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The New Opiate of the Masses


The State Duma has passed another law that will deliver a big blow to culture, education and public health. The struggle against those sectors has been going on for years, but it appears that this time the deputies are determined to finish them off for good. The law clearly demonstrates the intention of the state to release itself from any remaining social responsibility that it still has toward the people. Science, culture and education will now have to fend for themselves — or die off completely.

According to officials, the law is intended to “optimize budgetary expenses.” What this means in reality is that these expenses could be eliminated altogether. If the law goes into force, most educational and public health institutions will be removed from the federal budget as of Jan. 1, 2011.

On the other hand, scientific, scholastic and cultural institutions will be given carte blanche to earn money any way that they can. Thus, we could very well see hospitals renting out rooms to store alcoholic beverages and schools renting out classrooms to warehouse cigarettes.

What’s more, the government will soon stop assuming the burden for debts accumulated by schools, hospitals and libraries. As a result, we might begin seeing museums or medical clinics going bankrupt and closing their doors in the near future.

The luckiest organizations will be designated as “state establishments,” but it is too early to congratulate those organizations; the law also states that their “surplus assets” will be seized. For now, we can only guess as to who will determine what is surplus, which criteria they will use and how much they will be allowed to take. Siloviki agencies, orphanages, prisons and psychiatric hospitals are slated to become “state establishments.” So, unless you are in uniform, crazy or sitting in prison, don’t count on getting any help from the government.

At the same time, the authorities are continuing to work toward their favorite goal — the merging, consolidating and downsizing of hospitals, schools and universities. After all, who needs so many scientific institutes? Why do small villages need schools at all?

The same question could apply to village hospitals: Why do villagers need hospitals in the first place? After all, since they live so close to Russia’s pristine nature, they get lots of fresh, clean air and have no right to get sick. Perhaps they could revive the country’s tradition of mystical healing and other centuries-old rural practices.

The authorities understand perfectly well that the growing number of educated young people have nowhere to apply their skills. And neither the government nor the private sector is prepared to create massive numbers of industry jobs. Thus, the millions of young people who will enter the labor market in the next two to three years will find themselves placed in that unfortunate category called “surplus.”

But the authorities have their own logic for their actions. If those surplus people are not only unemployed, but also educated, they could pose a serious threat to the ruling authorities. It would be better, they believe, if the people spent hours every day in front of the television watching mindless series and entertainment shows, drinking or taking drugs than reading books.

In all of this downsizing and budget cutting in Russia’s core educational and medical infrastructure, nobody is planning to cut funding for prisons and psychiatric hospitals.


Boris Kagarlitsky

Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements in Moscow

Boris Kagarlitsky is a well-known international commentator on Russian politics and society. Boris was a deputy to the Moscow City Soviet between 1990-93, during which time he was a member of the executive of the Socialist Party of Russia, co-founder of the Party of Labour, and advisor to the Chairperson of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia.  Previously, he was a student of art criticism and was imprisoned for two years for ‘anti-Soviet’ activities.

Boris’ books include Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (Pluto Press, February 2008, Russia Under Yeltsin And Putin: Neo-Liberal Autocracy (TNI/Pluto 2002) and New Realism, New Barbarism: The Crisis of Capitalism (Pluto 1999).

Source: TNI / The Moscow Times

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