Thursday, January 20, 2005

Russians long for the good old days

The Russian government says it has allocated 105bn roubles ($3.7bn or £2bn) to soften the blow of scrapping of the old social welfare system.

But Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin lashed out at those who have taken part in mass protests against the reform.

He said the protesters were putting the country on "a dangerous line".

Countrywide pensioners' protests, that flared last week, have involved blockades of key highways and other acts of public disobedience.

The allocated money will be spent on additional pension hikes and on transport subsidies for pensioners, policemen and the military, who had been allowed to use public transport for free prior to the reform.

To cover the cost, the government intends to use extra revenues from high oil prices. Mr Kudrin said these expenses will not affect the country's plans to go ahead with an early repayment of its $44bn (£23bn) debt to the Paris Club.

The welfare reform is aimed at replacing non-monetary benefits, such as free transport, free medicines and reduced prices for utilities, with cash payments. But many pensioners believe they will be hit hard by the exchange.

Mr Kudrin dismissed the protesters as representing only "1% of all benefit recipients", but said that they were undermining public safety.

"We are on a very dangerous line. In wanting to be heard, they are disrupting transport, blockading roads, dealing an economic blow to regions and harming those who cannot be reached by ambulances," Reuters quotes him as saying.

Meanwhile, A new statue of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin is to be erected in Moscow, returning his once-ubiquitous image to the streets after an absence of four decades, a top city official said yesterday.

Since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, a number of Soviet symbols - including the national anthem and an army flag - have been restored to use, reflecting widespread nostalgia for the communist era.

But the rehabilitation of Stalin - denounced by Soviet leaders after his death in 1953 for encouraging a cult of personality and killing millions of real and imagined opponents - had remained out of bounds. Statues of him were removed from Moscow in the 1960s.

Oleg Tolkachev, Moscow’s senator in the upper house of parliament, said a monument was to be erected to Stalin and others who led the war against Hitler. A statue will also be built in the Belgorod region, near the Ukrainian border.

In another sign of Stalin’s growing appeal, many prime-time television shows have recently depicted him in a positive light.

Posted By: Redneck Texan