Rospotrebnadzor Axes “Public Refrigerator” in Petersburg

“A Project like This Is Impossible in Russia”: Why the Public Refrigerator Has Closed Forever
The organizer of the first public refrigerator in Russia explains why European know-how did not catch on here
Julia Galkina
The Village
November 16, 2016

Public Refrigerator on Vasilyevsky Island. Photo courtesy of The Village and Svetlana Kholyavchuk/TASS

The first public refrigerator opened on Sunday, November 13, in Petersburg, outside the Thank You! charity shop on Vasilyevsky Island. The organizers had hoped that all comers would put unwanted food in the refrigerator and freely taked it. The refrigerator operated for exactly one day. (Read Greenpeace’s report about what that looked like.) On Monday, November 14, state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor sealed the refrigerator, explaining, “We welcome charity, but the present case concerns not items for the poor, but food products. With all due respect to the organizers, if food poisoning happens and someone gets hurts, Petersburgers will blame us.” On Tuesday, November 15, the organizers abandoned the idea and removed the refrigerator, remarking that “the project is not compatible with Russian legislation.” Now they “are looking for other forms of foodsharing offline.”

Such public refrigerators exist in Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, Poland, and other countries. Why can Europeans manage it, but we cannot? We talked about this with Alexandra Lyogkaya, founder of the project Foodsharing: I Give Away Food for Free.

“As far as I know, the public refrigerators in European countries also work on the person-to-person system, the same way we wanted to organize it. The authorities there do not interfere with the work of such projects. In Russia, on the contrary, it didn’t take off, unfortunately.

“Thank You! was the only team in the city who agreed to try out the public refrigerator project with us. They made their porch available. We did all the prep work together, printing stickers and distributing adverts. It was a completely joint project. We did not vet anything with officials. We thought about it, but probably we counted on the good experience in western countries.

Queue at the public refrigerator on Vasilyevsky Island. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace
Queue at the public refrigerator on Vasilyevsky Island. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

“People brought a lot of products—sweets, fruits, and so on—right at opening time. The refrigerator opened at twelve noon on Sunday, and Rospotrebnadzor sealed it on Monday around one-thirty in the afternoon. Even afterwards people came to pick up and bring food. As far as I know, they keep coming even now. They just leave it outside, and someone has picked it up a few minutes later.

“We had no restrictions. Anyone at all could bring and pick up food. Of course, many old women and old men came to get food. By the way, originally, the idea had been that the refrigerator would be used by people who could not get food through our group page on Vkontakte. Yet many old ladies said they were also willing to bring food themselves.

“I was ready for anything. That the refrigerator would be stolen, that it would break down, that the police and regulatory authorities would come. Rosprotrebnadzor’s visit upset me, of course, but I cannot say I was in shock or didn’t expect it. I tried to be mentally prepared for any outcome.

“Rospotrebnadzor told us that a public refrigerator was impossible in Russia. We could organize a cart to feed all comers or a public cafeteria, but not something in which anyone can donate products. So each volunteer would have to have the relevant papers. If you put pasties or jam in the refrigerator, show us your certificates listing the ingredients and how it was made, stored, and transported.

“Because our project is purely nonprofit (no money is involved), we would not be able to organize something big-scale like a cafeteria. For now, unfortunately, we have nopt come up with a way of doing an offline foodsharing project that would be legal and just as simple as the public refrigerator.

“I really liked the way people reacted well to the refrigerator. I think that matters more than what happened later. If the authorities had allowed us to put it there, but people had not understood the idea and been against it, it would have been much worse.  So we just need to find the right form. People both young and old are ready for such a project.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

“We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Ekaterina Schulman

Ekaterina Schulman. Photo courtesy of Andrei Stekachov and The Village

Political Scientist Ekaterina Schulman on Why You Should Vote
Anya Chesova and Natasha Fedorenko
The Village
September 16, 2016

This Sunday, September 18, the country will vote for a new State Duma, the seventh since the fall of the Soviet Union. The peculiarity of this vote is that it will take place under a mixed electoral system for the first time since 2003. 225 MPs will be elected to five-year tears from party lists, while the other 225 MPs will be elected from single-mandate districts. Several days before the elections, The Village met with Ekaterina Schulman, a political scientist and senior lecturer at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). We talked with her about why you should vote if United Russia is going to win in any case, as well as about the changes in store for the Russian political system in the coming years.


The Upcoming Elections

The Village: On Sunday, the country will hold the first elections to the State Duma since 2011. The social climate in the city and the country as a whole has changed completely since that time. Protests erupted in 2011, and the people who protested on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue believed they could impact the political situation. Nowadays, few people have held on to such hopes. What should we expect from the upcoming elections? And why should we bother with them?

Ekaterina Schulman: Everything happening now with the State Duma election is a consequence of the 2011–2012 protests, including changes in the laws, the introduction of the mixed system, the return of single-mandate MPs, the lowering of the threshold for parties to be seated in the Duma from seven to five percent, and the increased number of parties on the ballot. These are the political reforms outlined by then-president Dmitry Medvedev as a response to the events of December 2011. Later, we got a new head of state, but it was already impossible to take back these promises. The entire political reality we observe now has grown to one degree or another out of the 2011–2012 protest campaign, whether as rejection, reaction or consequence. It is the most important thing to happen in the Russian political arena in recent years.

The statements made by Vyacheslav Volodin, the president’s deputy chief of staff, on the need to hold honest elections, Vladimir Churov’s replacement by Ella Pamfilova as head of the Central Electoral Commission, the departure of someone more important than Churov from the CEC, deputy chair Leonid Ivlev, and the vigorous sacking of chairs of regional electoral commissions are all consequences of the protests. If they had not taken place, nothing would have changed. We would still have the same proportional voting system, the same seven-percent threshold, the same old Churov or Churov 2.0. Continue reading ““We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Ekaterina Schulman”

Sixteen Blue

“Putin Has Been in Power My Whole Life”
On the occasion of International Children’s Defense Day, The Village spoke with 16-year-olds about Vladimir Putin, social networks, and future plans
Lena Vereshchagina
The Village
June 1, 2016

Vladimir Putin has been in power, as president and prime minister, for over sixteen years. During this long period, a whole generation of people has come of age who never lived in the “pre-tandem” era and have a faint idea of what political succession is and why it is necessary. On the occasion of International Children’s Defense Day, the Village met with four 16-year-old schoolchildren and talked with them not only about politics and the permanent leader but also about social networks, the Soviet Union, and their priorities in life.

Vasya, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin
Vasya, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin

I am in the tenth grade at a French-language magnet school. I studied for six months in the US in the ninth grade. Things are definitely different there. I wound up at a private school where everything revolves around providing a full-fledged education. There was virtually no free time, and the schedule was quite hard. Under those circumstances, it is probably easier to find yourself. I remember I was invited to attend charcoal drawing lessons. They had everything to make them happen: a wonderful studio with huge windows and an unlimited supply of charcoal pencils. The atmosphere at my school in Russia is less creative.

Now I am in the physics and mathematics stream. Mom influenced my choice of specialization. She said the hard sciences were a good occupation for men. I am interested in programming. I would like my job to jibe wholly with my personal interests, for my profession to be my mission in life. At the same time, Mom has advised me to seek work abroad. Russia is going to stay put, after all, and working abroad can be a very rewarding experience.

We have not had a TV at home since 2006. When wired Internet became available, we immediately began using it alone. I try and spend as little time on the web as possible. I am aware that the flow of information from the social networks is unlimited. You read one thing, you get distracted by another thing, and you look through something else. You can fritter away your whole life like that. I try and be on the Internet for short periods of times. Sometimes, when I am riding the subway to practice, I get on the web and look at something.

I read voraciously. When I have free time and want to read a book, I read it without stopping. I can not pick up a book for two weeks, but then come home from school and blaze through the entire second volume of War and Peace in three hours. It took me two or three hours to read it. I read fairly quickly. I read it when I was ill, and then I immediately grabbed the third volume. Besides what is in the school curriculum, I read books Mom recommends. She gave me, for example, Yuri Lotman’s Conversations on Russian Culture and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lectures on Russian Literature.

I imagine the Soviet Union as a strict regime. I know that people could not just go abroad in those days. You could not just pick up and go to England or France. People had fewer opportunities.

The main principle I saw abroad was that power must change hands. But we have had the same president for sixteen years. Vladimir Putin has personally done nothing bad to me, and I wish him all the best.  But I realize it is beneficial for him to hold this office, and profitable for his friends. Power does not change hands, and accordingly society makes no progress in any direction. I think it is good when there is at least elementary competition. Some people in my class do not care about this. They are happy about the annexation of Crimea and believe it was legal. Some have never been abroad, but think the US and Europe have been behaving aggressively towards Russia, and now we are going to get up off our knees and show them all. Due to this, I have no desire to socialize a lot with my classmates.

My grandmother and grandfather live in Smolensk. They watch a lot of TV, and everything shown on TV is the unquestionable truth to them. It is really hard to talk with them about politics, so we have agreed not to touch the topic. Mom and I do not discuss politics, because we get home late and try and talk about peaceful topics.

Nika, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin

I am a pupil in the Higher School of Economic’s magnet school in the liberal arts stream. I study literature, philosophy, cognition theory, and subjects related to philology. In the future, I plan on applying to the HSE and majoring in philology.

I read everything I can get my hands on, because for now I am only learning to distinguish good literature from bad. For example, I read the stories for teenagers Mom buys me, the things on the reading list at school, and beyond that. Right now, I am reading Leo Tolstoy’s novella Family Happiness. I also love Iain Banks and Richard Bach. I read about four books a month.

In my free time, I hang out and watch movies. What kind of movies? Everything under the sun. I like something simple. I watch a lot of TV series, even more than movies. They are somehow easier to process. My favorites include The Big Bang Theory, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, and Game of Thrones. I never watch TV. Only occasionally do I watch morning cartoons with my little brother.

My friends and I often discuss plans for the future, important world events, life at school, and other kids. I think the life of modern schoolchildren would be impossible without social networks. Many of our teachers also have accounts on them, and they often put our homework assignments on VKontakte to simplify things. I don’t spend more time on the social networks than anyone else: a few hours a day.

Some of the classes in my school are taught by teachers who are only twenty-five or so. In fact, we are not so different from them. They also spend time on social networks and socialize with their friends in a similar way.

I imagine the Soviet Union the way it is shown in old movies, meaning there are jolly schoolchildren and ice cream, it is always a beautiful time of year, and there are lots of tyrannical adults who tell the young people what to do. The 1990s, in my opinion, were really cool. You could easily get what you wanted without hassle. Without making any effort, you could make a fortune.

I don’t understand anything about Russian politics. I just know that Vladimir Putin runs the country, and some reforms should be implemented, but they are not being implemented. Or they are being implemented, but not in the way many people would like. But I cannot make heads or tails of it. At home, we do not touch on the topic, because my mom is not interested in politics. At school, if someone talks about it, I just listen and draw my own conclusions.

Putin has been in power my whole life. It is funny. I just don’t how it could be otherwise. I think everything is okay, and there have been no visible changes in my life over the past ten years. I think Putin has done a good job as president: no wonder he has been in power for such a long time. Meaning he has experience and knowledge that he can draw on. He is fairly influential, and the whole nation listens to him, so I think he is okay.  The other politicians whose names come to mind are Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Sergei Shoigu, and Vitali Klitschko.

Arina, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin
Arina, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin

I go to an English-language magnet school and am in the engineering stream. My favorite subjects are English, Russian, mathematics, and probably physics.

In the second grade, we went on a tour, and the guide asked us, “Who wants to be president?” No one replied, but I thought, “Why not?” I said out loud I wanted to be president. Since then the idea has stuck in my head. Now I am involved in youth politics and am a member of the Young Guard of United Russia. I have learned a lot of things about politics there. I have been growing personally, and meeting and socializing with lots of interesting people from this area. I don’t know what way life will turn, but maybe in the future I will be able to join the party, and if I don’t become president, I can simply be involved in politics. Politics attracts me, because I feel I can change things. I like situations in which there are business-like relationships, turns of events, excitement and competition, socializing with interesting people, and the possibility of taking responsibility and making important decisions.

I communicate with people on social networks, but I cannot say I hang out there. Sometimes, I make a point of not going on Vkontakte to read the news so I can get more done in real life, not in virtual life. I think life was more interesting before the advent of the Internet. Children were more focused, more interesting in learning and growing. But now the Internet does everything for them.

I don’t have much time to read. We are assigned a lot in school, so mainly I have to study the literature in the curriculum. My favorite Russian writer is Alexander Pushkin.

We are different from the generation of 25-year-olds. We have more technology, information, and stress. I look at children younger than me, remember what I was like at their age, and realize I didn’t know the words they know and couldn’t do the things they are able to do. I think 25-year-olds think the same thing about us.

It is a pity the Soviet Union collapsed. It was a good time. I cannot say that people lived very badly then. After all, the country was developing its industries, and the factories were working. But now, when practically none of it is left, it is hard to recover.

If you believe the stories, films, and history lessons, the 1990s were a time of bandits. Money and connections reigned then, and there were many murders. I have nothing more to add.

My classmates and I mainly take about our classes at school and the events we have there. I discuss politics with Dad. He enjoys talking about it.

I am fine with the fact that Vladimir Putin has been in power so long. After all, for anything to change, something like fifteen to twenty years have to pass. If any reforms are taking place, they include plans for the future. Such reforms are taking place right now. Of course, there are downsides to Vladimir Vladimirovich’s policies, but they are not overwhelming.

Putin is a strong and worthy president for our country. In the current circumstances, another leader would have done worse or would have been crushed. But not Vladimir Vladimirovich. I respect him.

Masha, 16. Photography by Ivan Vanyutin
Masha, 16. Photograph by Ivan Vanyutin

I go to the Physical and Mathematical Lyceum, but I am in the socio-economic stream. I love social studies, history, and English, and mathematics, too. I hate physics and computer science.

I have also been studying German so that in the future I can go to university in Germany, a plan my parents have really been encouraging. I would not even think about leaving Russia were it not for them. I think students suffer in our country, and lecturers are not at all amenable to them. In Europe, on the contrary, they try to help and support students, and if they don’t get something, they explain it to them. I would like to work in the social sphere, for example, as a psychologist in some company, but for the time being it is just a dream.

My classmates and I often discuss the news, but not political news. Rather, we gab about what is happening in the world. And of course we gossip.

Throughout the day, I periodically log onto the social networks to reply to messages and read what friends have posted.  But now I have been conducting an experiment. I deleted my page on VKontakte, and I try to use the phone only in cases of real need. Then I started reading a book, and real life became more dynamic.

I read a lot, but I am rarely manage to read what I want. I spend a lot of time reading what is in the school curriculum. I have very little free time: every day there are tutoring sessions, extra classes, and evening courses. But when I get a free minute, I spend time with friends or alone, read, watch movies or play the guitar.

My parents and I have a tradition: we often watch TV series in the evening together, sometimes Russian series, sometimes American. But I don’t watch TV at all. There is simply no time for it.

I think people who lived in the Soviet Union had it very hard, simply because there was no freedom of choice. There were things you had to do, and things you could not do. Joseph Stalin was a very controversial person. Although maybe he was doing the best he could. I can believe this was what he thought.

I know that there was perestroika in the 1990s. According to Dad, things were very hard, because there lots of bandits.

I know quite a lot about current politics. My parents are ardently in the opposition. Since I was little, I have been hearing from them how bad Vladimir Putin is and how horrible Russia is.  Of course, I discount half of what they say, and I keep track of events in the country myself. I don’t like everything, of course, but I try to be nonjudgemental.

The accession of Crimea is one of the most significant political changes of recent times, of course. I think everything in Russia changed dramatically in the aftermath. Those two viewpoints: Crimea is ours or Crimea is not ours; I think everything went wrong then. One also immediately recalls Nemtsov’s murder. It is unclear why a leader of the Russian opposition was murdered on the street.

I have lots of thoughts about Putin. I said that Stalin, perhaps, had good intentions, but for some reason I am certain that Putin doesn’t have them. He says one thing, and then does the complete opposite, at least when it comes to fighting corruption. Corruption is well developed in Russia, but Putin tries not to do anything about it. There have also been reports (I don’t know whether they have been confirmed or not) that he has bought houses in Italy and Spain.

It is hard to imagine anyone else in Putin’s place, because he has been president my whole life. I even get a bit scared that he will never resign. Things are also complicated by the fact that I don’t see any other candidates for the job.

I am not sure that things will be better if someone takes his place. I think it depends not on the government, but on society itself. He has not just been sitting there for so many years. People have voted for him.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of The Village. See my previous posts in this occasional series on young people in Russia today and the moral panics generated around them by the media, politicians, and the public.

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