Registration in Russia: Two Views

A Russian commentator, rigourously defending the archaic system which requires all Russian citizens to be registered at a permanent or temporary place of residence:

But when someone tells that it impede the free movement of labour across the country, you can be sure that he’s lying through his teeth.

Referring to me, as it happens.

Here’s a report dated February 2010 from Russia Today, the  state-funded media organisation which sets out to present the Russian government’s point of view on events in Russia and the world:

There are plans to exempt Russians from any type of registration, including “propiska” (permanent registration or residential registration). This revolutionary bill is being prepared by the Federal Migration Service (FMS). The Service explains this initiative with the desire to encourage labor migration and is, at the same time, relying on international experience: without being restricted to their place of residence, people move more freely from “unemployed” regions to places where specialists are in demand.

FMS spokesman, Konstantin Poltoranin, explained this step by saying that Russians will become more mobile in their search for work. Residential registration hinders the ability to move from one region, which lacks jobs (such as a single-industry-towns with one bankrupt enterprise) to another, which needs workers.

So are the Federal Migration Service lying through their teeth, or are they just stating the bleedin’ obvious?  Not that this is the first time I’ve encountered a Russian who has mistaken one for the other…

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16 Responses to Registration in Russia: Two Views

  1. Alisa says:

    They still have ‘propiska’ in place, after all these years? Un-bloody-believable.

  2. Tatyana says:

    Alisa, the place @link is even more unbelievable. A snake pit only Hieronymus Bosch could describe.

  3. Mark says:

    Thanks for the hyperbolic and hysteria-edged plug, Tats. You certainly like that Hieronymus Bosch reference; since you didn’t advance a specific van Aken work that describes us, and most of his material was religious-themed adoration, I’m going to assume your endorsement in choosing “Allegory of Gluttony and Lust” for our personal icon. Hey, you only go around once, right?

    Without implying a personal opinion, since I don’t follow it enough to get much of a feel for it, I’d still like to mention that Russia Today is loudly derided by Russophobes as – variously – a Kremlin mouthpiece, a fool’s paradise and the playground of retards. I try to avoid citing it in order to avoid such protests. Just a personal preference, since the information you’ve reported is essentially duplicated exactly in other references.

    The original comment that inspired your post is certainly open to interpretation, but I took it to mean the procedure now in place – whereby you can record or change your residential registration by mail or online – does not impede the free movement of labour across the country. I imagine that factor is largely driven, as one might expect, by the availability of jobs.

    Since the practice of changing registration by mail/online went into effect as from this year, and we’re not even through the first quarter yet, I submit that calling it an “archaic system” is a bit of a stretch. I would further suggest that if Propiska is withdrawn entirely, something very similar will replace it, as it is assuredly in the government’s interest to know where its citizens live and work. Pretty hard to come up with credible statistics when you don’t know Jack about where anyone is. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest any withdrawn requirement will be added to the census form, as it is in the USA.

  4. Tim Newman says:

    Without implying a personal opinion, since I don’t follow it enough to get much of a feel for it, I’d still like to mention that Russia Today is loudly derided by Russophobes as – variously – a Kremlin mouthpiece, a fool’s paradise and the playground of retards.

    Exactly. So it can hardly be dismissed as anti-Russian propaganda, can it?

    The original comment that inspired your post is certainly open to interpretation, but I took it to mean the procedure now in place – whereby you can record or change your residential registration by mail or online – does not impede the free movement of labour across the country.

    Mark, I’m afraid you still don’t get it. Yes, you can register online, once you’ve got the appropriate documents. It is getting the appropriate documents that is the major issue, not the registering of them with the authorities.

    I would further suggest that if Propiska is withdrawn entirely, something very similar will replace it, as it is assuredly in the government’s interest to know where its citizens live and work.

    I went through this on your blog. Informing the government is one thing, producing the correct documentation to satisfy a governmental department is quite another.

  5. Tatyana says:

    Mark, you’re going to choke on your venom, man. Or get a heart attack, or something. Not that I I’d mind much.
    Do me a favor, take me off your blogroll and stop coming back to read my posts. I see you in my logs, and you stink through the screen and thousands of miles between us.

  6. Mark says:

    Ouch, Tats – that hurt. Good thing I had my cast-iron pants on. How do you know you’re still on my blogroll? Maybe I took you off a couple of months ago, when you said you’d never be back.

    There might be thousands of miles between us, but according to some theories that suggest there are only six degrees of separation between you and everyone else on the Big Blue Marble, we’re practically brother and sister. See you at Christmas!!

    Thanks for the info, Tim. I admire your concern for the Russian people, whose chief complaints were that you had to stand in long lines and take time off from work to register, and otherwise didn’t have much in the way of complaint about the process, according to surveys. But doubtless being able to register online is no improvement at all, and the stunned Russian government will have to go back to the drawing board.

    I don’t understand your logic regarding RT. Complaints about it by sites like La Russophobe suggest it is a Kremlin mouthpiece, and therefore everything in it is a lie. I hope you’re not one of those people who think the one article in a newspaper full of lies that supports their argument must be the truth.

  7. Tim Newman says:

    I admire your concern for the Russian people, whose chief complaints were that you had to stand in long lines and take time off from work to register, and otherwise didn’t have much in the way of complaint about the process, according to surveys.

    It is my concern for the Russian people – and common sense – which is the basis for my thinking it should be scrapped altogether. Why is not acknowledging the wonders of a new email registration system somehow equated to a lack of concern for Russian people? This is odd criterion indeed.

    But doubtless being able to register online is no improvement at all, and the stunned Russian government will have to go back to the drawing board.

    Where have I claimed it is not an improvement? I haven’t. But as the RT article shows, the FMS is considering scrapping it altogether, which would be an improvment several orders of magnitude greater than having to register by email (once you’ve collected the right documents, of course).

    I don’t understand your logic regarding RT. Complaints about it by sites like La Russophobe suggest it is a Kremlin mouthpiece, and therefore everything in it is a lie.

    The logic is simple: I don’t share La Russophobe’s views and I don’t think everything in it is a lie. I think it is Kremlin mouthpiece, which is why I cited it when discussing Russian government policy. Why you think this is an issue of logic is beyond me.

  8. Tatyana says:

    Repeat for morons: I see you in my logs, genius.
    Now – get out, or I’ll put a Scarrrry Jewish Curse on you. It starts with bloody diarrhea – in 1…2…3…

  9. Mark says:

    Hi, Tats; say – just because your site is still on my blogroll does not mean I am so consumed by curiosity that I can’t stop visiting your site, because anyone who links to you from my blogroll will show as a referral from my site. It doesn’t mean it’s me personally, and it isn’t. You never know – some people who end up on your site from mine might sympathize with your viewpoint.

    It’s apparent you think your “logs” make you the non-pro equivalent of the NSA, but trust me, I’m not interested. I get several hits per day from A Good Treaty, but I don’t flatter myself it’s Kevin Rothrock every time, and it might not ever be.

    Nobody whose values are embodied in “Allegory of Gluttony and Lust” would be intimidated in the least by the prospect of bloody diarrhea. Curse away.

    Tim – I agree the argument is becoming tiresome, since the original premise was whether or not the Russian people are less free from government interference in their daily affairs than the British or the Americans, and it seems evident they are not. If you are from Omsk and work for the equivalent of a sack of potatoes per month, and have the prospect of a better-paid job in Moscow, the requirement to re-register once you get there is not going to stop you, and it seems clear that is not its purpose. The registration requirement might be inconvenient, but it does not mean internal migration is forbidden or even discouraged, and Russians seem to think it’s not a major obstacle. Registration of residence is a legal requirement, and surveys suggest the majority of the population knows it – therefore,the young lady cited in the referenced article was arrested because she had not registered in 5 years. Whether or not western interests or she thinks the law is stupid, it makes no sense to argue that Russia needs legal reform if your opinion is that they should selectively enforce the laws they do have. I daresay Britain has a law or two that you think is stupid, too, but you wouldn’t argue that people should ignore it – if people don’t like the law, they lobby to have it changed.

    Perhaps the registration requirement will be removed entirely, and doubtless it would make things easier for internal migration. However, it is not going to remove the requirement that the government know where you are living, and you can count on it showing up somewhere else, probably in the census.

    The City of Sheffield’s population is estimated at 547,000, 15.5 % of which are ethnic minorities. 56,000 students attended Sheffield universities in 2008, 8,500 of whom were internationals. How does the City Council know that information? And why should they – everyone should be free to live wherever they wish, and damn the nosy government if they want to know where you are.

    Obviously, the information comes from the national census. And since that is done only every 10 years, it must be updated from more current information as well, such as university attendance rolls (which likely round up, as does the census). Completion of the census is a legal requirement for all residents of the country and, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), a “limited number of people were prosecuted” for failure to comply during the last census in 2001. But the situation cannot prevail in England that even government at the municipal level doesn’t know who is living in the city at any time. They must know in order to forecast trends that will lead to requirements for additional services or upgrades to current systems, such as roadworks. Nominally the census reflects only numbers, but names and addresses are a vital component, and it’s difficult to imagine a government that would not shrink from monitoring your phone calls and emails would be disinterested in who you are and where you live.

    Similarly, failure to complete the UK voter registration form with accurate information is an offense. You must have and specify a fixed address in order to vote. If you have no fixed address and wish to vote, you must fill in a “Declaration of Local Connection” form, even if you spend much of your time in a homeless shelter. There used to be a twice-yearly census of electors, but now you can do it at any time during the year by registering with a local authority. Don’t do it, and you can’t legally vote. This, too, makes sense as it purges the rolls of potential fictitious voters.

    The UK might not have the same “archaic” system of residential registration, but there are any number of ways the government knows who and where you are unless you are deliberately trying to hide your presence. The Russian system is not designed to catch people who are trying to hide their presence, and does not prohibit internal migration. It merely monitors it.

  10. Tim Newman says:

    If you are from Omsk and work for the equivalent of a sack of potatoes per month, and have the prospect of a better-paid job in Moscow, the requirement to re-register once you get there is not going to stop you, and it seems clear that is not its purpose.

    Well, I’m sorry, but you’re saying that on blind faith. Despite Kovane insisting that he had no problems registering (the reasons for which I am fairly sure of, but will keep to myself) the registration system does put people off moving. The FMS minister is on record saying so, and my experience of running a company in Sakhalin trying to recruit people from other regions is also saying so. Of course this is not its purpose, but that is its effect. Labour mobility in Russia is woeful for a number of reasons, the registration system is only adding to the problem.

    I daresay Britain has a law or two that you think is stupid, too, but you wouldn’t argue that people should ignore it – if people don’t like the law, they lobby to have it changed.

    Yes, that’s what we do in Britain, but that hardly works in Russia. The yearly draft is universally detested, not to mention pointless, yet it remains stubbornly on the law books.

    However, it is not going to remove the requirement that the government know where you are living, and you can count on it showing up somewhere else, probably in the census.

    I don’t know how many times I’m supposed to tell you this, but this is at least the fifth: it is not notifying the government of your whereabouts that is the problem, it is the obtaining the necessary documents without which you have no right to live in the place at which you are trying to register. It’s the difference between showing a copy of your passport and obtaining a passport.

    The Russian system is not designed to catch people who are trying to hide their presence, and does not prohibit internal migration. It merely monitors it.

    Absolute rubbish, I’m afraid. If it was merely a monitoring tool, people would not need to provide supporting documentation from a property owner that they are allowed to live there.

  11. Tatyana says:

    How like a weaselly “progressive” – first he says he removed me from his blogroll, then cries “I dinnn do it! It’s somebody else!” So, apparently I “am” still on his blogroll, and he goes all Peeping Mark on me.

    I didn’t say bllody diarrhea is all you gonna get, chum. It’s only for starters.
    Now, get off my lawn.

  12. Mark says:

    How like an hysterical “conservative” – where did I say I removed you from my blogroll? And how stupid an argument is that, anyway? Are you afraid you’ll get “liberal cooties” from your listing on someone’s blogroll? How old are you – 12?

    Believe me when I say the only reason I leave it there is that it annoys you. Well, that and I don’t want to restrict people’s freedom of choice by childishly removing it just because we don’t agree on….umm, anything. But mostly because it annoys you.

    And if you keep spinning your head around on your shoulders about it, I’ll start linking to you in every post.

    If you really have supernatural powers, why don’t you…(observation: at this point the subject turned into a toad and was unable to further interface with the keyboard).

  13. Tatyana says:

    Alisa, I remembered – if you care to have a taste of one of those snakes from the pit – I did wrote a post with a quote, some months ago. See for yourself.

  14. Mark says:

    “Well, I’m sorry, but you’re saying that on blind faith”.

    Actually, I’m not. Sorry I didn’t get back to you right away, but I was struck down by a bout of bloody diarrhea. I thought I might have eaten some bad flies while I was a toad, but my doctor tells me it’s a Jewish curse. I didn’t even know they had a test for that, but I’m sure he wouldn’t lie. Also, my hands seem to have turned into hoofs – inspired by success stories of those who triumphed over their impairments, such as Dr. Stephen Hawking, I had a special oversize keyboard made that allows me to type (somewhat laboriously) with my clumsy keratin-tipped extremities.

    Anyway, Professor Stephen K. Wegren is the chair of the Political Science Department at SMU, and the author of more than 100 articles and book chapters on various aspects of political and economic reform in post-communist states. In his “Patterns of Internal Migration During the Russian Transition” he writes, and I quote; “Internal migration in post-Soviet Russia accounts for 80 per cent of all migration, involving millions of individuals a year. With the fall of communism, the Russian state has withdrawn from the regulation of internal migration, and the right to migrate freely is now an uncontested freedom. For most of the 1990s, the Russian countryside has been a net recipient of migrants, reversing a decades-long trend of rural out-migration. Regional patterns of migration have changed, as the Russian Far East and the north are now experiencing significant outflows. Statistical evidence shows that regional economic characteristics are influencing migration flows. Finally, gender and level of urbanity also affect the process of internal migration.”

    Professor Wegren’s CV does not mention running a company in Sakhalin, so I’m happy to stipulate that encouraging internal migration in that particular subset of circumstance has had limited success. But overall, it doesn’t seem to be a problem, and several significant trends have been observed since the fall of communism.

    I’m not sure why the head honcho of the FMS would suggest that Russians are “restricted to their place of residence”, which appears to imply if you are born in Kavaliereva, you have to stay there until you die except for cautious day trips, and if you can’t find work there, too bad. But that’s simply not so. Perhaps it isn’t quite as easy as in Britain; I’m afraid I don’t know. But “millions of individuals a year” sounds pretty positive for a country that only has a bit more than 140 million all in.

  15. Tim Newman says:

    Anyway, Professor Stephen K. Wegren is the chair of the Political Science Department at SMU, and the author of more than 100 articles and book chapters on various aspects of political and economic reform in post-communist states.

    Erm, you’ve quoted the abstract of a paper only, which just so happens to be the entirety of what is available free on the internet. So let’s not pretend you’re familiar with him or his works, eh?

    What Prof. Wegren was saying in 2001 is that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and during the 1990s, Russians moved about internally one hell of a lot. This is unsurprising, as restrictions were lifted, but not abolished altogether. And, funnily enough, people still do move about a lot. Nobody is contesting this. What Prof. Wegren is not doing is dismissing the notion that the registration system restricts labour mobility at the margins. I am pretty damned sure that he would have mentioned any restrictions on labour mobility along with the push-pull factors in the main document, but given you only quoted the abstract we don’t know.

    What we can do is look at this paper by Prof. Wegren, where we find a reference to this paper which specialises on employment in the 1990s. Maybe it’s out of date, but it’s consistent with the period Prof. Wegren is covering in the abstract you quoted. What we find is:

    Page 305: Poor geographical mobility remains a significant obstacle to employment mobility in Russia.

    Ah. What this suggests is that although labour mobility increased significantly following the fall of the USSR, it was still woefully low. This is entirely consistent with what Prof. Wegren is saying, and also consistent with what I am saying. What it is not consistent with is the notion that labour mobility is a non-issue in Russia. Now I admit that the Russian government has brought in changes to improve things, such as being able to email information rather than wait in line all day clutching reams of paper, but in all likelihood – if most other government initiatives to ease the bureaucratic process are to be used as exmaples – this will have little effect, mainly because those charged with implementing it have an interest in the bureaucratic process being as difficult as possible. Of course we will have to wait and see, but your faith in a Russian government initiative immediately having the desired effect on the ground is touching.

    I’m not sure why the head honcho of the FMS would suggest that Russians are “restricted to their place of residence”, which appears to imply if you are born in Kavaliereva, you have to stay there until you die except for cautious day trips, and if you can’t find work there, too bad.

    That’s not what he’s saying.

    But that’s simply not so.

    Ah, so he’s lying through his teeth, then?

  16. Mark says:

    Where did I pretend to be familiar with his works? I can’t help it if you got that impression. The abstract is all that is available without purchasing the article, which I didn’t see the necessity of doing if the abstract said everything I wanted to quote. If I wanted to pretend Mr. Wegner and I get together for brandy and cigars every Wednesday, I would have expanded on his remarks to cover the fact that I was quoting the abstract rather than quoting it verbatim, so I don’t see the need at all for being spiteful.

    What I clearly said is simply not so is that you are restricted to the town where you were born, for life. There are plenty of people living and working in major cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg who originated elsewhere in Russia.

    Anyway, fine. Although I’m still of the mind that people go where the jobs are, and the movement of labour is driven more by availability of work than the grinding torture of having to supply a few documents – resgistration restricts the movement of labour. There’s no point fighting it when every position is “consistent with what you are saying”.

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