The Warsaw Network
A few stories about how the authorities care for ordinary people (no, not in Poland – in Russia)
18.06.2018

Russia has an ombudsman for entrepreneurship – his name is Boris Titov. He has repeatedly acted in defence of businessmen tormented by the administration, but now has the chance to be properly remembered by his fellow citizens. He asked President Putin to introduce protective duty measures on imported wines. Russia is not some sort of giant in this industry, but it does have what it takes to become one, and fledgling business needs support, because it just cannot compete with real giants on the market. It’s quite difficult to determine how the introduction of customs barriers will protect the rights of entrepreneurs, since those are not robots that import wines to Russia. Journalists, as malicious as anywhere else in the world, are saying that Titov’s interest in the problems of local winemakers is heavily influenced by the fact that his family owns one of the largest Russian companies operating in the wine (production) industry.

 

A somewhat similar story can be told about the former Minister of Agriculture Tkachev, who had always been an advocate of protecting the domestic market, generous support for producers so that those who were already solidified could compete with global players. Certainly, as was implied, his zeal in this work was due to the fact that his family controlled one of the largest Russian agricultural holdings (several hundred thousand hectares of land, processing plants, trading activities) founded by the father of the former minister. And how do the Russians see this issue? Well, a bit of light is shed by the recently published statistics of the most popular with our big neighbour tourist destinations in the first quarter of this year. And it turns out that Finland is definitely in the first place (736,000 trips). Anyone, who has ever been to Helsinki, not to smear this city whatsoever, knows that there aren’t many tourist attractions, and winter months are not the best time to relax there. But Russians think not of resting, but shopping, mainly for food. Finns have not imposed any restrictions on export; Russians, on the flipside, very much so. And one must not carry across the border more than 5 kilos at a time. But this has also been dealt with. The phenomenon called “poputchick” significantly gained popularity. We are familiar with this term ever since the times of the communist regime, where this was an elegant name to describe those “useful idiots” who acted in support of the Soviet system in numerous Western European editorial offices and political salons. But now the Russians have revived it and given it a new meaning. It goes for people standing by the roads leading to the Russian-Finnish border, who will accompany you for a relatively reasonable price (1000 Russian roubles) and help you carry goods across the border. Statistics on Russians’ trips show that also in other regions of this type “tourism” enjoys extreme popularity. Apart from unquestionable destinations, such as Thailand or Turkey, the most frequented countries are: China, Estonia and Poland. One doesn’t really have to conduct in-depth analyses or opinion polls in order to know, be it just on the basis of the data provided, what ordinary Russians can think about the effects of the policy of protecting domestic food producers.

Yesterday, the Russian government, under the cover of the inauguration of the World Cup, announced the increase in local VAT and the increase of the retirement age for Russians (63 years for women, 65 years for men). The argumentation used in this case is not in the least novel, nor is it original is our eyes. It can be brought to this: pensions will be higher and retirees will live more comfortably and prosperously. But as calculation show, if the retirement age had remained unchanged, the pension of an average Russian man would come up to 800,000 roubles more, while that of a woman would be 1.3 million roubles higher (from the moment one retires to one’s death). Ergo: nihil novi sub sole.

Author: Marek Budzisz