Documenti! In Russia, police perform frequent spot checks of passports and other documents that all adults are required to carry. The checks are justified by authorities as controls on illegal immigration, crime, and terrorism. But in a country where roughly 25 percent of the population claims to have experienced police abuse, these spot checks serve equally well as opportunities for the police to extract bribes, pick-pocket, or otherwise shake down residents, migrants, and tourists. The most likely targets of police harassment are those who, according to police judgment, appear to be immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asian regions of Russia and the former Soviet Union -- in particular, the war-torn and destitute breakaway republic of Chechnya.
Photo: Vitaly Belousov/Itar-Tass
Sobbotnik Saturday, April 24, 2004 marked the 85th anniversary of the subbotnik, a nationwide day of voluntary work geared toward giving Russia a good spring cleaning. The first subbotnik was held by rail workers on the Moscow-Kazan line in April 1919. Others soon followed, and the first all-Russia subbotnik was held on May 1, 1920. These were lauded as great communist events in writings by V. I. Lenin, but contemporary news reports refer to them simply as "traditional" days of spring cleaning. This year's events reportedly involved more than one million Russians, including 5,000 in Moscow, working to clean schools, hospitals, parks, and other public places.
Photo: Grigory Sysoyev/Itar-Tass
Khodorkovsky This protest on May 5, 2004 in Moscow was one of several worldwide in support of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, whose trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion began in June. As the head of the Russian oil giant Yukos, Khodorkovsky amassed a fortune of more than $4 billion. Was this accomplished by shrewd, Western-style management of inefficient Soviet-era businesses, or by looting the country through tax evasion and sweetheart deals that he and fellow oligarchs negotiated with the Yeltsin government? This past may be largely irrelevant if, as many believe, Khodorkovsky is in prison less for his business dealings than for his politics: in recent years, he has emerged as a powerful critic, and potential rival, to Russia's current president, Vladimir Putin.
Photo: Emil Matveyev/Itar-Tass
Corruption This arrest was part of a crackdown on corruption in the Moscow police force -- in this case, traffic police importing stolen cars from abroad. But police corruption is only one aspect of a multifaceted problem that has become, for Russia, "not just a collection of criminal activities" but rather "a perverse system of governance," according to watchdog group Transparency International. In November 2003, President Vladimir Putin identified corruption as the greatest risk to Russia's national security and announced an effort to combat it at all levels. Some observers note progress in the form of increasingly numerous commissions, investigations, and other attacks on corruption. Others fear that these efforts may indicate a swing of the pendulum from the organized crime of the last decade back toward the equally pernicious centralized power of Russia's past.
Homeless Children Statistics regarding Russia's orphaned youth are so high that the level of displacement may be compared to that of wartime. While World War II left 600,000 children parentless, recent poverty and social crises have effectively orphaned more than 700,000, as their parents went to prison, succumbed to substance abuse, or otherwise became incapable of providing a home. Not all orphaned children become homeless; roughly 200,000 live in an under-funded and harsh system of orphanages. But many do live on the streets: Roughly 30,000 live in Moscow alone, facing police harassment as they scratch out a living in metro stations and similar haunts. Fully 80 percent are likely to become substance abusers, criminals, or both. Only 10 percent continue on to lead normal lives, and an equal number commit suicide.
Photo: Valery Bushukhin/Itar-Tass
Picketing Pensioners The poster reads "We won't exchange privileges for thirty silver coins," and speaks for thousands of Russians protesting the government's attempts to replace longstanding subsidized benefits with a single monetary payment. By some estimates, as much as 70 percent of the population receives such support as free travel on public transport and low-cost medicine, and the government is anxious to reign in costs. But protesters -- many of them veterans, union members, and pensioners -- warn that the money offered falls short of the privileges lost, and will rapidly be eaten away by inflation. Some dismiss the small protests as vocal, but politically powerless groups. Others warn that they will grow into massive, nationwide strikes as average Russians come to realize the true impact of the reforms.
Photo: Vitaly Belousov/Itar-Tass
Poverty This 85-year-old pensioner relies on her gas stove to stay warm in an apartment that typically hovers around 40-45° F. Estimates are that one third or more of Russians live in poverty, but the elderly and those in rural areas suffer the most. Even in relatively prosperous cities like Moscow, many pensioners have monthly incomes substantially below the poverty line. In rural areas, incomes may be 40 percent lower. Some of the elderly hold starvation at bay by growing kitchen gardens, while others resort to foraging in garbage cans and begging. The Putin administration has proposed pension reforms that would shift younger employees to individual retirement accounts. But limited social spending in recent budgets suggests conditions are unlikely to improve for the elderly and others under the current system.
Photo: Yuri Mashkov/Itar-Tass
Communists Though the faithful marked this year's 80th anniversary of Lenin's death with a visit to his mausoleum at Red Square, it will take more than nostalgia for the USSR's founder to revitalize Russia's ailing Communist Party. Once a potent force in Russian politics, the Communist Party has recently suffered crushing electoral defeats, pushing it nearly to the point of political irrelevance. Polls show widespread sympathy for aspects of the party's agenda, but voters have walked away in droves as Putin's government has appropriated many of its key issues and undermined its ability to capture the once-reliable protest vote opposing reform. Some within the party hope for renewal, anticipating the resignation of party leader Gennady Zyuganov -- an admirer of Joseph Stalin who nonetheless denounces Putin's "police state." Meanwhile, die-hard Communists resist calls for Lenin's embalmed body to be given a truly final resting place alongside his mother's in St. Petersburg.
Photo: EPA/Associated Press