”

In addition to seeing patients in clinic, a neighborhood GP has many other duties, such as visiting ten to fifteen patients at home. Plus, there is paperwork: outpatient charts, registration stubs, and discharge sheets. Much of the paperwork has to be filled out during the doctor’s free time. And yet salaries have been rapidly shrinking. Whereas before they had been as much eighty and even one hundred thousand rubles per month, neighborhood GPs are now paid around forty thousand rubles a month [approx. 640 euros at current exchange rates].

“We have a very large flow of patients,” complains Yekaterina Chatskaya, an OG/GYN at City Clinic No. 180. “There is no one to see all the patients; the workload is colossal. It happens that you work nine and ten hours a day. I basically don’t see my husband and child, and I make only forty thousand rubles a month. If we were at least provided with stationery supplies. Yesterday, I was issued paper for my printer for the first time in five years. Usually, though, I have to buy supplies out of my own money. But the main disaster is the lack of time for examining patients properly. The Health Ministry allots ten to twelve minutes for each patient, but it is impossible to meet this standard.”

Elena Konte, a GP at the first branch of City Clinic No. 220, had hoped that the start of the work-to-rule strike would simplify things. If she didn’t have to work overtime, she would manage to go home on time, and fill out outpatient charts that had piled up from last week. But a nurse who was supposed to help with patients took ill; a conference was scheduled for the middle of the day; and a mysterious “inspector,” a doctor from an outpatient center, suddenly showed up as well.

“This never happened before. I am sure she came because of today’s strike,” says Elena. “She didn’t say anything about the strike, but she asked about how much we have to work and inquired about the UMIAS (Unified Medical Information Analysis System). I think she was horrified by how much unnecessary scribbling falls on us and how much running around the entire clinic we do searching for patients’ test results: after all, they’re not even recorded in the computer at our clinic. Of course, it’s uncomfortable working when you’re being observed all day. But at least they paid attention to us.”

Elena Konte managed to see all her patients that day, but she was unable to complete all the outpatient charts. The first day of the work-to-rule strike failed to solve the problems that have accrued over the past months for staff at the first branch of City Clinic No. 220.

“At first, there were six doctors working eight neighborhoods in our second general practice department,” says Elena. “Then, one of the neighborhood GPs was sent to retrain as a family doctor, and there were five of us left. In February, yet another doctor was transferred to a neighboring branch. But this is winter, the peak time for upper respiratory infections. And the workload is such that it is like we’re working two positions. The strain is very hard, both physically and mentally. Yesterday, I got to the clinic at 8 a.m., and went home at nine in the evening. But I will continue to participate in the strike. They have already promised to reduce consultation hours from five to four hours, and have added another position in reception.”

Downstairs, on the ground floor, two old women were vigorously discussing the news from the world of medicine.

“They all got laid off. Who is there to do the work now?”

“Exactly! And in a couple months, they say, there will be further layoffs. They have to go on strike.”

If the strike has gone unnoticed for both patients and physicians at this clinic, things are quite different at Diagnostic Center No. 5.

“Today, I managed to see everyone who came by appointment, and even finally filled out all my paperwork in normal handwriting and finished working with the outpatient charts that had piled up,” says neighborhood GP Irina Kutuzova. “Maybe the bigwigs won’t notice the strike at first, but when an emergency occurs, everyone will get it.  Generally, it is hard to work in the present circumstances. You cannot examine a patient who has come by appointment longer than ten minutes, but some patients require much more time. And it often takes twenty minutes to fill out a sick leave form. I get forty to forty-five patients a day; it is a constant blitz. And there is another whole crowd of patients who come ‘just to ask a question.’ As a result, people get disgruntled: they literally kick open the door and voice their complaints. By the end of the day, it all becomes a blur, and I don’t have the strength to write out prescriptions. But today I had thirty-seven patients. Also a lot, of course, but better nevertheless.”

In the hallway, an elderly woman catches my hand. She is waiting in the queue for the next room.

“Young woman, you’re not a patient? Maybe you know whether they’ll see me today or not?” she asks hopefully.

Her name is Galina Bordo, and she has been waiting her turn for nearly two hours. A few weeks ago, she had a tumor removed, and now she must have regular checkups. The doctor’s visiting hours ended twenty minutes ago, but the last patient still has not come out.

“I heard they started a strike today. Good for them, it’s the right thing to do. Otherwise, in today’s environment, with the queues and unnecessary paperwork, they don’t cure anyone,” Bordo says.

According to the healthcare workers union Action (Deistvie), twenty employees at six clinics have been taking part in the work-to-rule strike by Moscow doctors. In the near future, twenty-two other health care providers may join them.

“Our goal is not to cause a collapse, but to show how and under what conditions doctors work,” explains Andrei Konoval, Action’s organizational secretary. “To demonstrate that under normal, unhurried service, the number of patients who can be seen in a day is reduced by one and a half to two times.  This means that it is necessary to increase the number of doctors and medical facilities. Even if there were only one brave doctor willing to participate in the strike, we would still go through with it.”

Andrei Khripun, head of the city’s health department, has already dubbed the strike a “political provocation,” and claimed that it had failed, because “Moscow clinics are operating in normal mode.” Although that had been the point of the strike: to work according to the rules.

________________

Valentin Urusov
March 25, 2015
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Today, a comrade and I went to a medical facility to hand out leaflets (the appeal by striking doctors to patients). Fortunately, people have been reacting quite positively to the doctors’ strike and have gladly agreed to support them. Many people took leaflets to hand out at home.

I called one of the strikers and asked whether she has felt pressure from management. She said she had, but since they are determined and have really enjoyed working according to the law, the strike could continue for quite a long time. But now they are able to spend exactly as much time as they need on a patient, and not what officials want them to spend.

What is interesting is that if women have taken something on, they’ll definitely see it through to the end, unlike most of us men. I think it would be better if officials started listening to what they’re saying and stopped destroying healthcare while it’s still not too late.

One shady type drove up in a car and asked for a couple of leaflets. Then he pulled away and photographed us. Apparently, he was a spy. Security behaved properly, and at first they even tried not to notice us. Later, though, they asked us not to make trouble for them and go outside. That was even more convenient for us, and we handed out more leaflets.

Tomorrow, we will go to the other strike sites and notify patients. I think it would be great if everyone who was going to a hospital or clinic would take several such leaflets along and hand them out there. So, friends, don’t stand on the sidelines so that you’ll regret it later. Make your contribution to the common cause. The text of the leaflet is below. Anyone can print it out.

Dear Patients,

On March 24, a “work according to instructions” action, which journalists often call an “Italian” strike, was launched at several Moscow clinics. Its gist is that doctors who have decided to draw the attention of authorities to the disgraceful state of medical care have started to work in complete accordance with the Labor Code and the standards of care.

We have worked in inhuman conditions for years. Our workday often lasts nine, ten, and even twelve hours. However, rather than increasing staff and creating normal working conditions, health officials have begun laying off physicians and reducing the time patients can be seen to mere minutes. But the workload and amount of paperwork have only grown. In our view, such excesses only serve as cover for bureaucrats pursuing a policy of commercializing healthcare: the longer the artificially generated queues in clinics are, the easier it will be to make patients pay.

From March 24, we have decided to hold consultations based on established standards. Moreover, if a patient’s condition requires more time than is laid down in the regulations, we are not going to speed up examinations, because haste poses a threat to the person’s life and health.

We ask for your understanding and support. We are in the same boat, on the same side of the barricade erected by “optimizing” officials. We will do everything we can to ensure that no problems with the provision of medical care arise. Eight days ago, we warned our chief physicians, as well the Moscow Department of Health and even the Russian Federal Prosecutor’s Office, of the need to ensure that patients whom we do not have time to examine during our shifts are seen.

If you are, nevertheless, unable to get an appointment through the negligence of management, we suggest you send a complaint to the Department of Health. (Believe us, it helps!) In the complaint, you should write that the physician you wanted to see had warned management of possible problems in connection with “work to rule,” but management failed to take the necessary organizational and personnel measures. You can do this on the site mosgorzdrav.ru in the section marked “For the public” > “Petitions from the public” > “Receipt of petitions from the public.”

We would be grateful if you would sign the online appeal in support of the issues we have raised. To do this, simply type in the address goo.gl/nxJ8C5.

Together we will make the system work for the benefit of patients, not bureaucrats.

Your Doctors