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The dormitories of Saint Petersburg: tenants’ protest action

The tenants of Saint Petersburg’s dormitories have voiced their protest against evictions.

On November, 8, supported by the Center of Workers Solidarity and trade union and human rights activists, about fifty tenants of residential houses that used to be earlier the dormitories owned by Soviet state run enterprises have staged a picket in front of the local City Government Housing Committee office. They protested the continuous attempts made by the new property owners, who privatized the former dormitories in the 1990 ies, to evict the tenants from their housing.

They also protested the indifference to this strange situation on behalf of the city civil servants.

The action began at about 9 a.m. by holding several individual pickets that are not to be permitted by the authorities, according to the local law. The core of the picketers joined the protest at 11.00 and then they all had a major, quite emotional action attended by Vladimir Fyodorov, a City Hall non party deputy. The protesters were harangued by Anatoliy Davydenko, a tenant from the Ilyushina street dormitory, tenants of other local dormitories suffering similar situations, Ivan Ovsyannikov (Socialist Resistance Movement), Tamara Vedernikova (RKRP Party), Vadim Bolshakov (Center of Workers Solidarity), and others.

The picketers were chanting: «We won’t be kneeled — we won’t let us get evicted! », «Learn it as your working hours — it is the struggle that empowers!». They were also holding homemade placards and banners: «Dormitories for us! For the Mayor – a bed and a straw mattress! », «Dormitories, unite!», and others. The protesters’ demands signed by the picketers were handed over to Mr. Osipov, Chief of the City Housing Committee; the latter preferred attending a ''significant conference'' to talking to the people threatened with evictions.

At present, the initiative group involves tenants of at least seven Saint Petersburg’s dormitories: Ilyushina, 15, Petergovskiy highway, 73, Pilotov street, 13, Podvoysky street, 46 and 48, Garkavy, Pionerstroy streets and others.

Most of the tenants are former construction workers and engineers, fire and even police officers, who were granted their temporary housing by the state in the Soviet time. Some of the tenants had been involved in construction of their houses in the earlier period. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the temporary housing turned into a kind of permanent. The entities that had owned former dormitories went through privatization, and some private businessmen emerged ‘’out of nowhere’’ and appropriated the residential buildings housed by those dormitories, in all the cases violating laws. For a long time, those who had lived in the buildings did not even suspect that their housing had been owned by private businesses.

However, after the limitation time expired during which the results of privatization could have been appealed in courts, the tenants encountered the most outrageous terror waged by the new owners, who were seeking to force the tenants into signing fettering commercial rent agreements. And if the tenants are stubborn, they tend to force them into «releasing» the property from «the encumbrance» (this clumsy Russian legal term denotes human beings as if they were property themselves).

In doing this, the owners resorted to various dirty tricks and gimmicks aimed to blackmail and harass people, involving cut-offs from the communal utilities, blocking the stairwells and blatant violence.

One of the solutions to the problem might be a transfer of the buildings into the municipal ownership. However, the local courts, prosecutor’s office, civil servants and city hall deputies, Edinaya Rossia ruling party members, appealed to many times by the tenants, have sided with the property owners, in being on guard of the booty looted in the 1990 ies.

The tenants of Saint Petersburg’s dormitories demand that no evictions be perpetrated and they be provided new decent housing, in compliance with the official Russian standards and norms; they also demand that a standing committee be set up that would include representatives of the City Government, tenants’ initiative groups and owners to find solutions to the problems connected with the local dormitories; they demand that a program aimed at protecting the dormitory tenants be elaborated and enforced.

The protest has been timed by the tenants with the Zero Evictions campaign held all over the world every October under the UN and IAI auspices.

The organizers of the action claim that they are ready to resort to more radical actions if the local authorities persist in ignoring the problems of dormitories.

The conclusion is obvious: it is necessary to fight for a democratic control over the city bureaucracy and owners, which is possible only through having a mass and radical movement of grass root activists and a united coalition of various protest groups: dormitories’ tenants, owners of small garage facilities demolished by the authorities, urban planning and environmental movement activists, trade unionists, all of them involved in a joint struggle for their common interests.

Yury Simonov, IAI and trade union activist, journalist, Saint Petersburg

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