The case of deputy of city council Tatyana Kotlyar, who has registered about a thousand immigrants at her apartment for free, is now being prosecuted in Obninsk. According to writer Alexander Podrabinek, this criminal case against Kotlyar is a natural extension of a thoroughly corrupted political system and illegal laws that contradict the provisions of the Russian Constitution.

 

A human rights activist Tatiana Kotlyar is being prosecuted in the town of Obninsk for trying to help people who came there under a state federal program that relocates to Russia fellow countrymen living abroad. Photo: Chas Pik Region

 

A strange lawsuit is currently being pursued in Obninsk, a town in the Kaluzhskaya region: resident Tatyana Kotlyar has been taken to court for helping people who came here under a state federal program that relocates to Russia fellow countrymen living abroad. The program, approved in 2006, receives billions of rubles from the government every year.

But the program is designed in such a way that newly arrived immigrants can receive state support only after they are registered in the community. To put it in Soviet terms, they must first receive a “residence permit.”

And that’s where they get into trouble. These immigrants hold no property and have no lodging, and other people are not eager to register them in their own apartments. One might call it a catch-22 or a vicious circle, and one would not be entirely wrong. But to do so doesn’t convey the calculated nature of this problem: it is, more accurately, a corruption circle.

There are no mistakes or defects at work; everything is calculated just so. And the problem isn’t confined to the state support program. In most cases, in order to get an official job, enroll one’s children in school, or make an appointment at a hospital in a new place, one must show a residence permit.

Immigrants find themselves in a stalemate. But there is a way out: to appeal to firms that create fictitious registrations for a fee. These firms’ advertisements are visible in towns across the country. People call them “helpers.” They help people receive registrations by improper means.

In Obninsk, such a fictitious registration costs between 20 and 30 thousand rubles. The firms also render more serious services. For example, a full package of services for immigrants, including a Russian citizenship, costs 100–150 thousand rubles.

Let’s go back to the court trial in Obninsk. Tatyana Kotlyar is a deputy of the municipal assembly and a member of the federal political council of the democratic movement “Solidarity.” A person of opposition. She’s not afraid to go against the authorities. Kotlyar registers any immigrant who appeals to her in her apartment.

The current Russian system of registration is a synthesis of the Soviet institution of residence permits and contemporary corruption practices. The victims of this system are ordinary Russian citizens and immigrants, and, of course, those who try to assist them and resist this system.

This is a service that should be provided by the state, which is full of patriotic delight when calls fellow countrymen to come to Russia from abroad. But it isn’t done. And why should it be? The propaganda machine is running smoothly; budgets have already been assigned and distributed; reports are written and sent out by departments correctly and on time. As far as the state is concerned, everything is working, never mind the fates of the individuals involved. The destinies of real immigrants are a matter of concern only for people like Tatyana Kotlyar.

During the past several years, she has registered hundreds of people in her apartment, somewhere around a thousand. Free of charge. Many people don’t understand her. Some are even outraged. It’s not hard to guess who exactly is angry with her. The firms that sell registration permits are affiliated with local authorities. Corruption chains are like money creeks that flow uphill, merging with larger streams, all the way up to the highest peak.

Those thousand people who registered at Kotlyar’s were a thousand people who didn’t enlist the aid of “helpers” and didn’t pay them 20–30 thousand rubles apiece. That comes out to millions of rubles. Many bosses on various levels didn’t receive their shares.

The criminal case against Kotlyar was filed under Articles 322.2 and 322.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation for a fictitious registration at a place of residence. The maximum punishment is three years of deprivation of freedom. The prosecution called immigrants who received a registration at Kotlyar’s to witness in court, but they argued for the defendant. They thanked her for providing them help that the state should have provided but didn’t.

Both articles of the Criminal Code alleged to be violated by Kotlyar were put into effect since the beginning of 2014, and both directly contradict the Constitution of the Russian Federation’s statements about freedom of movement and choice of living place. Furthermore, a judgment of the Russian Constitutional Court on February 2, 1998, stated that “...a citizen’s decision about the place and terms of his residence doesn’t have to depend on presence of a complying living premise as a place of residence.” This means that a registration in Obninsk need not depend on the immigrant’s ownership of lodging here.

Tatyana Kotlyar is not pleading guilty, although she doesn’t deny that she registered immigrants. She reasonably considers the current legislation flawed and contradictory to the constitution and to international pacts about human rights.

The current Russian system of registration is a synthesis of the Soviet institution of residence permits and contemporary corruption practices. The victims of this system are ordinary Russian citizens and immigrants, and, of course, those who try to assist them and resist this system.

The Institute of Modern Russia wishes a happy birthday to Lyudmila Alekseyeva, who celebrated her 90th anniversary on July 20.

Lyudmila Alexeeva occupies a unique place in the history of human rights, being one of the most outspoken and respected rights advocates in Russia and beyond. Due to her dedicated efforts, resilience, strong morale, and ever dignified stance, thousands of people have more freedom in Russia today.

We are grateful to Lyudmila Alexeyeva for her support, her invaluable, selfless and incredibly long service, for her ability to speak truth to the authorities, for her adherence to high ideals and beliefs. Lyudmila Mikhailovna, you are an example to all of us. Thank you.

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