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Last Updated: Monday, 17 January 2005, 21:05 GMT
Protests catch Russia off guard
By Steven Eke
BBC Russia analyst

There are a number of reforms so sensitive in post-communist Russia that successive governments have preferred simply to delay them.

Among the most important are housing and social security.

Pension protests
Polls suggest Russians want a return to state planning
Under the Soviet system, housing, as well as utilities like water and gas, were provided at extremely low, subsidised prices. With the advent of the market, that had to end.

But no government has been prepared to weather the explosion of social anger abolishing the remants of the Soviet welfare state would undoubtedly provoke.

In the main, Russian analysts say the government has made a big mistake in targeting pensioners in what they admit is otherwise much-needed reform. Russia currently has a glut of petro-dollars.

But that has not changed the situation of many pensioners.

There are some 20 million of them in Russia, and increasingly - again according to polls - they say they are economically vulnerable. Opinion polls recently published show that some 60% of this group believe that the state's task is to provide for its citizens.

The Communist Party, which sees pensioners as part of its natural electorate, has attempted to make political capital out of the discontent.

That has led to angry accusations from the Kremlin that the opposition is provoking the demonstrations.

But for Russia's reformists, there is much sobering research on popular economic thinking. Far from welcoming social security reform, the polls suggest that a third of Russians want a return to state planning, and only 10% think free enterprise should be a national priority.

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17 Jan 05 |  Europe

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