Ilya Matveev: The New Putinist Stability?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Events are unfolding in plain sight, and strange as it might seem, the flood of disinformation cannot prevent us from seeing a quite simple picture.

The subway workers’ union had long warned of the danger, and there had generally been a lot of reports in the press on the growing number of accidents in the Moscow Metro, and now there has been a new fatal accident.

The last couple of weeks, Russian media had reported constantly about how deftly the separatists had learned to use the Buk surface-to-air missile system and how many Ukrainian airplanes had been shot down. Just before news of the Malaysian airliner broke, reports had managed to surface—in “Strelkov’s dispatches,” in the media, everywhere—that the militants had shot down another Ukrainian transport plane. The plane turned out to be the civilian jetliner.

Recent articles in Vedomosti newspaper and especially leaks at b0ltai.wordpress.com make it easy to piece together the fiscal and economic situation in Russia. The country is in an “autonomous” recession, meaning one caused by internal factors. The resources for growth have been exhausted, and there is no money for Crimea or for executing Putin’s May 2012 presidential decrees. The government is preparing to respond with austerity measures: the abolition of free medical care for nonworking citizens, tax increases, and another raid on retirement savings. For now the situation is rough but not catastrophic. At the same time the overall trajectory is clear: there will be less and less money, and it will be ordinary people who pay the bills.

However, there is no one to protest: all the country’s internal contradictions, which were somehow politically articulated in 2011-2013, have been crushed by the Crimean steamroller, and the opposition is divided and marginalized. The population has closed ranks around the new Putin “geopolitics,” becoming an aggressively frightened mass. Any possibility of electoral protest has been completely blocked off: with stunning cynicism, the field has been purged in the run-up to municipal elections in Moscow and Petersburg.

We can see that the new system is closed upon itself: the geopolitical adventures are needed, ultimately, only to strengthen Putin’s personal power, to maintain his sky-high rating. The exact same role is performed by mega-events like the Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. Yet the economic cost of the geopolitics and mega-events will be huge, and people themselves will foot the bill (for sanctions, for Crimea, for kickbacks). However, the imperialist ideology surrounding the events for which they are paying out of their pockets will prevent them from articulating their protest politically. It is a paradox, but a paradox that has already been observed in history. Recall, for one, Marx’s remark that Louis Bonaparte ruled in the name of the peasant masses (who supported him at elections) but against the interests of these masses.

This new period of stability might last as long as the previous one. No, it is no longer the apolitical period of stability of the noughties, but it might prove no less stable.

Ilya Matveev is an editor of OpenLeft.Ru, a member of the PS Lab research group, a lecturer in political theory at the North-West Institute of Management (Petersburg), a PhD student at the European University (Petersburg), and a member of the central council of the University Solidarity trade union.

On Monday, the Regime Will Sentence Itself

This is Alexandra Dukhanina (aka Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova and Alexandra Naumova, since she was married after her arrest), one of the eight people declared guilty by a Moscow court, yesterday, February 21, 2014, of “rioting” and “assaulting police” during a sanctioned opposition demonstration on May 6, 2012, in central Moscow.
1609989_671244502921563_1873186658_nAlthough Dukhanina and her fellow dangerous criminals were found guilty on Friday, the court has “cleverly” delayed the sentencing hearing until this coming Monday, that is, until after the closing ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, President Putin’s lavishly expensive celebration of his allegedly triumphant reign. It is entirely likely that on Monday Dukhanina and her co-defendants will be sentenced to five or six years in prison. This is the punishment that prosecutors have asked the court to impose on them.

Dukhanina’s real “crime” is that she dared to challenge — peaceably and legally — President Putin’s triumphant “re-election” the day before his inauguration. She did this along with tens of thousands of other people, but she and her co-defendants were seemingly randomly picked out from this great mass of folks and arrested, held interminably in pretrial detention (or, in Dukhanina’s case, under house arrest), and over the past few months, subjected to a senseless show trial. The authorities, apparently, wanted to make examples of them, to show the greater public that this is what happens to “ordinary” people when they oppose supreme political power and get mixed up in the “dirty” business of politics.

As anyone who has been following the Bolotnaya Square case can tell you, however, Dukhanina and her co-defendants are anything but ordinary people. They’ve consistently shown themselves to be courageous, intelligent, funny, and indomitable folks, extraordinary models of solidarity, and an inspiration to their fellow citizens and other “ordinary” people everywhere. More than anything, Dukhanina and her comrades show us what Russia could look like, what it will look like, when the Putinist tyranny has ended.

But don’t believe us. Read the closing statement Dukhanina made to the court earlier this month.

 

Show Your Solidarity with Russian Political Prisoners: Russian Embassy, London, February 23, 2 p.m.

URGENT CALL FOR SOLIDARITY!!!

Stop the Show Trials! Free Political Prisoners in Russia!

While the Russian government celebrates the closing of the Olympics in Sochi, in Moscow, eight arrested activists are found guilty after two years of show trials. Pressure from the international community has already helped to amnesty several people. Let’s show our solidarity with political prisoners! Let’s stop the show trials and persecution of activism in Russia!

We will meet near the Russian Embassy on the day of the Olympics closing ceremony, 23 February, Sunday, 2 PM. Come and join us!

Background:

Following mass demonstrations in 2011-12, Russian police arrested dozens of activists – socialists, anarchists, human rights campaigners, ecologists, as well as ordinary citizens who oppose the Putin regime. This is exemplary punishment aimed against a wave of social movements that has been energising a new generation of post-Soviet activists. The demonstration on 6 May 2012 was a legally sanctioned rally that took place on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow. However, it ended with brutal police violence and mass arrests. Of thousands who protested against mass election forgeries, hundreds were kettled by police. More than a dozen of them have been kept in pre-trial detention for over a year.

More info here:

http://6may.org/en/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/21/anti-kremlin-putin-protesters-guilty-verdict-court

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolotnaya_Square_case

Address: 6/7 Kensington Palace Gardens, W8 4QP
Picket will take place on the BAYSWATER ROAD (Google Map often gives a view on the park)

Sochi Opening Ceremony

Ilya Matveev

Common sense is based on a sense of measure, a sense of proportion. Common sense is simply impossible in Russia, because the very fact the Olympics are being held here does not jibe with any justice of “number and measure,” as Plato called it. Meaning, literally, there are the Olympics, and “there is nothing else to talk about.” The hospitals have no drugs, the countryside has no schools, roads and stores, the universities cannot pay salaries of more than 10,000 rubles [approx. 200 euros] a month, and the most widespread dwellings, after all these years, are shabby nine-storey prefabs, built forty years ago by authorities who still possessed a shred of conscience. If you work in a kindergarten you’re dirt poor. If you’re a pensioner, boil yourself buckwheat and ask at the shop for an eighth of a loaf of bread. And in the midst of all this there is the Olympics. No “discussion” whatsoever is possible here. It was hard to imagine that the renewed tradition of ancient sporting competitions would come to symbolize the total, final and irrevocable humiliation of absolutely all people in Russia.

Source: Facebook (with kind permission from the author)

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Sergei Loiko
Triumph of the Will

Every day Nina Toromonyan comes to feed her pets amid the ruins of her house in the center of Sochi.

sochi story

The house and 25-acre plot with a view of the sea were confiscated by force and the house demolished, ostensibly because they impeded construction of Kurortny Avenue.

Thirteen people lived in the house, three families. They received total compensation of five million rubles [approx 105,000 euros]. Masked riot police toting machine guns evicted them on October 23, 2013, although Kurortny Avenue had already been built two kilometers from Nina’s house.

Her grandfather was officially granted the plot in 1947 in recognition of his heroism in World War Two.

None of the three related families who lived there has been able to buy themselves a house or even an apartment in Sochi. Like vagabonds, they find shelter where they can.

No one touched the homes to the right and the left of the plot. Experts says someone had set their sights on Nina’s property and used Putin’s Olympics to grab it on the sly. In fact, the prices in Sochi are such that the compensation payment should have been no less than forty million rubles [approx. 845,000 euros] .

When the riot police were dragging the bawling women from the house, Nina’s nine-year-old grandson Grisha shouted, “Don’t shoot, don’t kill us!” Trying to calm him down, his mother took his hand and said, “Don’t be afraid, son. They’re just making a movie—about fascists.”

Source: Facebook

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Fontanka.Ru
Four LGBT Activists Detained on Vasilievsky Island 
February 7, 2014

Four gay activists were detained today on the Spit of Vasilievsky Island [in Petersburg] when they decided to take a picture with a banner on the way to the place where a protest action was planned.

The LGBT activists did not make it to Belinsky Bridge, where they had planned, according to a previously circulated press release, to unfurl the meters-long banner in support of Olympic values.

As Fontanka.Ru has learned, along the way the activists decided to take a picture on the Spit. However, before they could unfurl the banner, emblazoned with the slogan “Any form of discrimination . . . is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement,” police officers arrived at the spot and detained them.

According to preliminary reports, among the detained is a young man and three young women, one of whom is pregnant. They are being taken to the 16th police precinct.

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Elena Kostyuchenko

Well, I’m home.

The short version is that during the four hours at Kitai-Gorod police station [in Moscow] Lynne Reid and Knicks Nemeni were handcuffed and kicked, Gleb Latnik was punched and pulled by the hair, and Ginger was put in a choke hold. I got off relatively easy: first, they suggested I “suck their cocks,” then they spat in my face.

Oh yeah, “You all should be burned” was among the remarks they made.

None of the policemen were wearing badges.

They enjoyed themselves. They confiscated our telephones. They sat there looking through our photos and leafing through our text messages.

A defense lawyer (an aide to MP Ilya Ponomaryov) was not let in to see us.

Then I was simply kicked out of the police station, with no arrest report, no nothing. “[He or she] sang a song to the tune of the Russian national anthem with distorted lyrics” was written in the arrest reports of the people who got them.

That’s not true. We sang our country’s national anthem, including the parts about “our free fatherland” and “you are unique in the world.”

We sang the national anthem all the way to the end.

It’s excellent singing the national anthem on Red Square. It’s nice on Red Square in general. We need to go there more often.

kostiuchenko-red square

Oh yes. When we left the cafe where we met before the protest, the police were already waiting for us. Dear LGBT activists, phones really are bugged, email really is scanned, and text messages are received not only by the people they’re sent to. Use alternative means of communication and take care of each other.

Love triumphs, both at the Olympics and just like that.

Source: Facebook

Closed, Destroyed, Deleted Forever: Russian Authorities Crack Down on Lena Klimova and Children 404 on Eve of Olympics

colta.ru
February 3, 2014
Closed, Destroyed, Deleted Forever
Moral crusader Vitaly Milonov is trying to shut down Children 404, a group which supports LGBT teens. Dmitry Pashinsky talked to the group’s founder, Lena Klimova

Detailed_pictureLena Klimova

In Nizhny Tagil, Lena Klimova, a 25-year-old journalist and founder of the project Children 404, which is dedicated to helping LGBT teenagers, has been charged with promoting non-traditional sexual relations among minors.

On January 31, formal misdemeanor charges were filed against Klimova following a complaint by Vitaly Milonov, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly.

According to the charge sheet, law enforcement officers have deemed that the project’s group page on the VKontakte social network, where participants communicate with each other, publish open letters, and get help from psychologists and lawyers, promotes non-traditional sexual relations. Klimova now faces a fine of fifty thousand to one hundred thousand rubles [approx. 1,000 to 2,000 euros]. She also does not preclude the group’s being shut down. In her opinion, this would cause “irreparable harm” to thousands of LGBT teenagers, who would lose a means of sharing their problems and adapting to society.

Commenting on the situation in the media, Vitaly Milonov himself said, “This group is most likely funded by foreign grants. It should at least be declared a foreign agent. It should banned from involvement in politics, and of course this group should be closed, destroyed, and deleted forever.”

Lena Klimova talked about how absurd it was to be accused of promoting homosexuality among minors for letters written by minors themselves.

It’s not clear from what Milonov said who should be declared a foreign agent, me or the group. I hear this nonsense about foreign funding all the time. I don’t know what the basis of these claims is. I would say it’s a bad thing to lie.

Has a court date been set?

Not yet.

How do you plan to make your case? What does your lawyer say?

The lawyer says we will muddle through. I haven’t asked her yet how we’re going to make our case, but I think we have almost no chance of winning. I suspect a political put-up job is underway. When I went to the police investigator in mid-January, he told me he saw no evidence of a violation and would refuse to open a case. But then I was suddenly summoned again, and the same investigator admitted he wasn’t calling the shots and would now draw up a charge sheet. From which I concluded that the order had come from higher up. I imagine he was told, Are you a fool, or what? Don’t you know who Milonov is? File charges right now! The interrogation lasted for less than an hour. I was asked what the group was and why it had been created, for what purpose. I was also asked who LGBTs and transgenders were.

Personally, what is happening reminds me of the lead-up to a show trial. The only thing that is not clear is why the authorities want another LGBT-related scandal right before the Olympics.

The trial will probably be after the Olympics. They hope the Games will take place and the international community will stop worrying about the problems of gays in Russia. Although I’m sure it won’t be that way. Three or four people have already been convicted under this law, the latest as recently as January 30. The newspaper Molodoi Dalnevostochnik was fined for publishing an interview with the fired gay school teacher Alexander Yermoshkin. He said, “My existence is itself the most effective proof that gays are normal.”  The editors were fined fifty thousand rubles for this phrase.

Аs for us, this is totally Kafkaesque. We’re charged with promoting homosexuality among minors, and it is the letters of minors themselves that constitute this promotion. This is nonsense! But we’re told that no, minors will read the letters and be swayed.

How likely is it now that the group will be closed? And what will the consequences be?

I think it’s quite likely. But we are fully prepared for this. Around a week ago we started working on a website. In addition, we have a mirror group on Facebook, and Facebook is much more difficult to block. The site itself will have foreign hosting. It can also be blocked by putting it on the list of banned sites, but such bans are easy to get around. But closing the group on VKontakte will cause irreparable harm. It’s our greatest resource. On Facebook we have 2,500 subscribers, but on VKontakte, where young people mainly hang out, we have over 16,000 subscribers. All the psychological and moral support we provide work only on VKontakte: people write and offer advice, and we moderate the discussions. But the people subscribed to our Facebook page are usually foreigners and people from the older generation. We’ll be sorry to lose the audience on VKontakte.

Have you contacted VKontakte management in connection with this case?

With regard to this case, no. But our opponents have written complaints to VKontakte’s tech support and posted screenshots of their correspondence, from which I’ve gathered that the site’s management is wholly on our side. They say they see no evidence we are promoting homosexuality. If you think otherwise, they write, take it to court. But going to court is not the same thing as writing to VKontakte: you have get your butt off the couch. Only Milonov has been able to do that so far.

Is this the first time the authorities have put pressure on you?

Yes, it’s the first time. Before this, no pressure groups were formed to oppose us, no complaints were filed, and there were no parliamentary inquiries.

How many people are involved in the project team?

There are around ten psychologists and eight coordinators. Everyone has their duties. For example, I’m in charge of corresponding with the teenagers, while other people handle posting the letters on social networks, banning homophobes, and translating from foreign languages. There is also someone who runs our closed group on VKontakte. We have that for teenagers to communicate freely.

Students at the University of Massachusetts Send a Message of Support to Children 404 

Why is a group meant for free communication closed?

Only teenagers and vetted adults who come to help them are members of the closed group. It is closed because the problems discussed there are fairly personal, the sort of problems that could be put up for general discussion only anonymously, the way it happens in the open group.

You have a fairly large team. What motivates these people? What prompted them to work on this project?

Aside from wanting to help, people have very different motivations. Our first admin is a heterosexual with two children. He became an LGBT activist long ago, I don’t know why. Our next admin is a LGBT teen, whose letter launched the project. There is another straight admin, but his daughter is a lesbian. For everybody, it is a fifty-fifty mix of personal motivations and the desire to lend a helping hand.

I find it hard to talk about what motivates other people, I can only talk about what motivates me. Well, sexual orientation also motivates me, as I’m bisexual. And I’ve had to deal with discrimination. When I was suspected of being lesbian, I was fired from my job with a lot of fuss. This was at a state university where I had worked for quite a while. At one point I was called on the carpet and told to write a resignation letter. My boss later added I shouldn’t pretend I didn’t get it. I was in a desperate situation and couldn’t strike an attitude by invoking the Labor Code. It left a huge wound in my soul. I have an acquaintance who says that the basis of all human rights work is deep psychological trauma. Some people, of course, get their skulls cracked, but still that incident forced me to feel the injustice of the world, so I help others. I don’t want them to feel the same thing I did.

Are there many groups like yours on the Russian segment of the Internet?

There are quite a lot. And, in my experience, they sprang up like mushrooms after we appeared. More than once I have had to ask them to change their name, because they were all called Children 404, but there was porn posted on their walls. At least patent the name! Someone will show up and write they saw kiddie porn on Children 404, and then go and try to prove we’re innocent.

But it’s obviously provocateurs who set them up?

No, they are not provocateurs. They’re silly boys from the rainbow community. But I haven’t found any psychological support groups either for teenagers or LGBT people generally. In Russia, only one helpline for LGBT people has remained. Incidentally, it recently stopped taking calls from teenagers for fear of being charged with violating the law on promoting homosexuality.

Does your project receive financial assistance from anyone?

No. We didn’t go looking for investors, either. The reasons for this are many, but the main one is that we are not an organization, a legal entity. We’re nobody. We don’t exist. We’re just a group of concerned people in a social network.

And you don’t envision the possibility of registering Children 404 as a human rights organization?

I’m afraid that no one would register us. But even as a project we get on well. What are the advantages of registration? We’re interested not in financial resources but in human resources. We always welcome new lawyers and psychologists. We find them among those who’ve already worked with LGBT people. We don’t do interviews: we are guided by the assessments of friends. I’ve had to turn down a few students without diplomas who “just wanted to help.” We also need translators from English, because people often write to us from abroad, and because we are planning to translate current research on homosexuality for the website, and most of this in English. All the work is voluntary. It is only Milonov who tells tales about foreign grants.

I suspect he is not too sincere, but he manages the role nicely.

Yes, a journalist who knew Milonov back when he still worked for [the slain Yeltsin-era democratic politician] Galina Starovoitova wrote to me. He was then the most liberal of liberals. The journalist told me not to believe all this homophobia: when the wind blows the other way, Milonov will be the first to be gone with the wind. But nowadays homophobia is trendy. Even the media noticed us only when that red-headed parasite took a swipe at us.  News about his complaint to the police spread far and wide, including outside of Russia. He filed the complaint back in October, and it took two and a half months to get to Nizhny Tagil. I didn’t advertise the fact I live here. He thought I was from Petersburg, so he sent the complaint to the local authorities there. The final countdown to the Olympics had started by the time the complaint found me.

Rally in London in Support of Children 404

How many letters have you received over the course of the project?

We have been around since March 2013, and to date we have received 1,067 letters.

What places do the teenagers write from?

Aside from Russia, they write from Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Canada and Israel. Quite a lot of letters come from the US.

What about the North Caucasus?

There have been only one or two letters. A young woman who called herself Gina sent a letter, but she was already eighteen or twenty. Everything had worked out more or less fine for her, surprisingly. The other day we got a letter from a guy from a Muslim family. He is twenty-two, but he has the same problems as teenagers. He has thoughts of suicide, and his family is quite poor, they have no money. He can’t come out either to his father or his mother.

Recently, literally everyone has been turning to us for help, including teenagers suffering from ordinary romantic tragedies. I remember one amazing letter from a young woman who was dating an older woman with a ten-year-old child. She asked for help in coming out to her girlfriend’s daughter. Usually, kids want to come out to their parents, but here an adult wanted to come out to a child.

Do adolescents suffer more from an intolerant society or from self-loathing?

A psychologist recently said our main problem was that the teenagers who wrote to us had already recognized who they were. But those who are still trying to accept who they are almost never write, because they are sitting around thinking there is something strange happening to them. They type “how to stop being gay” into a search engine, but they definitely won’t find us that way.

But mostly it is people who have accepted themselves who write. Everyone has different problems.  Some are in unhappy relationships, others have problems with their parents, still others are bullied at school. There is a letter for every problem. Just recently, someone wrote to me, “I feel gay, but I don’t like it at all. I want a normal family and children, but I can’t stop looking at boys.” We also publish letters like this. Someone will always write in the comments, “Don’t worry, being gay is alright.” And someone is going to call that promotion of homosexuality? What is the guy supposed to do? Seek treatment? Where? Go pray? It’s all very complicated.

You publish the letters, and the kids get support in the comments. But you’ve said almost nothing about the work of your psychologists, about how teenagers have been helped. Why?

To be honest, I have never thought of doing that. And our psychologists are unlikely to go that route. When I had to find out the details of a situation, they told me they could not say anything specific, because professional ethics and doctor-patient confidentiality forbid it. They described the problem and how it was solved only in the most general terms. And there is not much point in my knowing. As it is, hundreds of young people know we have psychologists and that they can consult with them.

What are the most frequent questions?

The question asked most often is whether to come out to one’s parents. It gets asked so often I’ve worked out a universal answer to it: unless you are one hundred percent sure your parents are not homophobes, it is better not to do it.  It is worth coming out when a few important conditions are in place: one, you have your own place to live, and, two, you have your own source of income. Only when these are the case is it absolutely safe to come out. But if neither the first or second condition has been met, it is risky.

It happens that a letter arrives where a guy writes that his parents are horrible homophobes, but he couldn’t stand it and came out, and his parents abruptly changed their minds about gays. Or vice versa: the parents seemed gay-friendly, and the person came out to them, but then he or she was kicked out of the house practically in their underwear. It is impossible to predict what parents will do, but you also cannot forbid kids from coming out to them.

How did you personally come out to your family and friends?

It was fairly hard. My friends accepted me without question. As for my mom, alas, she still hasn’t accepted me. We had a difficult conversation. I cannot even describe it. I have a difficult relationship with my mom, although she sometimes asks me about both my activism and the project. But she does not want to hear anything about my personal life. She says, When you are around me, pretend you’re ordinary. So I have every right to sympathize wholeheartedly with children in similar situations.

What else do the teenagers who write to you have in common besides their orientation?

It is quite hard to figure that out, because the letters are not written to a template. I once did a survey. A total of 115 people were polled. What percentage had thought of suicide? How many had come out to parents and friends? I wanted to find patterns. If you judge on the basis of the letters, what do they have in common? Geography for sure: most of them come from Moscow and Petersburg. The age range is wide: the youngest was twelve, the oldest, fifty. She was a mom whose daughter was an LGBT person. All her life she had regarded LGBT people tolerantly, but then she had to deal with one personally and had had second thoughts.

Do they often write about suicide?

Not really. Since the majority had recognized who they were, they simply took it for granted. At any rate, this was true for half the people I polled, while the other half had tried to find a way out in relationships with the opposite sex, going in big for religion, reading the “right” books, and consulting with psychologists. Suicide was seen less as a way out and more as an inevitability, because they had been harassed at school and at home. They felt terribly lonely.

I know absolutely hellacious stories. There was one girl, a lesbian. Her mother did not accept her, and the girl swallowed a bunch of pills. The ambulance took her to hospital, were her stomach was pumped. She wrote, “You know what the first thing my mom said when she saw me? ‘Did you think everyone would be happy you’re still alive?'” Can you imagine such a thing?

Ivan Ovsyannikov: Russia’s Welfare Chainsaw Massacre

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev holds

Welfare Chainsaw Massacre
Ivan Ovsyannikov (Russian Socialist Movement)
September 30, 2013
anticapitalist.ru

A “welfare chainsaw massacre” is exactly what we might call the government’s actions and statements over the last few months. The ruling class is once again attempting to pay for the latest uptick in the economic crisis from out of the pockets of workers.

On September 1, while speaking to students at the Far East Federal University, Putin announced the transition to a policy of austerity and reduced social spending. “The world economy has slumped a bit, and ours is hunkering down behind it,” the president said in his typical manner by way of explaining the upcoming unpopular measures. And he supported an earlier proposal, voiced by Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov, to replace the “maternity capital” program with “targeted assistance to poor families.”

However, a few days later, Dmitry Medvedev said that the maternity capital program would not be cancelled. “But it will be modified,” Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Maxim Topilin added in a whisper.

The fact that public opinion has been probed on such a sensitive point is quite significant. The maternity capital program is almost the only widely publicized social achievement of the Putin era. Putin has repeatedly stated it was his idea. And now this essential element of Putin’s social populism has been openly questioned.

No less provocative looking are the experiment with introducing social norms for electricity consumption (see Andrei Zavodskoi, “Cruel Economy”) and the de facto raising of the retirement age, which has long been discussed and is today closer than ever to realization. According to Deputy Primer Minister Olga Golodets, “We are not discussing raising the [retirement] age for any category of workers. We’ve gone another direction by promoting voluntary postponement of retirement. That is our principled position, and the government’s position.” However, such tricks are unlikely to mislead anyone.

The most scandalous revelations, however, are the statements made by government officials concerning labor relations. If, until recently, Mr. Topilin based his ministry’s decision not to index Russia’s penny-ante unemployment benefits on the fact that “at present there remains a high probability of finding employment in the labor market,” Mr. Medvedev has now said the exact opposite. He argues it is time to get away from the policy of preserving employment at all costs and not be afraid of cutting inefficient jobs: “The times all of us now face are not the easiest. […] Some people—perhaps a significant portion of the population—will have to change not only their jobs but also their professions and place of residence.” There is no doubt we have fallen on hard times, but the Prime Minister is clearly disingenuous when he talks about “all of us.” Russia’s ruling elite has no intention of depriving itself of jobs and handsome profits. So, in a conversation with François Fillon, Mr. Putin elegantly hinted that he would “not exclude” the possibility of seeking a fourth term as president.

But has the Russian economy “hunkered down” badly enough to warrant such painful experiments on the population? Isn’t “stagnation” only a plausible excuse for implementing the longstanding plans of the gentlemen from the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs?

As was reported in late August, the Ministry of Finance planned to save 1.1 trillion rubles [approx. 25 billion euros] over three years by eliminating the maternal capital program and reducing expenditures on pensions. At the same time, federal and regional budget expenditures on preparations for the 2018 World Cup should amount to 438 billion rubles, that is, almost half a trillion. The mass protests and riots in Brazil, sparked by excessive government spending on the 2014 World Cup, are still fresh in everyone’s minds. Russians could learn a lesson or two from Brazilians.

But maybe massive sports venue construction projects will generate many new jobs and return the taxpayer money spent on them? No, they will not. Unlike the great construction projects of the Soviet era, when funds were invested primarily in developing production, Olympiads, Universiades, and World Cups are, by definition, loss makers for national governments. Many analysts trace the current economic disaster in Greece to the 2004 Summer Olympics, which enriched transnational corporations while depleting public finances. The London Olympics have also been declared unprofitable. As for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, its unprofitability has been recognized by nearly all serious experts, including Vnesheconombank chair Vladimir Dmitriev, who said in an interview with Vedomosti newspaper that “a serious percentage of [Olympics-related construction] projects are calculated to make a loss.” According to Dmitriev, “Given the current model and market trends, there are big problems with returns on investments. For example, one million square meters of hotel space are being built in the Imereti Lowland. When this space goes onto the market after the Olympics, a sixty percent occupancy rate will be hard to achieve. The costs of many projects have seriously risen as they have been implemented. […] For many sites, there is no complete project documentation or confirmed cost estimates. All this confirms our doubts.”

As for jobs, they really will be generated—for thousands of migrant workers. Federal Law No. FZ-108, adopted specifically for the World Cup, leaves no doubt about that. First, the law establishes special lightweight entry requirements for foreign workers involved in preparations for the World Cup. Second, it limits the applicability of a number of existing labor laws, effectively legalizing slavery. As the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR) declared in their statement on the subject, “The potential for runaway importation and recruitment of cheap labor, undermining the national labor market, and leading to a decrease in wages and legal guarantees in the area of labor relations, and an increase in the level of unemployment among the population, has been legally enshrined in the Russian Federation.”

The government could not care less about the fortunes of workers during the crisis, and it does almost nothing to hide it. How else can we account (to cite just one example) for Mr. Topilin’s proposal to deny free health care to all informally employed and unemployed people not registered with an employment bureau?

In light of the foregoing, the Kremlin’s actions aimed at reconciliation with the liberal opposition also become intelligible, as do unexpected initiatives to put the “against all” option back on voting ballots. The authorities fear that public discontent will grow and want to channel it in a direction that presents no danger to the ruling elite. Whether this political maneuver succeeds depends in part on the willingness of leftist political forces and trade unions to win over public opinion and make the fight against austerity measures as much of a mobilizing factor as it has been in Greece, Spain, and other countries facing the consequences of the capitalist system’s crisis.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of deviantart.net