Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Window on Eurasia: For the Price of the Sochi Games, Russia Could Provide Kindergartens for All Preschoolers, Activists Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 17 – For what Moscow plans to spend on the 2014 Sochi Olympics, activists say, the central government could open and support the operations of kindergartens for all preschoolers in Russia, the latest indication of the way in which in straightened economic times, Russians are registering their objections to government policies.

And because all Russians are paying the price for these games just as they are paying for the continuing war in the North Caucasus, such objections are likely to increase the number of opponents to these policies, even if as seems likely the powers that be in Moscow will do everything they can to ignore or downplay them.

But even if Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev are able to continue to pursue such policies, anger about spending on one set of projects, especially if it is shown to be taking money out of the mouths of children and others who need it, will have an impact on the rhetoric of Russian politics especially during the upcoming parliamentary campaign.

The Accessible Pre-School Education for Russian Children Movement has pointed out that Russia is spending 1.5 trillion rubles (50 billion US dollars) to prepare for the Sochi Games, an amount that the group say would provide kindergartens for three million Russian children, many of whom must now do without (globalsib.com/10501/).

The movement adds that Moscow plans to spend “not less” than that on the World Soccer Championship in 2018, yet another high profile publicity event that will do little or nothing to help ordinary Russians. And it offers other examples where money Moscow is currently spending could be put to better use.

To attract attention to this cause, the movement is organizing a three-day hunger strike for next weekend, the seventh such effort over the past several years but the one that already has attracted more support from more regions and cities than any of the earlier ones which Moscow studiously ignored (rdddo.ru/golodovka).

A major reason why the movement appears to be gaining support is that tough economic times and Moscow’s decision to solve its budgetary problems largely by cutting services to the poorer elements of the society is infuriating an increasing number of people and leading them to question the gigantist Soviet-style projects Vladimir Putin in particular appears to favor.

Last week, Anton Razmakhnin of “Svobodnaya pressa” reported that because of budgetary problems, “in this year, the majority of rural hospitals are closing,” a forced measure he points out that Moscow had not taken “since the times of the German occupation” during World War II (svpressa.ru/society/article/42957/).

Cutbacks in schools and hospitals, of course, will do more than anger many Russians. They will worsen the country’s demographic situation because many will decide not to have children if they cannot be sure there will be pre-school facilities to take them and because many others will suffer and die because they cannot gain access to medical treatment.

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