Last weekend saw the violent reaction of the Russian police over protests against the pension reform that has been proposed by the government. However, those protests were not the first one to show opposition to the latest pension reform.
Indeed it all goes back to the 2018 World Cup that officially started 14th June. Interestingly enough, this date is also the same one that the government chose to publish its project of the pension reform therefore planning to leave behind the former law; a communist heritage that had been established in 1932 under Stalin.
Although during the month and a half of international sport competition every foreign media was focused on the team’s performance, Russians started protesting. Security reasons prohibited protests to take place in hosting cities however, the police let the protestation going in over 20 cities across the country notably on July 1st.
Police in Moscow used disproportionate force on the protestors demonstrating against the new pension reform. pic.twitter.com/EFUp9H4T4U
— Vocal Europe (@thevocaleurope) September 10, 2018
The situation ultimately led to the latest reactions this past weekend ending in footages published on social media showing the use of violence by policemen in body armour and helmets on protestors.
Why is this reform encountering the disagreement of the Russian population? As most states, Russia sees its population aging and finds itself in a difficult situation as regard to the payment of pensions in the future. Moreover as of the European continent the age at which one can retire is one of the lowest, respectively 55 for women and 60 for men.
The lack of new sources of revenues for the Russian Pension Fund puts the government in a position in which it seems that they are not able to find any other solution than to cut costs. Experts also believe that this sudden decision could be in correlation with the Western sanctions (including Trump’s actions at the beginning of April) that look like they are not going to be lifted any time soon.
The bill wants to hike the retirement age of 8 years for women and 5 years for men to be gradually implement by 2028 for men and 2034 for women. In practise it is expected to come into force in 2019 and every year the retirement age will be increased by six months. This new retirement policy at 63 for women and 65 for men is in line with other European countries such as France that are planning to gradually raise retirement age over the next years.
However, the current situation regarding pensions is already problematic enough preventing elderly from retiring completely therefore forcing them to look for a job aside as a complement for their pension.
This is the largest part of the population, the 92% that opposes the reform, that raises the most concerns, as they have the feeling that they will suffer the most. Arguments are made that such a change could be accepted on the one condition that the state would provide employment possibilities for this aging working population as well as better health care.
Moreover, it is important to underline the fear that many Russians would not live long enough to retire because of the only two years apart between the proposed retirement age and the average life expectancy for Russian men that is of 66,5 (data from 2016). However, the government counts on the constant increase of life expectancy to counter this argument.
Those protest against the reform of the pension system are organised by the Communist party, Putin’s main opponent Alexei Navalny as well as trade unions supporting the movement, therefore exceptionally gathering all opposition parties under this same fight.
Although Putin declared in 2005 that there would be no change of policy as regard to pensions as long as he was president it seems that 5 mandates later (including Dmitri Medvedev’s one), the president was forced to change his mind because of the alarming situation.
The Russian President, however, has not been very vocal on this subject; officials reacted saying that Putin was not involved in the process as it was the Prime Minister’s cabinet that developed the proposal.
In late August, Vladimir Putin addressed the citizens’ concerns through television by proposing to soften the plan and reduce the hike of the retirement age for women to 60 instead of 63. This approach for compromise and the call for support by the President did not have any impact on the opposition forces that remained on their position for the complete abandon of the reform sometimes going further than that by requiring Putin’s resignation.
Those protests against the reform come after a series of event starting from March 2017 until this spring and drawing the attention towards corruption within the Russian government. Since the announcement of the reform the President’s popularity rating has been going down to 67 as opposed to 80% at the beginning of the year.
If Putin was calling for understanding in August, the violent response of the police during September’s protests show a different vision of dealing with the matter on the side of authorities resulting in over 1000 protestors arrested this past weekend.
These past years, Russia’s economic situation (sanctions imposed by Western countries, interventions in Syria) has forced Putin to take urgent actions to avoid economic collapse. Russians might misunderstand this two-sided speech in which on the one hand, citizens have to make efforts because of economic issues due partly to demographic problems and on the other hand Russia hosting international events such as the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup.