This Date's Issues: 4550ē4551
Johnson's Russia List
#4551 [last JRL was misnumbered]
1 October 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. AP: Russia Journalist Faces Trial. (Babitsky)
2. The Observer (UK): Amelia Gentleman, Dostoevsky's last relatives
live in poverty. Literary giant's great-granddaughter suffers in penury
as acute as that of the characters in his novels.
3. Masha Gessen: re 4549-taibbi on stringer.
4. The Russia Journal: Otto Latsis, Zyuganov stays loyal to himself.
5. David Filipov: the Adi Sharon case.
6. Robert Bruce Ware: Reply to Blank JRL 4548. (Kursk)
7. New York Times: Douglas Frantz, In an Ex-Soviet Land, High Hopes
are Ebbing. (Georgia)
8. The Russia Journal: Tatyana Matsuk, Rural Idyll ó sometimes with
9. BBC MONITORING: CENTRAL BANK OF RUSSIA FORECASTS 'TOO GOOD TO BE
TRUE' - NEWSPAPER.
10. BBC MONITORING: RUSSIAN STATE PENSION SYSTEM FACES COLLAPSE -
11. The Guardian (UK): Ian Traynor, RUSSIANS FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHT
TO GO UP IN SMOKE.
12. AFP: Tense mood as Russia, rebels mark grim anniversary of
Russia Journalist Faces Trial
October 1, 2000
MAkHACHKALA, Russia (AP) - Andrei Babitsky, a Russian radio reporter who
works for U.S.-funded Radio Liberty and was detained in Chechnya earlier this
year, arrived in Dagestan on Sunday on the eve of his trial for carrying
Babitsky was detained in Chechnya in January for lacking a permit to report
from the war zone, and was turned over to men described as Chechen rebels in
exchange for captured Russian soldiers.
Following the swap, Babitsky eventually resurfaced in the custody of
officials in Makhachkala, in the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan. He
was charged with carrying a forged Azerbaijani passport.
His trial is scheduled to open on Monday. Even if found guilty, he won't go
to prison because his case falls under an amnesty granted this spring, his
lawyer Genri Reznik said. However, he does face a fine or two years of
Babitsky and Reznik have claimed that the fake passport was supplied by the
supposed rebels. After their arrival in Makhachkala, Babitsky and Reznik
picked up some documents from the court house to prepare for the trial.
The Russian government has severely curtailed independent reporting on the
Chechen war, trying to prevent journalists from traveling unescorted and
reporting the rebels' side.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists on Saturday urged the
government to drop the charges against Babitsky.
``This trial is the latest tactic in a concerted Russian government effort to
punish Babitsky for his critical coverage of Chechnya,'' Joel Simon, the
committee's deputy director, said. ``This strategy is also intended to
discourage other journalists from filing independent reports on the Russian
The Observer (UK)
1 October 2000
Dostoevsky's last relatives live in poverty
Literary giant's great-granddaughter suffers in penury as acute as that of
the characters in his novels
Amelia Gentleman in St Petersburg
Confined by her illness to a shabby, sparsely decorated room, the
great-granddaughter of one of Russia's greatest novelists believes the
poverty she faces would have shocked even her ancestor, Fyodor Dostoevsky,
champion of the deprived and destitute.
Tatyana Vysokogorets-Dostoevskaya, 63, never leaves her second-floor flat,
within an ageing concrete block, which was assigned to her a few years ago
when she could no longer meet the rent on her old home.
She has done what she can to make the room bearable. A fraying blanket has
been thrown on the floor in place of a carpet. Rows of plastic pill
containers and medicine bottles are lined tidily on the shelves alongside two
sepia postcards of the novelist and sickly geraniums. Orthodox icons made
from paper have been placed in the corner.
The view from the window shows identical, greying apartment buildings
stretching deep into this faceless suburb, far beyond the last Metro station
to the north of St Petersburg. The distressing sound of a neighbour's
consumptive cough comes through the walls.
Every month she receives an invalid's pension of 865 roubles (£21) from which
she has to pay rent and bills, feed herself and support her unemployed son
and teenage grandson. She has stopped buying meat and fruit and sometimes
cannot even afford bread and milk.
Although she has not read Dostoevsky since she was a teenager, Tatyana is
conscious of the painful similarities between her situation and the lives of
the poverty-stricken people of nineteenth-century St Petersburg who are
described by him in Crime and Punishment .
'Dostoevsky wrote beautifully about the poor, and it's obvious he really felt
for them. But I think even he would have been horrified to see how his
descendants are living,' she said, dropping ash from a strong Russian
cigarette into an empty sardine tin.
Recently she appealed for help in an open letter to a Russian weekly
newspaper which prompted public dismay and a flurry of small personal
contributions from Dostoevsky-lovers - many of them equally impoverished
pensioners - totalling around 2,000 roubles (£50). But there was no official
While moved by these gestures, Tatyana feels the Russian government - which
she says has indirectly benefited from her great-grandfather's work - should
keep her off the breadline. 'It isn't just our family. All over the city
people are living with just as much difficulty now as they did in
Dostoevsky's time. What he described has returned in a horrible new form. He
foresaw it all.'
Hunched in her chair, wearing layers of darned clothes to keep out the cold,
Tatyana makes a convincing Dostevskian figure: defenceless and despairing, an
ordinary person bewildered by how society has treated her.
There are just six direct descendants of Dostoevsky still alive: Tatyana, her
son and grandson, her brother Andrei Dostoevsky (who scrapes together a
living as an unregistered taxi driver), his son and granddaughter. All of
them live in St Petersburg, struggling to survive.
For most of her early life Tatyana was oblivious to the status of her
great-grandfather. With the tightening of ideological controls in the 1930s,
his writings were excluded from the school curriculum and his novels
published rarely until the 1970s. The anti-revolutionary and deeply religious
convictions at the heart of his philosophy were deemed unconstructive. 'He
was considered an obscure writer. Even before I got married and took my
husband's name, people rarely commented on my surname,' she said.
She developed no particular interest in literature and studied at a technical
college before working first as a telephone engineer and then as a state
central heating official. 'When we were children, our father used to read the
books aloud to us, but I found it much harder when I started reading them
myself. He has a very difficult style,' she said.
Throughout the 1960s her father campaigned to have Dostoevsky's reputation
restored and helped to persuade officials to open a museum in the building
where the writer died. Just before her father's own death, she helped him to
take those heirlooms which were not lost along with the family property and
savings in the Revolution - a few pieces of furniture and clocks - from their
flat to be displayed in the new state museum.
In her more desperate moments, she fantasises about the price they might have
got if they had sold these belongings instead. In this same mood, she feels
envious of Leo Tolstoy's offspring, who made themselves rich in the West; she
wonders why no one has ever invited her to attend a Dostoevsky literary
conference; she wants to know why the money still being generated by his
writing never filters back to help her family.
Natalia Ashimbaeva, the Dostoevsky museum's new director, is sympathetic. 'We
know how much she needs help,' she said, adding that staff had done what
little they could to support her, given their own battle against
But she was perplexed by the idea that the state had a moral obligation to
support the writer's relatives. 'She needs an increase to her pension - but
if the state helps her just because she is Dostoevsky's great-granddaughter
it would create a dangerous precedent. They'd have to start helping Chekhov's
relatives and then Glinka's - there would be no way of stopping.'
When she is feeling more rational, Tatyana concedes that her problems are
common to everyone her age. Russia's pensioners are a neglected generation.
Having spent most of their lives working for a system which collapsed
dramatically in their old age, they have been left without the social support
the old regime would have guaranteed them. Stripped of their savings in the
financial crises of the 1990s, those who do not have families to look after
them find their pensions utterly inadequate. Many go on the streets to sell
their possessions or trade cigarettes. Some 12 million pensioners across
Russia are thought to be battling poverty.
'People of my age are no longer living, they are simply existing,' she said.
'Old people are hungry and can't afford to buy themselves medicines.'
She is ashamed she only developed an interest in Dostoevsky late in life, but
says she was guided by other priorities.
'My father used to say, "Never forget you are the great-granddaughter of a
great writer". But I forgot. I married a sailor and became a worker. I
believed in the socialist goal. I believed we were working to build a
wonderful future. The reality has turned out to be nightmarish.'
From: "masha gessen" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: 4549-taibbi on stringer
Date: Sun, 1 Oct 2000
Regarding the announcement of Stringer's new "proslushka" book, here is
what I am wondering: Since when is it ok--and even, apparently, by some
journalists' standards--admirable to publish illegally obtained
information? If we can believe Stringer on the point that some of the
transcripts in the book were obtained during the Media Most raid, here is
the picture I am getting: Media Most illegally taps private telephone
conversations; the police conduct an illegal raid of Media Most offices
(the raid was deemed illegal after the fact by a Moscow court) and
confiscates the tapes; Stringer illegally obtains copies of the tapes
(there is no legal way to btain materials pertaining to an ongoing
investigation--not to mention that we already know they were confiscated
illegally), transcribes and prints the--and this is journalism?
Or consider the earlier instance of the Freelance Bureau, which also claims
to have obtained copies of the Most tapes--and which also published them.
Then the journalist Natalya Gevorkian, whose private coversation with a
writer friend appeared on the FLB's site, said she was "disgusted" that the
conversation had been taped but had no gripe with the FLB people who were
"just doing their job as journalists." This strikes me as insane. "Doing
their job" would have been reporting on the existence of the tapes, having
first confirmed with the people taped that the conversations were genuine.
But publishing the transcripts is not only despicable but plainly illegal.
Here are some of the applicable legal provisions. Article 24 of the
Russian Constitution makes it illegal to "collect, store, use or
distribute" private information without the person's consent. It does not
say that if someone collected it first, you then have the right to
Article 23 of the Constitution guarantees the right to privacy of
correspondence, telephone conversations etc. and says that this right can
be abridged only by a court decision. It doesn't say that if a person's
right to privacy has already been violated by one agency then it is ok for
another agency to repeat the deed. The Law on Mass Media (Article 50)
provides a complete list of circumstances under which the publication of
clandestinely acquired material is allowed: "(1) if such publication does
not violate constitutional rights and liberties; (2) if it necessary in
the defense of the public interest and measures are taken against the
possible identification of extraneous persons; (3) if the information is
broadcast in accordance with a court decision."
It is clear to me that the publication of conversations between Gevorkian
and her friend (who was easily identifiable) and various other
journalists's phone calls did not fulfill these requirements, and I would
take issue as well with the assertion that indiscriminately publishing
transcripts of politicians' and other public figures' conversations is
indispensible to the public. Finally, the Russian Penal Code provides for
up to one year of forced labor for violating a person's privacy (Article
137) and the same penalty for violating a person's right to the secrecey
of telephone conversations etc. (Article 138). Personally, I would love to
see this penalty applied to whoever is tapping my own phone
conversations--but I am starting to think some of my so-called colleagues
should face this threat as well.
The Russia Journal
September 30-October 6, 2000
Zyuganov stays loyal to himself
By Otto Latsis
The Peopleís Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR) ≠ a coalition of various
left-wing parties and movements headed by KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov ≠
has just held its third congress. The congress showed that even though the
recent State Duma lower house and presidential elections clearly confirmed
a weakening in the leftís position, Zyuganovís strategy remains unchanged.
Not many noticed at the time, and few remember now that it was Zyuganov,
the "irreconcilable fighter of the anti-people, pro-Western regime," who
handed power to Boris Yeltsin at the high-point of confrontation.
In October 1993, after the leaders of the uprising in the White House
surrendered under tank fire, Zyuganovís party faced a choice. It could
either participate in the Duma elections proposed by the Kremlin and vote
against the Yeltsin constitution at the referendum ≠ held simultaneously
with the elections ≠ or boycott both the elections and the referendum.
Zyuganov ignored accusations of betrayal and insisted on participating.
This was what decided the fate of the constitution. Most of those who
turned out to vote supported the new constitution, and the communist voters
couldnít change that outcome. But left-wing participation in the vote was
crucial ≠ approval of the constitution required a turnout of at least 50
percent of eligible voters, something that would have been impossible
without communist participation. With the left voting against it, the
constitution could pass ≠ a communist boycott would have scuttled the process.
All the surveys before the referendum outlined this situation and there was
no way Zyuganov couldnít know of it. He also had to know how tension would
have escalated if Yeltsinís project failed.
The failure of Yeltsinís plans would have taken the fight from the polling
booths to the streets, where Yeltsin would have had the security services
and armed forces on his side. Vladimir Leninís Bolsheviks in 1917 would
have chosen to fight in the streets without hesitation, but Zyuganov chose
a different road. Zyganov remained a committed opponent of the "regime" in
word, but in deed he became leader of "her majestyís opposition."
As a reward, Zyuganov came very close to winning the 1996 presidential
election, but Russiaís left let the chance slip through its hands ≠
subsequent elections have shown the chance of victory is gone for good.
Since then, criticism of Zyuganov has escalated within the ranks of his own
party ≠ and the very existence of the NPSR has come under threat.
Zyuganov has been deserted by well-known politicians such as Kemerovo
governor and former presidential candidate Aman Tuleyev and the leader of
the Spiritual Heritage movement Alexei Podberyozkin. The KPRFís main ally,
the Agrarian Party, has also split. But in this difficult time,
national-patriotic notes have begun to sound in some of President Vladimir
Putinís speeches, and this has given Zyuganov room to maneuver and a
certain chance for renewal.
This was particularly clear in the aftermath of the Kursk tragedy, which
gave both Putin and Zyuganov ≠ the latter formally in opposition to the
government ≠ reason to increase their military-patriotic rhetoric. In the
end, Zyuganov publicly stated that his party was willing to support the
president and government if the latter was prepared to renounce the
economic reforms outlined in German Grefís program.
Putinís reply was silence, but Zyuganov quickly made his next move,
actively supporting the stateís action against Media-MOST. The situation
became completely transparent ≠ in a clash between an opposition media
company and the state, the countryís main opposition party took the side of
Some communist leaders are visibly worried by these tendencies. First
Deputy Chairman of the KPRF Vladimir Kuptsov said at a recent Central
Committee plenum that he doesnít believe Putin will really come round to
the leftís views, and that it would damage the communists to get too close
to him. Kuptsov also heaped reproach on Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, who
in founding a new movement ≠ "Russia" ≠ is, in Kuptsovís opinion, splitting
Kuptsovís criticism was not so much a passing of sentence as a warning.
Zyuganovís supporters understand that losing Seleznyov would also mean
losing control over the top job in the Duma. And Seleznyov knows that
leaving the KPRF would cost him his job as Duma speaker. He probably
created "Russia" with the next elections in mind, but they are still a long
way off and in the meantime, he is in no hurry to make public his
disagreements with Zyuganov. Nonetheless, more people are starting to say
now that the NPSR is losing its meaning.
The latest NPSR congress under Zyuganovís leadership has set everything
straight. The NPSR will remain alive, "Russia" is to be part of it, and
Seleznyov has been elected as one of its six co-chairmen. At the congress,
Zyuganov spoke of the need to "have a more active and effective impact on
the real state of affairs." Another speaker at the congress, chairman of
the NPSR executive board and deputy Duma speaker Gennady Semigin said that
even now, "under a regime that is against the people," the NPSR can and
must do much to improve peopleís lives and raise the countryís economic
potential. Much was said about reinvigorating the NPSR and its strategy,
though it is hard to see what this renewal will consist of when it is
becoming ever more clear that Zyuganov and his backers are moving ever
closer to the authorities.
From: "David Filipov" <email@example.com>
Subject: the Adi Sharon case
Date: Sun, 1 Oct 2000
David: Adi Sharon was indeed held in Penza, never in Chechnya. But
Russian police "found" him through gang members who were operating out of
Chechnya and Ingushetia. As my article points out, the chaotic situation
in Chechnya was something kidnapping gangs in Russia also took advantage
of. In fact, my article was not an attempt to justify the war, rather, it
pointed out how complicated these kidnappings are as a political issue on
which to hang the war's justification. Much to the distress of those who
wanted me to write about how the kidnappings justified the war, I should
add. I don't believe in simplistic formulations like that. Or rather,
honest reporting never seems to reveal simplistic formulations. As JRL
readers have no doubt tired of hearing, one don't always get to fit in all
of what one reports. Thus, the apparent sloth with which the Adi Sharon
case was investigated, the fact that Russian investigators had a clue as
to where he was but held back (they say they were trying to nab the whole
gang), the obvious fact of Rushailo's "political point-gathering" flight
to Israel -- these are important facts that ended up on the editing-room
floor of that piece. The author takes full responsbility. David Filipov
The Boston Globe Moscow
From: "Robert Bruce Ware" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Reply to Blank JRL 4548
Date: Sun, 1 Oct 20001
This debate has resurfaced more often than the Kursk. I keep hoping that
it will settle to the bottom so that we can all get on to other things,
and I note that it is in fact settling to the bottom of David's table of
contents. Hence, I regret that Stephen Blank opened with the claim that
for me "the issue in the Kursk has nothing to do with U.S. security." I
wrote that the issue was indeed US national security, albeit a broader
understanding of that issue than Mr. Blank seems prepared to consider.
Since it was never very likely that Secretary Cohen would read these pages
and relent, the only real merit of our debate has been its distinction of
two different approaches to our national security. Mr. Blank, Mr.
English, Mr. Herspring, and Mr. Trout have plausibly, conventionally, and
narrowly interpreted security in terms of the maintenance of absolute
secrecy surrounding our nuclear submarines. I haven't denied the
importance of such considerations. However, I have tried to balance those
concerns with a broader view of our national security.
Eight years ago we were counting our "peace dividends" and grinning at the
prospect of friendship with the Russian people. Since then we have
largely forsaken that opportunity, and I view this as the greater threat
to our security. Having been in Russia during and after the sinking of
the Kursk, I can confirm that many ordinary Russians are concerned about
American involvement in the disaster. Since I believe that Russian
leaders are lying about our involvement I think that candor with the
Russian people on this point might have been our best security strategy.
I have tried to show that while this would be difficult to accomplish, it
might have been possible to locate a mutually acceptable inspector.
Dissension among our resident experts (who, at various points, have argued
that inspection would be a highly technical affair, requiring the vessel
to be dry-docked, except that effects of such a massive collision would
have forced our submarine immediately to the surface and would now be
obvious to any shipyard worker) has failed to raise the issue from its
murky depths. Hence, I remain disappointed by Mr. Blank's argument, which
runs essentially as follows: We know the Russian leaders are lying;
therefore let's not call their bluff. But since we know that they are
lying, wouldn't be in the interest of our national security at least to
try to find a way to show the Russian people that this is the case?
Or take Mr. Herspring's argument: Since it has always been done this way,
it must always be done this way. Let's hope that submarine security
remains high, but since our approach toward Russia over the past decade
has been generating a security threat perhaps it is now time to innovate.
By persevering in our search for an enemy we have squandered an
opportunity for friendship with the Russian people and we have played into
the hands of those Russian leaders who persevere in tarring us as an enemy.
Re the exchange of Mr. Getov and Mr. Hunter the Kursk's experimental
torpedo was produced by Dagdisel at its facility Kaspisk, Dagestan. The
company is a long-time manufacturer of torpedos and military planes for the
Soviet Union and Russia.
New York Times
October 1, 2000
[for personal use only]
In an Ex-Soviet Land, High Hopes are Ebbing
By DOUGLAS FRANTZ
RUSTAVI, Georgia - The factories built as part of the great Soviet
industrialization undertaken for Stalin, Georgia's native son, stand empty.
The ugly concrete apartment houses for the workers are crumbling. The shops
display few wares, and every traffic light is off to save electricity.
Only the soup kitchen seems to be thriving as a line snakes out the door.
Etery Guedashvili, 61, emerges from the squat building, carrying her ration
of soup in a jar and bread wrapped in paper, a meager meal that embodies the
dashed hopes for democracy and prosperity all across the former Soviet
republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia.
At first she is embarrassed by this handout. But humiliation fast turns to
anger, and she spits out her indictment of the government.
"I worked in a military production plant for 30 years and I earned a good
pension," she said. "Now I get only 12 lari a month, and they don't even pay
that. I would go back to work, but there are no jobs."
Twelve lari is $6, the average pension. Often the government does not have
enough money to pay even that pittance, or the salaries of teachers, police
officers and judges.
Rustavi was once a model of the Soviet economy, a new city built in 1948 for
160,000 residents whose lives centered on the bustling factories. Today,
Rustavi is a model for the stubborn poverty gripping a vast region rich in
oil, gas and strategic importance but short of the hope that even five years
ago buoyed forecasts of a better tomorrow.
Details and degree differ from country to country, but everywhere there is
the same volatile mix of ethnic and religious strife and despair over
government failure to create even the prospect of wealth.
The people here, particularly the middle-aged and elderly, grew up secure in
the belief that the state, however hated, would meet their needs, and they
can scarcely cope now that it patently does not.
"The standard of living for large sections of the population has been falling
now for 15 years," concluded a new report by the International Crisis Group,
a private organization in Brussels. "And there are political forces already
mobilized to exploit any outburst of popular discontent."
The report dealt with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzebekistan, but the
assessment is depressingly similar elsewhere.
Georgia, whose modern political star is not Stalin but Eduard A.
Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister who helped tear down the
Berlin Wall, was supposed to be different. It is a country of rugged beauty
and rich culture, with a population of about five million in a mountainous
area slightly smaller than South Carolina. The first independent state was
founded in the fourth century B.C., and Christianity became the state
religion in fourth century A.D.
Five years ago, Georgia seemed poised to become something of a model for the
triumph of Western values and the free market.
The bloody civil war and the chaos that followed independence in 1991 were
over. Mr. Shevardnadze, newly elected as president, was highly regarded in
the West. He carried out democratic reforms and, with help from the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund, created the fastest growing economy
among the region's former Soviet republics.
Then things went awry. The Russian financial crisis in 1998 robbed Georgia of
its export market for machinery, agriculture and wine. Next, fighting resumed
in the breakaway ethnic enclave of Abkhazia in northwestern Georgia. Both
there and in a second separatist region, South Ossetia, peace remains elusive.
The economic woes deepened this summer when drought destroyed 80 percent of
the wheat crop and drained reservoirs.
But the biggest problem is corruption, which is so rampant that the
government cannot collect enough taxes and customs duties to pay salaries and
pensions regularly, let alone reduce the $200 million in foreign debt or curb
its budget deficit.
Teachers in the eastern region of Tianeti refused to open the schools in
September, because they had not been paid for 10 months. Residents in
Tkibuli, in the west, blocked streets to protest the lack of electricity.
In an interview at his office in the capital, Tbilisi, Mr. Shevardnadze, now
72, acknowledged the difficulties but said he remains optimistic. He
described plans for improving health care and irrigation and new efforts to
improve tax collection.
There is some potential help from a much-debated proposed pipeline from Baku,
Azerbaijan, to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, but that is a bit further down the
road, and more speculative. The pipeline would pass through Georgia,
generating jobs and eventually about $50 million a year in transshipment fees.
"We have gone only halfway there in terms of economic development," Mr.
Shevardnadze said. "It is a slow process."
One reason for the agonizing slowness of change is the prevalence of the
Soviet-era mentality, especially in societies that were predominanty feudal
and rural when the 1917 revolution suddenly foisted Communist visions of
equality and forced industrialization on them. "Stalin and Lenin taught us to
stay in one place and wait," said Alexander Rondeli, director of a research
center linked with the Foreign Ministry. "This condition did not change
overnight. There is no Soviet Union, but we live in the Soviet Union. We have
the same values and the same mentality."
The leadership mentality is similar, too, in most of the former republics.
Authoritarian leaders have centralized power and neutered the opposition just
as Kremlin bosses once did. Mr. Shevardnadze is a leader of equal longevity,
dominating Georgia for much of the last 35 years.
True to his foreign reputation as one of the men who helped Communism
collapse relatively painlessly, Mr. Shevardnadze has steered a more
democratic course than other former Soviet leaders. Power is shared among the
strong presidency, the judiciary and the legislature, though Mr.
Shevardnadze's party controls Parliament and the opposition is weak.
But corruption, from a booming black market in oil and cigarettes to bribery
of officials, remains almost intractable because of the tightknit, clannish
nature of Georgia and because some of those involved are longtime associates
of the president and he remains loyal to them.
"Corruption is the key to the economic future of the country," said Gela
Charkviani, a senior adviser to Mr. Shevardnadze. "If we can deal with the
underlying corruption, we can collect enough taxes and other revenue to pay
the salaries of the teachers and all the pensions."
A seven-member commission has just completed work on a blueprint for
scrubbing the government, but details have not been disclosed.
What is apparent is that the effort will have to be tough and thorough to
save people like most residents of Rustavi, a city built 25 miles southeast
of Tbilisi along the Kura River on the site of an ancient village said to
have been destroyed by Tamerlane at the end of the 14th century.
Steelworks and ironworks were started to supply the Soviet military and
agriculture, and chemical factories produced pesticides. All of them polluted
the river, a toxic residue that adds to the city's troubles.
But the modern destruction of Rustavi occurred when the Soviet Union
collapsed. The market for its goods evaporated. In the chaos that followed,
armed gangs and free- lance looters pillaged the factories and sold the
machinery for scrap.
The local authorities estimate unemployment at higher than 50 percent, but
that seems low to Malkhaz Irenadze, who runs one of the city's two soup
kitchens for the Salvation Army. Each kitchen gives away 1,000 meals a day,
he said, adding that he could easily serve 10 times as many.
For many of those who go there, the only meal of the day is thin soup,
vegetables, bread and an occasional sausage.
"This is a frozen city," one older woman said bitterly. "The government has
The Russia Journal
September 30-October 6, 2000
Rural Idyll ó sometimes with conveniences
By Tatyana Matsuk
When friends invite me to visit them at their dacha, I donít hastily accept
the invitation. Rather, I try to find out first exactly what is meant by
the word "dacha." After all, a dacha ≠ a summer house with a plot of land ≠
can come in a great variety of guises.
New Russians like to build what they call "kottedzhi," not sweet little
cottages, but palatial dwellings, the bigger the better. These "cottages"
come with all the attributes of a wealthy lifestyle ≠ an underground
garage, swimming pool, jacuzzi, fireplace and so on. If money is plentiful,
the imagination will keep up.
In one of the first jokes in a series about New Russians, a New Russian
asks his architect to build him three swimming pools ≠ one with hot water,
one with cold water and one without water at all for his friends who didnít
know how to swim.
A New Russian dacha canít be built just anywhere; the location has to be
prestigious. But as there isnít much prestigious space left around Moscow;
these rural palaces either sprout up in the middle of former collective
farms or end up crowded in among all the other kottedzhi. Open the window
and thereís your neighborís wall right in your face. Itís enough to wonder
what the point was of leaving the city behind.
For the pensioner who was lucky enough to get a patch of dried-up swampland
by the state during Perestroika, thereís no dreaming of country palaces.
First of all, thereís the three hours it takes by train, bus and foot and
to get to the place, and then the average pensioner only has enough money
to build a tool-shed-cum-summer kitchen on his land. If itís a hot summer,
you can sleep there. In any case, people go to this kind of "dacha," not to
rest, but to work in the garden and make stocks for winter. For many
families, this is their only means of survival.
But the dachas of most Russian families lie somewhere between these two
extremes. The best dachas, built for rest and relaxation, belong to the
descendents of the early Soviet intelligentsia ≠ writers, artists, actors
and scientists. These dachas were built before the war and sometimes have a
whole hectare of forest or garden around them along with all the comforts
of the city, including, often, the telephone. Anyone who has seen the film
"Burnt by the Sun" will know the kind of dacha I mean.
After the war, dachas became more modest and came with less land. Perhaps
this is because people began to make more use of state dachas, where they
didnít have to do anything themselves (not ordinary people, of course, who
didnít have any dachas at that time).
For several summers, my family rented a room in a dacha village built for
generals, where almost all the two-story houses had been brought over from
Germany. These houses came with decent furniture, a TV, fridge, heating,
gas stove and sometimes even a shower. But you had to cut wood for heating,
bring water from a well, and worst of all, go to the toilet in a little
shed built over a hole in the garden ≠ what we called "outdoor
conveniences." Once, I was even invited to a dacha where the "conveniences"
were behind a fence on the other side of the road.
These days, many dacha villages are connected to the gas network, some have
pumps to bring water in from the well, and some have bio-toilets. But most
dacha owners received their land during the Soviet years, when the norm per
citizen was sixth hundredths of a hectare and everything was strictly
regulated ≠ the kind of house you could build, how many bushes and trees
you could plant and of what species.
There was no room in these dachas for "in-house conveniences." And more
often than not, the owners of these places didnít have the money to make
the necessary improvements. Being a property owner in Russia comes with a
whole bunch of headaches.
If half the family just wants to relax at the dacha, the other half has to
work in their place. If the whole family just wants to relax, they rent out
the dacha and use the money left over from its maintenance costs to go to
But over the last decade, many have come to use their dacha as an
additional source, of often very important income. Itís like having a
second job ≠ as a gardener. For people originally from the country the
dacha is simply their parentsí home where they go during the summer. Under
the influence of Latin-American soap operas, people have started calling
these former collective farm houses haciendas.
Some city dwellers have also bought up these houses on the cheap, but 100
km or more is a long way to travel, and thereís nothing out there except a
traditional Russian oven, water from the well, sometimes a bath house, and,
if youíre lucky, electricity. Itís nice to spend a bit of time communing
with nature like this if youíre fit and healthy, and if the weather is
good. But if it starts to rain, after three days, this kind of rural
paradise starts to feel like hell.
Still, dacha life has its charms. Lying on the grass, for example, picking
an apple straight from the tree and living in a wooden house. Itís enough
to reconcile us to using "outdoor conveniences."
(Tatyana Matsuk is a regular columnist for The Russia Journal and a former
researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences.)
CENTRAL BANK OF RUSSIA FORECASTS 'TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE' - NEWSPAPER
Source: 'Kommersant', Moscow, in Russian 26 Sep 00
With its forecast of 12-14-per-cent inflation, 4-5-per-cent GDP growth and
a real-terms strengthening of the rouble in 2001, the Central Bank of
Russia has shown itself in agreement with the government's own budget
forecasts for next year. The Central Bank's Basic Guidelines for Unified
State Monetary and Credit Policy in 2001 were recently approved by the
government. The 'Kommersant' newspaper notes that because of their focus on
a single optimistic scenario, neither the draft budget nor the bank's
guidelines provide answers to the question of what will happen if factors
such as the oil price defy predictions. The following are excerpts from the
article by Andrey Bagrov, published on 26th September under the headline
"Zero-choice economy - Messrs Kasyanov and Gerashchenko secretly agree with
'Kommersant' has obtained a document entitled... This is still a draft - it
has yet to be approved by the State Duma. Nevertheless, in this case even
the draft is important. Because it is a matter of two issues that interest
everyone: what will inflation be next year and what will be the dollar
The document answers these two questions as follows. First question: "In
2001 the [Central] Bank of Russia will pursue a policy aimed at reducing
inflation to the level of 12-14 per cent per year (December on December).
Growth in GDP of around 4-5 per cent is consistent with this level of
inflation. At present to set the aim of a lower level of inflation could
limit demand and retard the pace of economic development." Second question:
"The [Central] Bank of Russia proceeds from the premise that the level of
the rouble exchange rate, while stimulating exports, must not be a bar to
imports and will make it possible to continue to accumulate gold and hard
currency reserves... [newspaper's ellipsis] On the basis of the existing
macroeconomic development forecasts, it is proposed to further continue the
process of a slight strengthening in the real rouble exchange rate."
So next year inflation will decrease appreciably (the Central Bank believes
that inflation for 2000 will be 18-20 per cent). Economic growth will
remain quite rapid (this year the Central Bank estimates that GDP will
increase by 5.5-6.5 per cent). The Central Bank would reduce inflation even
more, but does not want to damage the pace of economic development. The
dollar exchange rate will go up, but by less than 12-14 per cent (which
will mean a slight strengthening in the rouble). Everything will be fine so
far as exports, imports and reserves are concerned.
Central Bank head Viktor Gerashchenko announced all this at the government
session at the end of last week when he presented the draft "Basic
Guidelines". The government approved the draft. However, Mr Gerashchenko's
report featured on the agenda under the rubric "confidential matter". Why
was it confidential, if everything is so good? What is there to conceal?
The point is clearly not that the Central Bank and government were ready
for a fierce argument and did not want to make it public too soon. Last
year they did indeed have an argument: the government questioned the
reality of the economic growth forecasts contained in the Central Bank
draft. And the Central Bank actually agreed to recall the draft from the
Duma and revise it slightly. But this year the forecasts of the government
and the Central Bank coincide entirely. The draft 2001 budget also includes
economic growth of 4-5 per cent and inflation of 12-14 per cent.
The only striking feature of the document that might justify its
confidentiality is precisely the fact that it is all too good to be true.
And it resembles the draft budget too closely. The "Basic Guidelines"
contain no alternative possibilities. They contain just one - optimistic -
scenario. But what will happen if, for instance, oil prices suddenly begin
to fall sharply? There is no answer in either the budget or the "Basic
Guidelines". Moreover, the State Duma may reject the draft budget in its
present form (some deputies have already demanded that the budget inflation
forecast be revised - after all, projected revenue hinges on it). In that
case the Central Bank forecast will also have to be revised, to ensure
consistency. In this sense it is indeed too soon to make the document public.
RUSSIAN STATE PENSION SYSTEM FACES COLLAPSE - NEWSPAPER
Source: 'Segodnya' (Internet version), Moscow, in Russian 23 Sep 00
If left unreformed, Russia's state pension system will be in danger of
collapse in 7-8 years' time because of the increasingly untenable link
between pensions and the average wage, according to the `Segodnya'
newspaper. The solution proposed by Pension Fund Chairman Mikhail Zurabov
is to peg the indexation of pensions to the subsistence minimum. But the
government's proposal to invest Pension Fund surpluses in state securities
fails to inspire confidence in the light of the GKO state bond crash two
years ago, the newspaper said. The following is the text of the article by
Nikolay Chekhovskiy, published on 23rd September under the headline
"Pension socialism - population decline threatens collapse of state social
The state will be forced to undertake pension reform in the next year or
two. Otherwise it will not be able to fulfil its social obligations in the
future. This was announced to journalists yesterday by Chairman of the
Pension Fund Mikhail Zurabov. In his words, the current demographic
situation in Russia and the reduction of pensions to a single value
(regardless of the labour wage and also, accordingly, of the insurance
premiums that have been paid by pensioners to the Pension Fund), which is
already being implemented, make it impossible to retain the status quo.
With a sharp decline in the number of economically active citizens as
compared with the number of pensioners, the simple distribution of
insurance premiums - as is being done today - will cause a reduction in the
sum received by each pensioner. However, the legislation in effect for the
present day (the famous law 113) "ties in" the amount of the average
pension to the amount of the average wage throughout the country. In other
words, there will be less money, but the same amount will have to be paid
out. In about 7-8 years, the ratio of pensioners to workers will reach that
critical value after which the Pension Fund budget will inevitably go into
deficit. This will lead to delays in payment and in fact to a collapse of
the state pension system.
Moreover, in accordance with the currently effective formulas for indexing
pension payments, in a few years practically all pensions will be equal to
the maximally allowed value. For example, next year the amount of the
average pension will comprise around R1,300, while the maximally allowable
(for November of 2001) pension of R1,500 will be received by 12-13 per cent
of pensioners. But already by 2001 [as received], 97 per cent of the
recipients will be receiving the maximally allowable pension in the amount
of R3,000. Under these conditions, persons who are working will have no
incentives to legalize their income - after all, the amount of their
pensions will not depend on the sum of contributions to the fund.
In the opinion of Mikhail Zurabov, the solution to this problem is to
"disengage" the amount of pensions from the amount of wages of the active
population and to tie it to the value of the subsistence minimum. Since
today's economic prognoses predict that growth of the average wage will
surpass inflation in the next 10 years, the budget surplus ("proficit") of
the Pension Fund will increase as the transition to the new system is made.
As of 2002, part of this money is to be directed towards formulation of the
"savings element" of the Pension Fund. According to the information of
`Segodnya', for the present time, the Cabinet of Ministers sees only one
way of putting this money to work - by using it to buy state securities.
Already as of 2007, the income from these securities will make it possible
to make individual supplemental payments to the base pension, which will be
equal to the amount of the subsistence minimum. However, two years ago the
Pension Fund was already burned on purchase of GKOs [state short-term
bonds], which were "frozen" after the crisis. As yet, it is unclear why we
should place more trust in the new state securities.
The Guardian (UK)
30 September 2000
RUSSIANS FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHT TO GO UP IN SMOKE
By Ian Traynor
Thirty-thousand feet up and three hours from Moscow, the no-smoking lights
went off and the stampede began. A late booking had left me no option but
to settle for a smoking perch at the back of the Aeroflot 350-seater. A
smoker myself, I had no objection. But then came the invasion of the
Two groups of wealthy Muscovite teenagers, on their way home from a school
trip to London, were on board. They swarmed to the back by the dozen,
chucking packets of Marlboro across the rows. The seat beside me was vacant
- momentarily. Three youths piled into it simultaneously, puffing away in
The obligatory bossy babushka on board went ballistic. "Young woman, young
woman, you shouldn't be smoking. You're too young." True, the girl looked
about 10. The OAP was greeted with a sneer. The flight assistants were
summoned to sort out the melee. They shrugged and walked away.
It's not to everyone's liking, but to my mind, being able to have a fag on
a four-hour flight is one of Aeroflot's redeeming features. The airline
clearly agrees and is resolved to defend the freedom to light up more or
less on demand.
In a country where civil liberties seem to come and go on the whim of
whoever is occupying the Kremlin, the Russian can depend on a few
inalienable rights - vodka and tobacco are the fixtures. They are also, of
course, the big killers.
More than one in three of the population - children included - smoke. The
rich pickings from this colossal market is a boon for the global tobacco
giants in disrepute in the west. But if one kind of American is keen to see
Marlboro Man thrive in Russia, another kind - health-obsessed and politi
cally correct - is Aeroflot's problem. More specifically, I am referring to
Last April the US president banned smoking on flights leaving from or
arriving in America. But according to the thunderings of Aeroflot this
week, this ban is a breach of international law and the principle of
"We are capable of deciding ourselves whether or not our passengers are
allowed to smoke on flights," said Aeroflot's top lawyer, Boris Yeliseyev.
"This is also an intrusion into the economic activities of foreign
companies outside the US."
Aeroflot said it was appealing to the International Air Transport
Association to put the White House back in its box and have the ban lifted.
But if the Americans are keeping Russians from smoking, the reverse, it
seems, is also true - American Big Tobacco is killing Russians. No less a
figure than Vladimir Kozhin, a close aide to non-smoking President Vladimir
Putin, has just filed a suit in the same Florida court that recently
ordered the tobacco companies to shell out Dollars 145bn (pounds 100bn) in
damages to US smokers.
What's good for the Yankee goose is just as good for the Russian gander.
"Russia's expenses amount to millions if not billions of dollars," the
Kremlin claim stated.
The smoke-filled vodka-soaked room is the standard setting for political
deals in Moscow. But maybe that's changing under the beady, abstemious eye
of Mr Putin.
Taking their cue, perhaps, from the asceticism of the new boss - a far cry
from the bibulous heyday of Boris Yeltsin - the duma, or lower house,
recently voted by a huge majority to ban smoking in the chamber.
It seemed an utterly uncharacteristic nod to clean living. But then, Alexei
Mitrofanov, one of the clownish extremists who adorn the duma, explained
that the vote was directed not at the Russians, but at the wicked Americans.
"It's part of a larger campaign against the western tobacco monopolies that
control the Russian market," he reasoned.
Tense mood as Russia, rebels mark grim anniversary of Chechen war
MOSCOW, Oct 1 (AFP) -
A tense atmosphere gripped Chechnya on Sunday as federal troops and
separatist rebels marked the grim anniversary of the entry of Russian ground
forces into the breakaway republic on October 1, 1999, news agencies reported.
Russian sappers foiled an assassination attempt against the republic's
administrator Akhmad Kadyrov, exploding a remote-controlled bomb planted near
the pro-Moscow leader's house in the village of Tsentaroi, east of the
nominal capital Grozny, Interfax said.
Meanwhile, at least three people were killed and 13 injured by Chechen rebels
in the 24 hours leading up to the anniversary, ITAR-TASS reported.
But Russian military commanders took no emergency measures to beef up
security as the fatal day loomed, and a spokesman for separatist Chechen
President Aslan Maskhadov said rebels were not planning any large-scale
Russian soldiers and elite interior ministry troops (OMON) continued a wave
of clearing-up operations in Grozny as well as Chechnya's second city
Gudermes and other key centres.
"For the moment we have been given no special orders. We have just been told
to be even more alert than usual," OMON serviceman Konstantin, 28, told AFP.
But eyewitnesses in Chechnya saw no evidence of the customary roadblocks used
by the Russian military to prevent rebel movements at times of high
attention, except in the Vedeno region where skirmishes have continued
nonstop since the start of the war.
The fighting in Chechnya, which began on October 1, 1999, with the Russian
army's intervention in the breakaway republic, has officially left almost
2,400 Russian troops dead, though the real death toll is twice that,
according to the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers.
Maskhadov argues that the war has cost the lives of 45,000 civilians and more
than 2,500 rebel fighters.
The outbreak of hostilities also sparked the mass exodus of more than 250,000
people, of whom between 120,000 and 170,000, according to sources, have yet
to return home and now face a second winter in refugee camps.
The war has already cost the Russian military hundreds of millions of dollars
but the threat posed by rebel guerrillas, who launch daily attacks on federal
convoys, or by the ubiquitous landmines, shows no sign of receding.
More embarrassing still for Moscow, human rights organisations are no longer
the lone voices in the wilderness decrying abuses carried out by Russian
The former mufti (Islamic spiritual leader) Kadyrov, who heads the
pro-Russian civilian administration in Chechnya, has warned of an "uprising"
if federal troops continue to act with such impunity.
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