Volgograd Forum, April 30, 2002


Last April we have had two Forum meetings.
The first one took place on April 10. There is a chemical factory in Volgograd "Khimprom". Until late eighties it used to produced dangerous chemical substances, which could be used as chemical weapons. Then, under the agreement with the United States its production was stopped and the respective equipment is being dismantled under the supervision of the US inspectors.
The controlling stock of this factory belongs to the state, though some shares are privately owned. In recent months stock brokers started buying up "Khimprom" shares that are circulating at the open market. It is rumored that a wealthy financier wants to take a position in the company and finally obtain a control over it. These rumors have been strengthened after a State Duma deputy closely connected with him put pressure on the Government to impel it to sell its stock.
The general manager of the factory Leonid Kutyanin asked me to give him a chance to address the Forum in order to alert the public against this move. He thought that the factory disposing of such dangerous technologies should not be controlled by a single person and must remain in government hands until, at least, its transition towards nondefense production.
Mr. Kutyanin's address was well accepted by the audience and got good coverage in the media. His point of view seems to have prevailed because a Government spokesman made a statement it had no intention to sell its stock.
The other Forum that we held on April 29 was more socially oriented. Beginning from March, 1 the Russian Government told regional administrations to raise the apartment rent in municipal houses up to 80 percent of its actual cost. Otherwise it threatened to stop federal subsidies to the regions that would not comply.
At first, it did not make a stir because for the last decade the rent has been going up all the time. But people were shocked when they got the bills in April. The rent was up twice as much as it had been before. Many families had to apply to social security agencies for subsidies because they could not afford such a high rent. In Volgograd it would probably be every fifth family.
Such an abrupt rise has already caused protests, in some cities people went into the streets. Others chose a passive protest. In the City of Volzhski, for example, one-third of the bills have not been paid.
We invited Deputy of the State Duma Vassily Galushkin to speak on this theme. He belongs to the pro-Putin "United Russia" Party and consequently supports this decision of the Government. He tried to explain to the audience that it is better to subsidize every fifth than every one and that better-off families must pay the actual cost of the rent. He also said it is necessary to create a competition between maintenance companies, which are now owned totally by municipalities and are not interested in lowering their running costs.

Alexander Yevreinov
Director, Volgograd Free Speech Forum


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