PEACE, LABOR, FEBRUARY
Izvestia, February 27, 2003, p. 1
Yesterday the Association of Non-Industrial Workers’ Trade Unions launched Russia’s most extensive protest campaign since Vladimir Putin became president: it covers over 80 Russian regions. The trade unions are sure that their demands, presented in various forms – from demonstrations to open letters – are supported by all 15 million Russian workers employed by state sector organizations. They demand wage rises (the average state-sector wage is now 3,000 rubles a month); elimination of wage arrears (now totalling 2.5 billion rubles); and a radical revision of reform plans for state sector remuneration.
Preparations for the campaign have taken nearly six weeks. It will end on Friday with rallies in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other cities. The forms of protest are: demonstrations, pickets, worker meetings, stop-work periods, and collecting signatures for petitions in the form of open letters to the government. The largest demonstrations are in the Kirov and Irkutsk regions, where teachers have not received their wages on schedule for several months. However, the payment of wage backlogs is not the main demand of the trade unions. The main demand is for changes to the government-approved reform plan for state sector remuneration.
The second and most serious accusation against the reformers is that they are attempting to transfer responsibility for financing state sector remuneration from the federal government to the regions. The labor reform is based on federative reform principles, which propose giving up centralized regulation of wages for state sector workers.
According to the plans written by the Labor and Social Development Ministry, pay scales set by the government will only be compulsory for state sector organizations subordinate to the federal government. But most state sector enterprises are subordinate to regional governments, and the regions will be permitted to set pay scales depending on the state of their finances. The Labor Ministry is preparing to include a provision in the law that territories should set pay scales at no lower than the federal level. But the federal government itself will only guarantee regional state-sector workers the minimum wage; and it has already allocated 10.6 billion rubles in the federal budget for these remuneration reforms.
Yesterday the trade unions demanded that the government should provide state guarantees that pay scales would meet sectoral rates.
“We believe that the sectoral labor payment systems can only exist if enough money is allocated for them,” says Mikhail Kuzmenko, leader of the Russian Healthcare Workers Trade Union. “Meanwhile, most regions currently receive subsidies from the federal government in order to pay state sector workers.”
The trade unions complain that the government disregarded their opinion when discussing the concept.
“The mood here and in the regions is like this: we’re going all the way to prevent these reforms being implemented in their present form,” Mikhail Kuzmenko emphasizes. “If they don’t listen to us, we’ll start preparing a general strike.”
CHECKPOINTS ON HIGHWAYS
Moskovsky Komsomolets, February 27, 2003, p. 2
The federal government seems determined to bring law and order to Chechnya. This concerns not only countering terrorism, but also the federal forces stationed in Chechnya. At the last meeting of the Security Council the president proposed (ordered, essentially) a reduction in the number of checkpoints on the roads of Chechnya. What consequences might this have for the military in Chechnya? We asked Anatoly Kulikov, first commander of the federal group in Chechnya, former interior minister and current Duma member.
Question: If checkpoints are removed, the Chechen militants will be free to move about as they please. Consequently, it will become easier for them to carry out attacks…
Anatoly Kulikov: To all appearances, the checkpoints will be retained on major highways. As for other roads, traffic will be allowed only by daylight. These measures are supposed to be enough, in principle.
Question: Why will the checkpoints be removed? Is it because soldiers demand bribes at checkpoints?
Anatoly Kulikov: This is a problem not only in Chechnya, but all over Russia. But I do not have any information about violations at checkpoints.
Question: Do you think removal of checkpoints will improve the situation in Chechnya?
Anatoly Kulikov: What Putin said in his speech inspires optimism. The president clearly pointed out what should be done in the controllable areas. Road traffic will be put in order at last. I suggested it as far back as several years ago, for I saw that having a vast number of checkpoints yielded no desirable result. Yes, it worked when military operations were underway, but now we have to shift from quantitative methods of controlling the area to qualitative ones, which are more appropriate for a time of peace.
HEAD OF THE MOSCOW HELSINKI GROUP: THERE ARE MORE DEFEATS THAN VICTORIES
Izvestia, February 27, 2003, p. 7 EV
On February 27, the presidential human rights commission will meet to discuss its plans for the year ahead. Liudmila Alexeeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), comments on those plans.
Question: How has the human rights situation changed recently?
Liudmila Alexeeva: On the whole, it has neither improved nor worsened. Some regions have seen improvement, while in others things have deteriorated. In general, violations of human rights are widespread, with officials facing no punishment for that. Chechnya is the biggest problem. It is hard to say, but I might compare the situation there to conditions in Nazi-occupied areas of the Soviet Union during World War II. Soldiers, often drunk or on drugs, set about “restoring constitutional order” – and ordinary citizens have no protection against them. They are worse off than they were during the first war in Chechnya.
Question: What are some other primary concerns in terms of human rights abuses?
Liudmila Alexeeva: Beatings and torture at police stations. Two years ago we drafted a law on public oversight of the prison system. It passed through three readings in the Duma, but the government turned it down. We are going to propose it once again. In the meantime, there has been considerable improvement of conditions in preliminary detention centers. The number of inmates has substantially decreased, so conditions improved.
Question: How do human rights activists know this? Do you have access to preliminary detention centers?
Liudmila Alexeeva: In some regions we have, in some we do not. But we work fairly closely with the Justice Ministry, which is responsible for the prison system.
Question: It seems to me that human rights activists inform the public about the situation, rather than changing it.
Liudmila Alexeeva: The capabilities of human rights activists are underestimated in Russia. Still, we do help people, and the authorities take us into consideration. Our voice has become louder recently, since the number of independent media outlets has been reduced, while we remain independent.
Question: How many human rights groups are there in Russia?
Liudmila Alexeeva: Our database lists over 2,000, but that is not all, of course. I think there are tens of thousands of people involved nationwide.
Question: What are the sources of funding for human rights activists?
Liudmila Alexeeva: Out of thousands of organizations, only a few hundred have any financial assistance. Most organizations simply do their work. Those who have money receive it from two sources. In the past, money mostly came from western grants: the foundations of Soros, Ford, Bell. We cannot use state funding, because our objective is to protect citizens from the state.
Question: How do you get on with the authorities?
Liudmila Alexeeva: All leading human rights organizations are represented in the presidential human rights commission.
Question: Does the president listen to human rights advocates?
Liudmila Alexeeva: Last December we spoke out on the subject of Chechen refugee camps in Ingushetia, which had been threatened with closure by December 20. We stated our opinion to Mr. Voloshin, and the result is as follows: around 19,000 people currently live in those camps and no one is going to evict them. If the president had not given his instruction, the situation would be quite different now. Recently, at a meeting with regional leaders, the president advised them to listen to human rights activists.
Question: You have applied so much effort, even established contact with the president; but the situation in Russia, according to you, remains as it was. Don’t you feel somewhat disappointed about your work?
Liudmila Alexeeva: A job like ours cannot yield results rapidly, especially in a country with such deeply-rooted problems. We need to be optimists, for there are more defeats than victories at the moment.