Fußball über alles

std
The new football stadium on Petersburg’s Krestovsky Island, still unfinished after years of delays and rampant cost overruns. In the foreground is a monument to former city boss Sergei Kirov, murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1934. Photo courtesy of Pyotr Kovalyov/Delovoy Peterburg

Schools, Kindergarten, and Hospitals Sacrificed to the Stadium
Antonina Asanova
Fontanka.ru
August 15, 2016

The Smolny [Petersburg city hall] will finance construction of the football stadium on Krestovsky Island twice over. The advances of 2.6 billion rubles that have not been returned by VTB Bank and Transstroy will be issued to new contractor Metrostroy. Schools and kindergartens will have to wait.

To finish the stadium on Krestovsky, the Smolny is ready to sacrifice the completion dates of three dozen facilities, including kindergartens, schools, and hospitals. 2.6 billion rubles, earmarked for social infrastructure, will be “redeployed” to Petersburg’s construction project of the century. City hall is counting on recouping the reinvested funds later, and figures it can afford not to hurry with the construction of public facilities.

The Construction Committee has prepared a draft decree on reallocating its 2016 budget. By law, the agency can redirect up to 10% of the funds in its targeted investment program, i.e., 2.8 billion rubles, a committee spokesperson said on the record.

Off the record, sources at the Smolny have explained that the stadium’s former general contractor, Inzhtransstroy-SPb, has not run through the 3.6 billion rubles it received as an advance. The company can still deliver part of the construction work and purchased materials before August 25, a month after its contract with the city was terminated. But if the city does not succeed in offsetting the entire sum, it will have to try and collect the money either from the contractor or VTB Bank, which issued the guarantee for completion of the work.

Experience shows it is not worth counting on the good will of companies when it comes to giving back money. The Construction Committee is still in the midst of suing VTB for the return of funds issued under contracts for the construction of indoor ice rinks, which were terminated over a year ago.

A strategy of protracted litigation does not suit the Smolny at all. Completing the stadium before year’s end is a matter of honor to the city government. So the Construction Committee has decided to redeploy part of the funds allocated for new kindergartens and schools to Petersburg’s main construction project. Only facilities whose completion was planned for this year have not been touched.

The city’s calculation is simple. Construction of public facilities will be slowed down a bit for the time being. But when the stadium is delivered at the end of the year, and the monies that were advanced are returned to the budget, the long-awaited construction projects will again be accelerated to a proper speed.

Health clinics and hospitals will be most affected by the budget cuts. The Construction Committee has decided to withdraw nearly a billion rubles from construction of these facilities.

Expenditures on one of the city’s most protracted construction projects, a perinatal center at Maternity Hospital No. 9 on 47 Ordzhonikidze Street, have been reduced by a quarter billion rubles. Doctors were preparing to nurse premature and sick newborns in the facility, and spoke of modern operating rooms and a modern intensive care unit. The building, in fact, was supposed to be delivered at the end of 2015. But now the contractor, Stroykomplekt, owned by former Baltstroy top manager Dmitry Torchinsky and Alexei Torchinsky, has a new deadline: the end of 2017.

People in the suburb of Kolpino will also have to wait for the opening of the new surgical wing at Hospital No. 33. Only one million rubles has been left in this year’s budget for its completion, while 155 million rubles will be transferred to erecting the football stadium. However, the construction site on Pavlovskaya Street has already been idle for a year. The Construction Committee terminated its contract with the previous contractor, but has not yet found a new contractor.

The residents of Kolpino will not have to wait alone, however. Among the facilities where construction will be slowed down are health clinics in Strelna and Krasnoye Selo, an ambulance substation in Metallostroy, and a childen’s tuberculosis sanatorium in Ushkovo.

Funds for new school construction will not be slashed so drastically: only by half a billion rubles. Contractor ETS will have to slow down construction of a school in New Okhta, a massive housing complex on the far side of the Ring Road, near Murino. This year, financing of the construction project will be cut by 230 million rubles. New Okhta is being vigorously developed. Over the past three years, developer LSR Group has completed twenty-four residential buildings into which the city has been moving people on the affordable housing waiting list. But there are still no schools in the district. Parents have to shuttle their children over the Ring Road to the neighborhoods of Grazhdanka, built long ago.

Residents of the housing project on Badayev Street will also have to be patient. The city has stripped their future school of 90 million rubles in financing.

Finally, kindergartens will hardly suffer at all: funding of their construction will be reduced only by 310 million rubles. The biggest loser, to the tune of 130 million rubles, is the future kindergarten in the Golden Bay residential complex, near Tricentennial Park. Its completion has been postponed for a year, until the end of 2017.

The Smolny is even ready to cut funding for construction of a site directly linked to the new stadium: the waterfront near the Novokrestovskaya subway station, currently under construction. The contractor, Leokam, will have its funding for making improvements to the waterfront cut by nearly 240 million rubles. Apparently, the company will have to catch up next year. Under the terms of its contract, it has to deliver the works before the end of 2017.

The site of the new stadium was previously occupied by the Kirov Stadium, a federally listed architectural landmark, built by constructivist architect Nikolsky in
The site of the new stadium was previously occupied by the Kirov Stadium, a federally listed architectural landmark. Designed by world-famous constructivist architect Alexander Nikolsky and opened in 1950, it was unceremoniously demolished in 2006. Photo courtesy of Kommersant.

However, what matters is that the stadium on Krestovsky Island will be delivered before the end of this year, and cost estimates of its construction will not increase, formally speaking.

A total of 42 billion rubles [approx. 582 million euros] have been allocated on the stadium, Petersburg’s principal protracted construction project.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Tatyana Maleva: People and Oil Don’t Mix

Demolishing the Population’s Income Is a Big Mistake by the Authorities
Yevgeny Andreyev
Special to Novaya Gazeta
October 17, 2015
Novaya Gazeta

Why the government prefers oil to people, why poverty could touch half the population, and why social services are losing out to defense spending

Tatyana Maleva. Photo: TASS
Tatyana Maleva. Photo: TASS

In previous years, when it submitted the latest draft budget to the Duma for consideration, the government repeatedly emphasized its social focus: it was all about people, they would say. Now, as the 2016 budget is being worked out, the authorities prefer not to think about this. Spending on the most people-focused items—education and health care—will be significantly reduced. Despite annual inflation’s soaring to nearly 16%, public sector wages will not be indexed at all, while old-age pensions will be indexed only by 4%. Tatyana Maleva, director of the Institute of Social Analysis and Forecasting at the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) told us how the social sector would cope with all these blows.

Based on your analysis of the projections for the 2016 budget now being submitted to the Duma, which of the social sector issues do you see as most acute?

Those caused by the insufficient indexation of old-age pensions. The government has chosen the most economical solution to this problem.

A 4% indexation does not correlate at all with the expected outlook for inflation. Thus, the budget risks reducing the real value of pensions.

The acuteness of the problem is amplified by the fact that, if we look at the history of incomes in post-reform Russia over the past twenty-five years, we see that pensions have fallen lower than all other sources of income such as wages and benefits. Only in 2010, thanks to the valorization of pension rights [a one-time increase in the monetary value of the pension rights of citizens with time in employment before 2002Y.A.] and pulling the minimum pension up to the subsistence level, we pushed the real value of pensions to where it had been at the outset of reforms in the nineties. It had taken twenty years to restore the purchasing power of pensions. But now, during a crisis, they are being demolished again by the budget under consideration. This is a big mistake by the authorities.

But why? After all, budget cuts are not the government’s whim, but hard necessity dictated by the economic crisis.

As events of the last two years have shown, there are basically only two kinds of resources in this country, oil and people. The price of oil has collapsed, but the people are still here.

It is people who are, in fact, the most reliable of all resources. Sooner or later, investment in people produces economic growth. Oil, on the contrary, is impacted by circumstances unconnected with the Russian economy; we cannot influence the market price of oil. It turns out that one key resource makes us hostage to the situation, while we are voluntarily refusing to support the other resource. So I would argue that during the crisis we should look for ways to support people and even risk a larger budget deficit if necessary. Most economists, including me, are forecasting a long crisis. It is only beginning, and demolishing people’s real incomes right at the outset of the crisis is fundamentally wrong.

How painful will the decision to partially index pensions be?

The government thinks that indexing pensions by 4% will affect only the 38 million pensioners. This is misleading. Models of consumption and survival are based not on individual strategies, but on the strategies of households, meaning families. Around 40– 45% of Russian families include pensioners. The experience of the nineties tells us that even miserly pensions, when they were paid, served as a safety cushion against poverty in families when their younger member lost their jobs or faced nonpayment of wages. Because, in this case, pensions support the household’s minimum consumer budget and act as social insurance. Consequently, the forthcoming partial indexation of pensions will reduce the budgets of 40–45% of Russian households. Meaning that the real impact of this decision will be the growing risk of poverty not among pensioners but among nearly half the country’s population.

The government contends that real incomes have fallen by 2–3%, and real wages by 9–10%. Do you agree with these figures?

At one time, incomes showed a more moderate decline, but now they are rushing [downwards] hot on the heels of wages. Because the factors that were propping up incomes, including pensions, have ceased functioning, and incomes are going to fall, maybe even lower than wages. Over the last year, we have experienced a huge reduction in incomes. Basically, the entire growth they had achieved over the previous three or four years has imploded. And there is no reason to expect the growth will be restored. The decline might simply slow down due to arithmetic: the base for comparison will decrease from month to month, and therefore the rate of decline in real wages may turn out to be 7–8%, not 9–10%. But this does not alter the fact the population’s income is likely to be reduced.

How hard is inflation hitting people’s wallets?

Apparently, by year’s end we will be seeing 13–15% inflation. It is inflation that has a total effect on all incomes by devaluing them, regardless of social classes and age groups. But the risks that emerge among different social group because of high inflation are different. For examples, employees face the risk of job losses and cuts in nominal wages. This is already happening. We see cuts in benefits, reductions in allowances, and the axing of bonuses around the country. Moreover, while individuals are capable of combating other causes of income reduction such as job loss or reduction in wages by looking for a new job or retraining, they can do nothing to withstand inflation.

The number of poor people in Russia increased sharply over the past year—by three million people. Are the authorities capable of dealing with this scourge, or does everyone just have to wait for a rise in oil prices?

It is appropriate to recall how poverty has evolved in Russia. In the nineties, over 30% of the population was poor, but this was shallow poverty. When economic growth began in the nineties, poverty was significantly reduced. Many poor Russians moved into the so-called sub-middle class, rather than sinking into outright poverty. Economic growth reduced poverty levels relatively easily all by itself, without a restructuring of social benefits, without support for various social groups. But as soon as the country shifted from growth to recession, this seemingly happy trajectory turned into a disaster for us. Since, during the “fat” years, a reasonable system of targeted social support for the poor was not established, we are now reaping the consequences of its lack. Very many types of social support were eliminated in 2015, and certain “visionary” regions gutted many social benefits as far back as late 2014. Therefore, poverty will grow, and in this sense, indeed, the only hope is a hypothetical rise in the price of oil.

If the price goes up, there will be more money in the budget, and maybe benefits will return. But I am not so certain of this. It is absolutely not a fact that federal revenues are converted into institutions of social support. I think that in this case there will be a serious struggle with a high probability of the social sector’s losing to the military-industrial complex.

The country made this choice long ago, and it is clearly not going to be revisited.

The official unemployment rate in Russia has not exceeded 6%, which is quite a favorable figure by international standards. At the same time, there is lot of evidence that hidden unemployment has grown. What is your overall assessment of the employment sector?

Indeed, 6% is not a high figure at all. Actually, a low unemployment rate has been traditional in Russia in all phases of the economic cycle, whether the economy has been in growth, crisis, boom or recession. Over the quarter century that Russia has been living in the market economy, it has not really experienced unemployment. But economic laws still apply, and during crises, pressure on the market increases. Ultimately, the market extends possibilities for part-time employment, and this can be interpreted as hidden unemployment. People are willing to work a full workweek, but employers offer them part-time work, either half a day or two or three days a week.

The labor market has formed a kind of social contract under which employers save on costs by not dismissing employees, because the Labor Code forces them to bear exorbitant costs when letting employees go. Employees remain employed, which gives them the chance to earn seniority. And the state pretends not to notice any of this, because it also has a stake in the situation. It saves on unemployment benefits and thereby reduces its financial obligations.

Overall, how has the current economic crisis aggravated social problems in the country? Are there factors capable of causing society to protest and take political action?

It is not just the matter of the crisis. Long-term factors are also capable of impacting the social sector. Even during phases of economic growth, many social processes in Russia were not entirely favorable. Take demographics: the long-term trend has been determined by previous generations, and it cannot be changed. Nothing can be done about the fact that each successive generation in Russia will be smaller than the previous generation.

Furthermore, if we look at a longer trend, we have to admit that wages and other types of income have fallen undeservedly much lower than GDP has sunk. This has predetermined very many processes in the economy. Low-wage labor and a low-income population cannot be effective. We have repeatedly been taught this lesson over the last twenty-five years. Coming to terms now with a drop in incomes and wages means recognizing the inefficiency of our human resources. Yes, of course, no one gets rich during a crisis. But it is not a worsening of social tensions in the country due to a sharp collapse in incomes that we should be afraid of. We should be afraid of social apathy, of the population’s withdrawing into itself and washing its hands of the situation. From the socioeconomic viewpoint, this is a step backwards. This apathy can hold us back for many decades. And even if drivers of economic growth do emerge in Russia, and we expect that people will respond quickly, this might not happen.

But what is the source of this apathy?

In the nineties, the population really lent a helping hand to economic reforms by a creating a strong platform for the informal economy. Everyone predicted that society would explode, but it did not happen. The population thus gave an advance to the government that was carrying out reforms. The country managed to make this incredibly difficult transition from one type of economy to another. The people’s patience was rewarded. We are seemingly now in the same situation. However, our vector is pointing down, not up. The current patience of Russians might pull the country down. The population has not been integrated into this economy; it has not become its subject. It has elaborated its own behavioral trajectories, tactics, and strategies, which do not correspond in any way to state policy. The state and the populace lead separate lives.

Are you not idealizing the nineties? After all, even now, during a crisis, people’s living standards and incomes are much higher than they were then.

What saved people from hunger and many people from death in the nineties? First, grassroots unorganized trading, whose symbol was the famous shuttle traders. A huge informal trading sector was formed, flea markets emerged, and so on. But this sector ultimately disappeared, losing out to powerful commercial chains. Second, a powerful sector of private household plots formed in small towns and villages in the nineties. Even if they provided no cash income, people lived off the land. During the years of economic growth, this sector has turned into dacha villages with lawns, and has also ceased to exist as a source of subsistence for households. Third, a small business sector took shape in some form, albeit a specific form with many negative traits. Nevertheless, there was entrepreneurial freedom. Now, all attempts to get small business on its feet have led to nothing. The administrative obstacles erected in recent years have shut the door to the big economy for small business. Fourth, by the early noughties, a small but noticeable nonprofit and NGO sector had been established in Russia. Now, many of these organizations have been labeled “foreign agents.” Formally, [many of] the NGOs continue to operate, but they do not have the ability to act freely as they see fit.

These are the four legs that have been sawed off the Russian market economy stool, and it will not be able to stand up without them. The set of factors that prevented social catastrophe in the nineties is no longer functioning.

Maybe other mechanisms will be developed, but so far I do not see them. So everything is going to depend on the speed, depth, and duration of the crisis. But if we proceed from the most probable assumption, that the crisis will shift into a protracted, sticky recession, the quality of services will fall, despite the fact that, purely superficially, universities, schools, and clinics will continue to function. We do not know yet how the population will respond economically to these challenges. It has very few options. In fact, its only option is to wait for mercy from the state. People have been prevented from taking care of themselves.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ilya Matveev for the suggestion.

Land of NOD

nod miting-lurye portait
“Stop American demonocracy! Don’t touch Russia, gentlemen! My country is a great power!” Demonstrators at September 19, 2015, NOD rally on the Field of Mars, Petersburg. Photo by and courtesy of Vadim F. Lurye

Petersburgers, Stop the “Social Bombardment” of the Population!

Coordinator: Tatyana Chuprova

Venue: 4:00 p.m., September 19, 2015, Field of Mars, St. Petersburg

Our President has made significant progress in the struggle to return the sovereignty lost by our country after the defeat of 1991.

The United States could not remain indifferent to a colony’s desire to gain independence. The decline in oil prices, the coup in Ukraine, and the sanctions are all episodes in the economic war declared by the West against our Motherland.

As a result of his commitment to a national course for the country’s development, the head of state’s rating has reached a historic high. Contrary to the expectations of enemies, the people love Vladimir Vladimirovich for his merits.

Therefore, the West has moved on to the next phase, “social bombardment.” The dismissal of police officers, layoffs of doctors, cancellation of welfare benefits, increases in utility rates, and so on are all aimed at undermining our leader’s rating.

The Central Bank is a vital link in the external governance of our country. Under the Constitution, the Central Bank is independent from Russian state authorities. And, according to international agreements, it is subject to the instructions of the IMF. As a consequence, loans in Russia are expensive, the President of Russia’s orders for de-offshoring the economy have been sabotaged, the exchange rate has collapsed, and, along with it, so, too, has the country’s economy.

Let us unite in the face of external threats! Stop “social bombardment”! Let’s express our support for the national leader Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin!

nod miting-suggested image

“Rally, September 19. Stop the social bombardment of the population!” Image courtesy of rusnod.ru

 

Source: Russian National Liberation Movement (NOD) website. Translated by The Russian Reader. See my previous posts about NOD.

Ilya Matveev: Austerity Russian Style

Austerity Russian Style
Ilya Matveev
November 19, 2014
OpenLeft.ru

Despite attempts to confuse and misinform the public, protests in the social sector will continue to grow.

sm13“Only the rich will survive”

Reforms of the social sector in post-Soviet Russia have always had a very important feature: their course has been completely confusing and opaque, and everything connected to the reforms, even their strategic goals (!), has been shrouded in mystery. This is partly a consequence of the extreme fragmentation of the Russian state apparatus, unable to implement a completely coherent reform strategy, but in many ways it is a quite deliberate policy: a policy of disinformation.

The Russian authorities are confident that painful reforms are not necessary to explain, let alone announce, sometimes. One can always give journalists the shake, because who are they anyway? As for the public, it suffices to blame them for not understanding the grand design, for confusing reform and optimization, optimization and modernization, modernization and business as usual. This “spy” policy towards reform leaves wide room for maneuvering. It is always possible to note the level of public indignation and pull back a bit (while making the obligatory remark, “That was the way it was intended!”).

This has been borne out by research. For example, Linda J. Cook, author of Postcommunist Welfare States, has written that when carrying out reforms, both the parliament and the government have relied on a strategy of delays, deliberate obfuscation, and denial of responsibility.

At moments of crisis, chaos and uncertainty in the social sector only grow. Yet now, in my opinion, an absolutely unique situation has taken shape.

First of all, the social sector in Russia has been moved into an austerity regime. This must be noted. Funding will be cut, along with the quantity (and quality) of public services in education, health, and other areas. But how has this austerity been organized?

Paradoxically, it was launched not by a technocratic decision hatched in the bowels of the government, but by Putin’s populist decree on increasing the salaries of state employees. Disinformation has reached its peak: cuts are made to the social sector via a decree that at first glance has nothing to do with it. However, it does, as it turns out. The mechanism is simple. Given insufficient federal subsidies for executing the decree, the regions can carry it out only one way: by cutting some workers while increasing the workload (along with the salaries) of other workers. Of course, the decree does not function in isolation: for example, in health care it is combined with measures to move to “single-channel” financing, meaning that salaries have to be increased, but the only available money is from the health insurance fund. Together, the decree and single-channel financing form a lethal package, leading to indiscriminate layoffs and the closure of health care facilities.

Such is the strange state into which the social sector has been immersed. No less strange is the political spectacle being played out around this issue, a spectacle that reprises in caricatured form the conflict between Party activists and bourgeois specialists in the 1920s. When government and regional “specialists” warn about the impossibility of fulfilling the “order of the Party” (Putin’s May 2012 decrees), “activists” from the All-Russia People’s Front reply, No objections! If you mess up, it’s the firing squad for you! Putin weighs in wisely: the decrees must be carried out, but taking mistakes into account, and without excesses at the local level.

However, the banal fact is that from the outset the federal funds allocated for implementing the decree were not nearly enough, and subsidies will be cut even more in 2015. In such circumstances, implementing the decree on salary increases, in fact, automatically translates into layoffs, increased workloads, and the closure of public facilities.

At the same time, according to Kommersant, “[I]n general, suspension of the decrees may not have to be announced: technically, the government and the administration do not have to do this.”

It is a kingdom of crooked mirrors. “Salary increases” mean layoffs and increased workloads. These increases/layoffs can be stopped at any moment, but what that depends on is unclear. “Activists” are fighting “specialists.” Putin remains calm.

But will society remain calm? The juggling act with Putin’s decrees has not gone unnoticed by independent trade unions representing state employees, including Action, Teacher, and University Solidarity. University Solidarity has already announced protests against cuts to subsidies for increasing the salaries of university lecturers in 2015. The layoffs cannot be hidden, even if they are presented as “increases.”

The rally against the dismantling of the Moscow health care system, on November 2, was the largest social protest since 2005. The protests will continue to grow. In this situation, in my opinion, it is important to point to the clear link between cuts to the social sector and Putin’s policies. The “activists” are no less to blame than the “specialists,” but the main culprit is Putin, who, after all, signed these very decrees. The only way to stop the degradation of the social sector and prevent permanent crisis in the Russian economy, which actually has lasted since 2008, is broad political change.

Ilya Matveev is a researcher and teacher.

Welcome to Sochi

An unexpurgated cri de coeur from the Russian internets:

 1374301_722474414433900_1287996479_n

Вот эту фотографию из подмосковной больницы я бы сделал символом современной России, особенно в свете приближения самой дорогой в истории человечества Олимпиады в Сочи. ( – English translation is below).

Дорогие френды, особенно забугорные – пошлите ее своим друзьям. Пусть расходится по сети. И пусть ухмыляющемуся главарю криминального государства, чье личное воровское состояние оценивается в несколько десятков миллиардов долларов, будет неуютно стоять на трибуне в феврале – оттого, что все уважающие себя политики и знаменитости побрезговали стоять с ним рядом.

Here’s a photo of the local hospital in Boyarkino village not far from Moscow. This is a typical picture, not some extreme one. There are thousands of hospitals, schools and public offices like this in Russia, not only in province, but in major cities as well. I would have made this picture the symbol of modern Russia, especially today, while the most expensive Olympics in the history of mankind are approaching in Sochi.

Dear friends, please, share this with your friends. Let it go over the whole network, so for the world’s most corrupt leader of the most criminal state, whose personal fortune is estimated at tens of billions of dollars, it would not be so comfortable to host this Olympics. Let it be uncomfortable for him to stand on the podium in February, because any self-respecting politician or celebrity would be ashamed to stay next to him.

Meanwhile, back in the fascist fairyland, the locals were getting worked up about the upcoming corporate slugfest down south.
IMG_6258