Da The Moscow Times del 21/01/2005
Originale su http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2005/01/21/001.html

Mothers' Protest Is in the Mail

di Oksana Yablokova

Yekaterinburg pensioner Elvira Myasoyedova's son Dmitry, a 30-year-old Army officer, was killed by Chechen rebels in the assault on Grozny in the wee hours of New Year's Day, 1995.

As the mother of a serviceman killed in action, this New Year's Day she lost her entitlement to a range of Soviet-era benefits, from free commuter rides and prescription drugs to discounts on telephone bills.

The best of these modest perks -- a free round trip to anywhere in Russia, every two years -- she used to visit relatives in Moscow or Tula. Since she lived alone, the trips were a lifeline as she struggled to come to terms with her loss.

Now most of her benefits are gone, replaced by a single cash payment of 150 rubles ($5) per month.

Under the new law on the monetization of benefits, passed by parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin last year, this meager allowance will not even cover the cost of a one-way ticket to see her family.

But rather than join the tens of thousands of other angry pensioners on the streets, 62-year-old Myasoyedova is registering her protest in a different way: She's sending the 150 rubles back to Putin.

This week, Myasoyedova went with 14 other mothers of soldiers killed in the war to her local post office, where each posted the same amount to the president, c/o the Kremlin.

Speaking from her Yekaterinburg apartment Thursday, she said she has also sent letters to Putin and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov to condemn the reform.

"We felt deeply insulted," Myasoyedova said. "We have already lost the dearest to us, our sons. Instead of supporting us, the state is taking away the last things we had."

With a pension of 4,000 rubles ($140) per month, she said she was better off than some of the other mothers, who have not yet reached retirement age and now have to pay for rides on public transport. So far, Yekaterinburg authorities have kept free rides for local pensioners, she said.

But it's not difficult to see what monetization will mean for Myasoyedova and other benefit recipients, as neither the restricted benefits now on offer nor the meager cash replacement will likely go very far.

From Jan. 1, as well as the 150 rubles allowance, each month she will be entitled to just 350 rubles worth of free medicine, a 50 ruble pass for free travel on commuter trains, and a discount of 50 rubles toward treatment at a sanatorium once every four years, should she be in a position to take advantage of it. From next year, Myasoyedova and other former recipients of benefits will be able to choose between this package of benefits or a 600 ruble cash payment each month.

The Yekaterinburg families of servicemen killed in combat are not the only ones who have joined the "Return to Sender" protest.

Veronika Marchenko, who heads the Mothers' Right Foundation, an NGO that assists parents of killed servicemen, said that some mothers from Krasnoyarsk have returned their cash payments as well.

"This month, every second call we've received is about lost benefits," Marchenko said.

Last Thursday, Viktor Prokopenko, a pensioner from the Moscow region town of Reutovo sent his first compensation payment of 250 rubles to Putin as well.

Reached by telephone Thursday, officials at Moscow's Post Office No. 132, which receives payments addressed to the Kremlin, refused to reveal how many money transfers they have received since the law took effect on Jan. 1.

The Kremlin has been flooded with letters protesting the cancellation of benefits, an official whose department handles mail in the presidential administration said, Interfax reported Thursday.

Many of the angry protesters blocking traffic and besieging local government offices have said that whatever they are offered in compensation will not be sufficient to make up for the lost benefits and will soon be eaten up by inflation.

In some areas, local authorities have bowed to the pressure and met some of the protesters' demands.

In the latest example, the Moscow region announced Thursday that it would allow local pensioners to have free transport rides not just in the region, but also in Moscow itself.

Under the deal struck with the Moscow city government, pensioners from the Moscow region will be able to ride for free on Moscow's metro, buses, trolleybuses and trams, while the city's pensioners will enjoy the same privileges in the Moscow region.

The agreement appeared to cool off tempers among local pensioners, as no rallies were reported in the Moscow region on Thursday. The first in the current wave of public protests was held last Monday in the Moscow region suburb of Khimki, blocking both lanes of Leningradskoye Shosse.

But protests continued unabated Thursday in Yekaterinburg, and in Novosibirsk, where pensioners blocked the main street.

The federal government has this week promised to fund an extra $3.7 billion in higher pensions and subsidies for some of the services no longer free to socially vulnerable groups. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told a Cabinet session Thursday that the government should reach agreement with the regions on its proposals in the next few days.

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