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Author`s name Michael Simpson

Russia: Splendor and Miseries of the Social Split

The split of the society is the most dramatic result of the recent transformations in Russia; this may entail even more serious negative consequences
The split of the society is the most dramatic result of the recent transformations in Russia; this may entail even more serious negative consequences, the director of the Institute for Social and Economic Problems of the Russian population in the Russian Academy of Sciences, Natalya Rimashevskaya says. "The present-day situation has no objective foundation: rich and very rich people didn't obtain money working hard; these people just took advantage of the situation and misappropriated things that never belonged to them."

About 36 million of Russians are living below the poverty line now; it makes one quarter of the Russian population and half of the group is children. About 35-40 per cent of Russia's population belongs to a group of indigent people. Incomes of the new poor are lower than the living wage officially fixed by the government. And this is at the time when the living wage makes up about one half of the living wage established for the year of 1991, at the period when the country experienced rather difficult circumstances as well. Natalya Rimashevskaya says that improvements "come slowly, almost insensibly".
She adds that the 30 per cent increase of the population's incomes which is often mentioned by the official statistics is in fact lies. This increase doesn't concern the real situation in the country but characterizes the living standard of the high-paid group of the population. The group makes up about 7 million people or 5 per cent of the whole of the Russian population. These are the people who build gorgeous villas, buy expensive cars and do shopping at luxurious boutiques where ordinary people never appear. This group of the population makes foreign and Russian experts wonder that the living standard has so considerably increased in Russia. The polarization of the society is even more serious that it emerged suddenly against the background of total pauperization when incomes of the majority of the population reduced two or three times. This fact aggravates the marginalization of the society that brings more and more Russian to the social bottom. 

How great the marginalization is? The ratio between the wages paid to 10 per cent of the high-paid and the poorly-paid Russians makes up 30 which ranks Russia among Chile, Brazil and Mexico. 40 per cent of Russian families have no savings at all.

The polarization entails the split and disintegration of the society which is so serious that even changes the behavior pattern of the Russian population. In fact, we are now having two Russias that hardly understand each other. The two groups are absolutely different, and the split between them will even aggravate. The problem can be solved only with system reforming that will be carried out in the interests of majority of Russia's population.

The Director of the Institute for Complex Social Research in the Russian Academy of Sciences Mikhail Gorshkov added new details to the portrait of the Russian poor. The average age of such people is 47 years. Contrary to the traditional stereotypes, these people are not pensioners (pensioners make up only one quarter of the poor), they are workers, even highly qualified ones (37 per cent) and Russians with higher education (one fifth approximately). The Editor-in-Chief of the Sotsiologicheskiye Issledovaniya (Sociology Researches) magazine Zhan Toshchenko says that the characteristic feature of the category is that these people honestly work but are paid wages insufficient for normal living. Doctor of Psychological Sciences Mikhail Reshetnikov calls this category of people "the working poor". The poverty is particularly evident in small cities and in villages: only 17-19 per cent of the population belongs to the category in large cities while this group includes about one third of the rural population. Half of the poor have poor nutrition; about 80 per cent of such people have no opportunities for good rest; one third of such people has given up on themselves and don't struggle against the problems of life. This fact poses a really serious problem for future generations: from very beginning children of the poor are deprived of prospects for promotion and development. This in its turn undermines the competitiveness of the country.

Mikhail Gorshkov is sure that a national program must be developed to overcome the poverty in the country. He adds that a political power that develops such a program will have the greatest political perspectives in Russia.

Economists and sociologists have mentioned several times already that Russia has no program of this kind or at least a concept for poverty overcoming. Almost all of them suggested radical changes in the long-term strategic policy for solution of the problem. Academician Dmitry Lvov has made more substantial propositions. He says that the main reason of the terrible split in the society consists in the root problem of property that is still ignored upon all levels of Russia's structure. At least two thirds of Russia’s total income is made by natural resources, the potential that has nothing to do with business.
70 per cent of the budget is formed at the expense of payments from the fund of remuneration of labor. This is the main reason why the social health of the nation is undermined. What Russia got from God must belong to everyone, but in fact it belongs to individuals.

The academician once again suggested the idea of natural rent about which he has been speaking for many years but in vain. This innovation will be accompanied with serious changes in the tax legislation, abolishment of the value-added tax, introduction of a progressive scale of property taxation and increase of spending on education and health care.

Does the whole situation in the country mean that a social outburst may occur in Russia? Experts say that nothing of this kind will occur soon for several reasons. Mikhail Gorshkov says that a generation has formed in Russia that relies only upon itself, not upon the government. The society is no longer a single whole. At that, the experience of Russians for survival in emergency situations is so great that there can be hardly a substantial reason for large-scale social protests in the country. Dmitry Lvov says that if the present-day situation is preserved the role of Russia in the world will be radically changed for the worse.

Yana Amelina