Volgograd Forum, July 1, 2002


How pleasant it was to watch and read reports on G8 Summit in Kananaskis.
All these years I have been complaining that Russia was underestimated and trampled on. Now my country got full membership in the Group of Eight and the right to host a 2006 summit, despite, as some reports said, " the puny size of its economy".
Of course, some comments stated, Russia got this as "payback for President Vladimir Putin's unprecedented support for the US-led war on terror".
But I think that Russia deserves this place not only as a reward but for the role it still plays in world affairs. And as for the "puny" economy, there are, as you know, changes for the better and I hope that before long Russia's economy will be as great as its territory and natural resources.
The biggest hindrance to our economic progress is, of course, lack of economic freedom. Some days ago the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation published its annual Index of Economic Freedom. Russia again occupies one of the places at the bottom of the list.
At this end we try to do what we can to change this unhappy situation. By now you might have read my story in the "Trud" national daily newspaper about the three-hour strike of small-business owners in Volgograd last April. Such strikes swept over the country recently, but in Volgograd they had an especially mass character. Small entrepreneurs in Russia are now united in a non-profit organization called "OPORA" ("SUPPORT"). Our friend Vladimir Leontovich leads the Volgograd Branch of it. He proved to be an able organizer and in a short period of time managed to build up an influential group which is to be reckoned with by authorities.
Economic freedom was also the subject of our monthly Forum which we held on June 27. The speaker was Mr. Pavel Mironenko, Head of Anti-Monopoly Committee for the Volgograd Oblast. This is a Federal Government Agency which is to supervise over the local government and economic organizations in respect to their compliance with anti-monopoly law.
Mr. Mironenko cited many violations of that law by local authorities. For example, last year the Volgograd Oblast Governor tried to prevent private farmers from selling their crops to exterior buyers making them sell it to the Oblast at a fixed price. Thus he wanted to keep bread prices at a low level. There are numerous examples when the local government tried to interfere with private companies that wanted to sell their stock telling them who must be the buyer etc.
It was an interesting discussion and sort of revelation for the people present because the activities of the anti-monopoly agency are usually hushed by the local authorities since they often rub against their ambitions. In Russia it is often the case when the rights of minority share-holders are violated and Mr. Mironenko said anyone can come to them and make a complaint.

Alexander Yevreinov
Director, Volgograd Free Speech Forum 


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