Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#3 - JRL 7269
July 29, 2003
Russian Summer of Discontent

The average person in Russia is unlikely to be very interested in GDP growth, investment dynamics, world oil prices or the size of the country's gold and currency reserves. Ordinary people are clearly going to be much more interested in more mundane problems: the availability of food and medicine, the provision and quality of communal services (gas, electricity, water, waste disposal etc.), transport problems, the lack of children's playgrounds and other such 'trivial' matters that make up a person's everyday life.

The authorities have not yet lowered themselves to a serious examination of these kinds of problems. However, members of parties planning to take part in the forthcoming State Duma election have given consideration to the life of the average citizen in their particular region. They have thought about it and decided to carry out a poll, not out of curiosity but, in their own words, 'in order to draw up a strategy for the future development of the country that won't just see economic indicators go up but will improve people's quality of life.'

'Are you satisfied with your healthcare, cultural matters, the quality of your home, your security:' are just some of the questions asked in the federal research project entitled 'The standard of living of the population of Russia's regions', which was held on the initiative of the Russian People's Party.

Part of the results of this research was presented to journalists on July 22 in Murmansk. People's Party officials said that the results could be considered a full-scale sociological analysis of the situation within the country as a whole and in certain regions in particular. A report based on the results will also be handed to President Vladimir Putin.

The research was carried out between December 2002 and May 2003 by the Social Innovations non-profit foundation with the help of the International Academy of Social Technology and local authorities.

According to official statistics, about 30% of the country's population lives below the subsistence level. However, the People's Party says that 'it is impossible to believe the official statistics' because its research shows that almost half of all Russians live below the subsistence level.

30.6% of residents in Vologda said they were 'dissatisfied' with their standard of living. The same response was given by 42.2% of Kaliningrad residents, 42% of the Leningrad Region's residents, 31.2% of the Murmansk Region's residents, and 40% of Arkhangelsk's residents. Only 0.6% of the Murmansk Region's residents and 0.5% of St. Petersburgers think that they have a 'high' standard of living. And in Kaliningrad not a single person felt able to claim that he or she lived well.

On the whole, the research shows that about 60% of Russians have a low standard of living. This means that the population is not satisfied with its financial situation, working conditions or the work of the government. Most Russians describe their lives as uncomfortable.

The research picked out a number of particularly pressing problems that contributed to people's dissatisfaction with their lives. For example, if we take the housing and communal services sector, people are angered not so much by the high tariffs on services but by their low quality, particularly interruptions to heating, water and power supplies.

In the Murmansk Region the picture regarding dissatisfaction with the housing and communal services sector was quite strange. Most residents (52.4%) were dissatisfied in some way or other by the low standard of communal services. However, they were unable to be any more specific in their complaints. For example, 9.1% of Murmansk residents were unhappy with the lack of facilities in their courtyards. In Kaliningrad and the Leningrad Region these figures were 14.8% and 20.7% respectively. Although the state of the housing and communal services sector was not described as good in any of the regions surveyed, the Murmansk Region was one of the few regions where people didn't complain about difficulties with obtaining housing subsidies.

The most common complaint about healthcare was that it has recently become increasingly difficult for the average person to see a doctor. This complaint was made by 26.5% of the Murmansk Region's population (against a nationwide figure of 32.5%). This was followed by the poor quality of healthcare (16.8%), the high cost and low quality of medicine (12.2%) and a lack of doctors (11.8%).

People's main complaints about shops were the low quality of goods on offer, their high price and the poor quality of service in shops and markets.

In the Murmansk Region, 21% of residents complained about the low wages received by teachers when questioned on education. In comparison, nationwide only 4.6% of people mentioned teachers' pay. For residents of the Murmansk Region, 'the large number and high cost of fee-based services in secondary schools and universities' was the second most pressing problem (17.9%). This problem was the leading complaint in the Kaliningrad Region (61%) and was named by 20.4% of people throughout Russia.

The poor quality of roads was named by 54.9% of Murmansk Region residents as the biggest problem connected with transport. A further 17% mentioned inadequate public transport. People in the Murmansk Region were least worried by the inconvenient running hours of public transport and the fact that roads are badly cleaned. Only 4.3% of respondents thought that the cost of public transport was the biggest problem.

41.5% of people in the Murmansk Region named the police's lack of respect for the public as the biggest security problem. This was considered far more important than police corruption and bribery and rising crime.

What do the results of the People's Party's poll tell us? Firstly, that people who may have little idea about GDP and budgetary issues can clearly see the causes and consequences of their own everyday problems, especially those that affect their families and relations. Secondly, that even after 15 years of wide-ranging reforms and capitalism, the main reasons for national discontent are still the old Soviet bugbears: bad roads, poor service, difficulty in seeing a good doctor, difficulty in protecting one's legal rights etc.

Who do people hold responsible for the current situation and for resolving their most pressing problems? Judging by the results of the research, Russians largely believe that the state is still responsible for everything that happens in the country. On the whole, the answers given to questions on the responsibility of different levels of government (from the federal government to local authorities) suggest that Russians have one main demand today: government should pay more attention to ordinary people.

People in Murmansk probably based their evaluation of government structures on this idea. Just under half of those polled gave the Murmansk regional governor a 'satisfactory' report, 37.9% opted for 'unsatisfactory' and only 14% gave him a 'good' mark. Even more people were unhappy with the Murmansk regional parliament: 51.5% called it 'unsatisfactory', 40.2% 'satisfactory' and only 8.3% thought it merited a 'good' mark.

There is one more point that deserves special attention. The sociologists who conducted the research came to an unexpected conclusion: the basis for positive changes in the economy and society as a whole is people's faith in their own abilities and in the decency of their neighbours. Unfortunately, Russians still lack this faith. Instead, they continue to believe that everything depends on the state.

Yekaterina Ivanova, Rosbalt Translated by Robin Jones

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