1. The Women: Read this excerpt of an economic case study of three women and their lives.
State your thoughts on the following:
- Who would you have been during this time?
- How do you think this could have been prevented? Do you think it could have been prevented?
- How can Russia become a “Rule of Law” nation?
In the DB please post your thoughts on how these women lived and the economic choices that they had to make
WOMEN & SURVIVAL
Excerpts from a study done by Michael Buraway, Pavel Krotov, and Tatyana Lytkina; “Domestic Involution: How Women Organize Survival in a North Russian City”. Found in: Victoria E. Bonnell and George W. Breslauer, eds., Russia in the New Century: Stability or Disorder (Boulder: Westview Press, 2001).
Background Notes: This study was done in a small arctic town called Syktyvkar in the Komi Republic. There are two factories focused on-the city’s garment factory (Red October) and its furniture factory (Polar). The interviews were conducted in 1994-95 and then the subjects were re-interviewed in 1998-1999. The portions taken are verbatim from the text.
Marina: For a Roof over One’s Head
The stereotypic Soviet citizen often has been described as dependent, bereft of initiative, passive in the face of adversity, helpless without state handouts, and jealous of those who enrich themselves. At first sight, Marina looked as though she fit the stereotype. When we interviewed her in 1995, she was still working at Polar, hanging on in the hope of early retirement (at the age of 45), to which she would be entitled on the basis of her hazardous work. But she was denied this because her registered job classification was not designated as hazardous. Still she didn’t leave-even though by 1995, wages had been irregular and falling for two years and most workers had already left. She complained a lot about all the stealing that was taking place at the enterprise, both by workers and by managers. She recently had turned down a job in retail, since such work-so she said-was immoral.
At the age of 47, in February 1998, Marina was laid off. She received 1,500 rubles in kind (a divan), half of the six months’ liquidation wages owed her by the law. At the time of our second interview (April 1999), she was still waiting for the remaining 1,500 rubles. When the six months were up, she registered at the Employment Agency in search of work but so far had found none. “Who wants to employ a pensioner,” she says, “when there are so many young people looking for work?” So she depends on monthly unemployment compensation of 375 rubles (75 percent of her regular wages-the amount provided for by law, for the first three months of unemployment) in food, and another 310 rubles in medical assistance for her son, who has chronic asthma and gastritis.
Marina lives with her second husband, who also worked at Polar until wages became irregular. He quit in 1993 for a construction company job, which also failed to meet his expectations, after which he took a job caring for the Municipal Parks. Again he didn’t last six months before turning to unemployment. That was in 1994. Now he is working for the Ministry of Internal Affairs as a joiner. He receives 300 rubles a month, more or less regularly, but again only in kind–a bus pass, food. The latest insult was 100 rubles worth of so-called Humanitarian Aid, which was, as Marina described it, only fit for their dogs. He used to do odd jobs on dachas, building stairs or bathhouses, but as Marina asked rhetorically, “Who has the money to pay for such work nowadays?”
Marina and her husband have two children, a daughter of 16 and a son of 15. Marina frequently mentions her son’s disability, which often keeps him out of school. She is proud of her daughter’s outstanding academic accomplishments and is hoping that through connections she may somehow go on to the university. These accomplishments are all the more amazing, given their deplorable housing conditions. The four of them live in one room of a ramshackle, frame cottage: Marina’s sister, who receives the minimum unemployment benefit of 130 rubles, lives with her young daughter in a smaller, adjoining room. It is difficult to comprehend how the six of them can exist together in this tiny, dark, dank space. They heat their room with a small store, carry water from an outside well, and use an outhouse.
Marina and her first husband inherited this cottage—originally, a duplex—from its owner. When they divorced, they split it equally. Her ex-husband sold his half, which lies abandoned and demolished; but Marina and her family refuse to evacuate the other half. The land has been granted to a developer who is eager to erect a new apartment building on this prime real estate near the center of town. But Marina won’t budge. By law her cottage cannot be demolished until all registered there have been re-housed. At the time of the first interview, she had already turned down a modern two-room apartment, holding out for the three rooms to which she was entitled. Since then she has been offered a two-room apartment in a frame building, and most recently, space in a hostel. As the offerings of the city council have become less attractive, she has become all the more determined to hold out for her three-room fantasy, knowing that until she gets her way, she is denying some private developer sumptuous profits.
Their only other source of sustenance is their dacha, bought some 15 years ago, soon after they married. Until 1992, they used to raise chickens and pigs there, but stopped because they didn’t have the money for feed. At the first interview, they were still growing vegetables at the dacha; but by the second interview, Marina was complaining that almost everything they grew was stolen. In the realm of dacha production, as in their income and their housing conditions, their life has progressively deteriorated.
Marina considers herself a troublemaker. At Polar she protested against the ubiquitous stealing as well as her job classification. She has waged a protracted war against the municipality for many years, in the vain hope of improving her deplorable housing circumstance. Bereft of material and skill assets inherited from the past, cut off from redistributive networks, she is reliant on the state for the little income she receives. But she is hardly passive.
Tanya: Working the Kinship Network
While Marina plays her citizenship assets—unemployment benefits, sick benefits, and housing rights—for all they are worth, Tanya works on her social assets, her diverse kin networks, to keep herself afloat.
Tanya is effectively a single mother. At the age of 44, she shares a one-and-a-half-room apartment in a frame building with her daughter (20) and son (23). At the time of the first interview (1995), she still worked at Red October, but only intermittently because of her asthma and weak heart. Her pay, 200 rubles a month was about half that of her coworkers; and during the previous year she had seen only 70 rubles a month in cash, having received the rest in kind, at the factory shop. She finally left her job in 1997 because of poor health. She now lives on her disability pension of 400 rubles. She used to do some sewing on the side, but stopped, fearing that the tax inspectors would discover this activity and take away her pension.
Tanya’s first husband died by drowning. She shed no tears over it, since he was an inveterate drinker and used to beat her. Her second husband was Bulgarian, a member of Komi’s Bulgarian colony. When communism ended, he returned home to Bulgaria, and soon began to send Tanya money. She had even spent six months with him there. At the time of the first interview, she wanted to join him permanently with her daughter; later, she wanted to divorce him. Her life was in Komi, with her two children.
Tanya’s son was wounded while serving in Chechnya. At the time of the first interview, he had recently returned, a changed person from the gentle boy she knew. When his drinking sprees made him abusive and violent, his sister and mother had to leave the apartment. He had been irregularly employed as an electrician but he rarely saw any wages. Three years later, with tears welling in her eyes, she told us that a year earlier he’d been imprisoned for petty crimes. Tanya’s daughter in contrast—even though she too had found no permanent work-brought smiles to her face. The daughter was about to deliver a baby. Its father was a policeman with no desire to marry her. They hoped he would at least pay child support.
So how does Tanya get by? Her parents in the village nearby help with food (vegetables and sometimes meat). Her mother can sometimes offer her money, since she runs a successful practice in homeopathic medicine. Tanya’s eldest sister also helps her with clothes, and in an emergency, with money. As a social worker she doesn’t earn much, but her husband had a lucrative job as a plumber in a meat processing plant, until he had a heart attack and died the previous year, at 48. Tanya’s other sister, also older than her, used to work at Red October but is now employed at a kindergarten. She can’t help Tanya materially, but they have always shared their sorrows and delights.
Since the first interview, Tanya’s relationship with her mother-in-law by her first marriage had taken a new turn. As grandmother to Tanya’s children, she had always helped out in small ways. She was of German descent, and like so many of Komi’s ethnic Germans, she had reconnected with her kin. She was now living with her brother in Berlin but continued to visit Komi, as she was employed in German automobile export. She proposed that Tanya marry her other son, the younger brother of Tanya’s first husband, and that together with her daughter they move to Berlin. Tanya smiles whimsically at the thought, concluding once more that her future is her in Syktyvkar, close to her own family.
Tanya is not working. Having inherited little from the past other than her sickness, she gets by on minimal support from the state and assistance from her close-knit family (parents, sisters, and mother-in-law). She is the center and beneficiary of a redistributive kinship network. Resignation mixes with the fantasy of escape, as she contemplates her future; but he security of family ties wins the day.
Natasha: The Two-Earner Household
When we first interviewed Natasha in 1995, both she and her husband were receiving unemployment compensation, at 75 percent of their wages. Today, unemployment compensation is set at the so-called minimum wage of 87 rubles a month, except for those who lose their jobs through liquidation or restructuring. Any job would pay better than that, so we were not surprised to learn at our second interview that Natasha had found herself new employment.
Natasha began her work career in 1970, at the age of 16, in what was then a small furniture shop and later became the modern factory of Polar. She worked there 24 years. When wages became irregular and work stoppages more frequent in 1994, she quit her job. As a worker in the hazardous lacquer shop, she might have retired if she had stayed another four years; but instead, she opted for unemployment compensation for two months, and then found a temporary job as a painter, through her husband’s sister. When this job ended, she again was left unemployed. Her husband, 43 years old, had worked as a carpenter in a local construction company until pay became irregular, whereupon he too left his job for one in the municipality—thanks, again to his sister. Like his wife, he only lasted a few months before returning to the construction industry. Again pay became so irregular that he left for unemployment, which together with his disability pension came to 500 rubles. At the time of the first interview they were both on unemployment, bring in less than 1,00 rubles for a family of four—themselves and their 11-year old twin daughters. Their income, therefore, was on a par with the poorest of our respondents; but their living conditions, as we shall see, were much better.
Their elder son, age 23, was living in a room in a hostel with his wife and child. He worked as a chauffeur or an enterprise director, which meant that he could use the car for private purposes. Natasha’s daughter, age 21 used to work at Red October, and was living with her family in a two-room apartment (inherited from her husband’s parents). Natasha would like to help her daughter but she can’t even afford to feed, clothe, and buy school supplies for her two younger girls. The only plus in her circumstances is the modern, three-room apartment she received through the municipal queue for large families. The have a plot of land where they grow potatoes, but the have no dacha. They sometimes take the children to Natasha’s parents’ village, where Natasha grows some food, and where her 74-year-old mother helps by knitting clothes for them.
When we returned in July 1997, both husband and wife were employed: she, as a cook in a canteen, and he, with the Municipal Parks. She received a low wage of 350 rubles, with an occasional bonus of 100 or 150 rubles. His wage was much higher, at 800 rubles, but he rarely saw more than 200 rubles, with some of the difference being made up in food. Natasha said they were much better off on unemployment, but when that ran out they had to find jobs. They were desperately short of cash to pay for their children’s needs.
We interviewed Natasha again in May 1999 and discovered that they were still in the same jobs. She was earning wages and bonuses of between 600 and 800 rubles a month as well as subsidized meals. He was still receiving between 800 and 1,000 rubles, on paper. Wages were usually paid in kind (food and housing maintenance). But in summer there was work on the side, which could bring in 50 rubles a day, plus a meal. On top of this her husband was receiving a disability pension of 300 rubles a month. They were still having difficulty making ends meet, and Natasha was making plans for her teenage daughters to go to a technical college, where they would learn catering.
In comparison with the three interviewees, Natasha had inherited more from the old regime. She had an extensive network of kin in town and country as well as a modern, three-room apartment. At the time of the second interview, Natasha’s son was trying to exchange the three-room apartment for a two-room apartment for his parents and a separate, single-room apartment for his family. He hoped to then combine this with his hostel room in order to obtain a two-room apartment. But the plan came to naught. Even a seemingly nonfungible asset such as an apartment can be traded in and the proceeds distributed among family members. Although she appears to be better off than Marina, Tanya, and Sveta, Natasha and her husband struggle daily to meet their family’s basic needs.