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Europe Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 18:12 GMT
Poachers turned gamekeepers?
Presenter Tim Whewell interviews a handcuffed inmate of Yekaterinburg's drug treatment centre
By Masha Karp

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The drug rehabilitation organized by the Yekaterinburg foundation 'City Without Drugs' and supported by the "Uralmash" political movement looks more like a corrective institution. In a ward with two rows of beds young men lie handcuffed to bedsteads and staring at the ceiling.

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"Cold turkey won't do you any harm", say the organisers. But an application form signed by every new inmate still prudently confirms that in the event of his death or damage to his health, the staff here will not be held responsible. The youngsters, with their closely-cropped hair, are due to stay in the centre for at least a year. Yet after the first difficult fortnight, they seem to be mostly left to their own devices.

Their pastimes include an obligatory prayer, table-tennis, feeding a live monkey caged in the corner of the hall, and ... playing football with the leader of the "Uralmash" political movement.

At the centre's matches, recovering addicts mix with local hard men
The movement or, as it calls itself, "social political union" was registered only about a year ago. Curiously, the abbreviation of this title in Russian is exactly the same as the abbreviation commonly used in police files for "organised crime syndicate".

Moreover, Yekaterinburg police files have been full of the Uralmash organised crime syndicate all through the 1990s. Is there a link between the two "Uralmashes"?

Political party or criminal cartel?

The word "Uralmash" used to evoke the glory and might of Soviet industry: since the 1930s, this was the name of a gigantic factory. But as the factory's main output was arms, it was destined to fall into decline in the aftermath of Gorbachev's perestroika, together with the rest of Russia's "military-industrial complex".

The 'Uralmash' brand is now hard to pin down
As nothing came to replace the production of arms, the collapse of Uralmash left its tens of thousands of workers on the brink of poverty. During the tough years of the early 1990s, a struggle for property and power erupted all over Russia. In Yekaterinburg the rush for profit led to a series of violent murders. Many of them were committed by the "Uralmash" organised crime syndicate.

The political movement "Uralmash" is widely believed to have inherited its money (a great deal of it) and some of its leaders from the organised crime syndicate.

Today those leaders work hard trying to make their way into legislative bodies, both all-Russia and local. Success here might even bring them future immunity from prosecution. The money (apart from the election campaign) is used mainly to support sports and to fight drugs, which have become one of the biggest problems in the Urals.

The movement sponsored outside wrestling lessons for these 10-year-olds
The image of the tough, strong, healthy, clean and kind Uralmash guys permeates the movement's election campaign. One of the things supported with their money is a school of sambo (a type of Russian wrestling) where we were impressed by the sight of 10-year -old boys exercising in the snow.

Playing football with drug addicts is presumably an attempt to entice them towards healthier habits. But this tactic has gone hand in hand with the handcuffing in treatment centres, which some health workers denounce as an abuse of human rights.

And there have been other unorthodox methods of fighting the problem, including calls for public lynching of drug-dealers (and actual scenes of it on regional television) as well as "intimidation" of Gypsies, believed to be among the main culprits.

At the December elections for the State Duma, voters in the Uralmash district used their right to tick the box "against everybody". As it turned out, in the March local elections Uralmash came in second: but its very existence shows how blurred the lines between party politics, patronage and gangsterism have become in the new Russia.

Tim Whewell on one of the legendary IMZ-Ural bikes
Also in this edition of Crossing Continents: Tim Whewell's travels in the Urals are continue on to Perm, where a group of human rights activists has been helping "conscientious objectors" to avoid the draft by doing alternative civilian service. And finally we visit Irbit, where the chunky "Ural" motorcycles "unspoilt by progress" are still being made, with mountings for rocket-launchers and even with left-hand sidecars for the British market!

Slobodya, Perm, Mar 2000
VSO health educator, describes the drug scene and anti-drug campaigns in the Urals
Perm teenagers on army, March 2000
discuss conscription, corruption and bullying in the Russian army
IMZ-Ural motorbike ad
learn more about this amazing machine!
See also:

30 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
13 Dec 99 | Europe
28 Nov 98 | Europe
07 Sep 98 | Russia crisis
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