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Protesters rally across North Caucasus against Russian pension reforms

4 September 2018
Protest in Nalchik (Republican news agency)

Demonstrations were held in several North Caucasian cities on Sunday as part of a nationwide protest against Russia’s upcoming pension reforms. Rallies in Cherkessk, Makhachkala, and Nalchik, the capitals of Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Daghestan, were organised by the regional branches of the Communist Party of Russia.

The pension reform bill passed its first reading in Russia’s lower house, the Duma, on 26 July. If adopted, the retirement age in Russia would gradually increase to 63 for women, up from 55, and 65 for men, up from 60. The second reading of this bill is planned for Autumn. Following backlash against the changes, on 29 August, President Vladimir Putin announced that the reforms would be softened, with the retirement age for women going up to only 60.

This was the second nationwide protest over the reforms, after demonstrations were held in dozens of cities on 28 July.

[Read more on OC Media: Protests in Kabardino-Balkaria over retirement age rise]

‘Pension genocide’

A gathering of more than 600 people in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, was addressed by local Communist Party chair Boris Pashtov. Pashtov railed against privileges for state corporations, the lack of a progressive taxation on billionaires, and increases in value-added tax (VAT), excise duties, and other charges. He said the pension reforms could not be considered separately from those issues.

Local Communist Party chair from Nalchik Boris Pashtov addressing protesters (Facebook)

Muradin Kardanov, first secretary of one local Communist Party branch, said Putin’s intervention into the reforms had brought ‘only disappointment’ and failed to solve ‘any of the people’s problems’.

Aleksandr Androsov, another local Communist Party leader, read out a resolution stating that participants of the rally supported working people and demanded a halt to ‘pension genocide’. ‘In the fight against arbitrariness, we will go on until the end! Truth and justice are with us!’ he said.

One local Communist Party member, Alyona Chernova, told OC Media the authorities had not created any obstacles to the protest in in Nalchik. According to her, the third protest will be held on 22 September.

However, a protester in the town of Prokhladny, Kabardino-Balkaria, said ‘there were less people this time, because local authorities for a long time did not give permission to hold a rally’. ‘This tactic misinformed the population’, they told OC Media.

Around 200 people gathered in Prokhladny, and according to the protester, ‘each speaker signed a statement that they would not criticize the president or prime minister during their speeches’.

In Cherkessk, Karachay-Cherkessia, around 500 people gathered including representatives of the youth delegation from the city of Nevinnomyssk, in neighbouring Stavropol Krai. Several local Communist Party leaders addressed the crowd, including  MP from Karachay-Cherkessia’s parliament, Sergey Laskov. During the rally, 472 signatures were collected against the pension reform.

Calls for resignation

Two hundred people gathered in Makhachkala’s Lenin Komsomol Park, in Daghestan. Caucasian Knot quoted local Communist Party spokesperson Ruslan Lugovoy as saying that the mayor’s office refused to give permission for the action to be held in front of the Avarsky Theater, where such events usually take place.

Protest in Nalchik (Facebook)

Speakers at the event labelled President Putin’s changes to the draft pension reform ‘insignificant’ and called for the reforms to be dropped completely.

‘These cosmetic amendments were introduced in order to calm the people’, Murzadin Avezov, a Communist Party MP from Daghestan’s parliament said. On behalf of the Communist Party of Daghestan and the whole of Russia, Avezov demanded the resignation of the government of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Chairman of the Daghestani Committee of the Communist Party Makhmud Makhmudov called the pension reform ‘inhuman’.

No protest took place in North Ossetia against the pension reforms, according to one local resident, because of events mourning the anniversary of the Beslan tragedy.

However, according to Interfax news agency, on 27 August, North Ossetia’s Electoral Commission registered a local subgroup calling for a nationwide referendum on the reforms. If such groups are registered in at least 42 of Russia’s 85 federal subjects and the they collect at least two million signatures, a referendum must take place.

No protests were reported in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

The amendments to the pension reform proposed by Putin were supported by the heads of Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya, and Daghestan.