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Russian pensioners reverse welfare cuts
Due to a large aging population, 34 million out of the 143 million Russian citizens lived on pensions in 2005. Prior to 2005, a typical Russian pension consisted of just over $70, which central and regional governments supplemented with free public transportation, housing subsidies, and for some pensioners, free prescriptions and telephones.
On 1 January 2005, the government enacted a law that replaced the benefits listed above with a cash subsidy that averaged just over $7 and supplemented the original $70 pension. They claimed that this would not harm the elderly citizens in any way, though $7 was much less than the monetary worth of the benefits that they had previously received.
The Communist Party organized a rally against this monetization of benefits on 9 January, the 100th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when the guards of Tsar Nicholas II fired on nonviolent demonstrators and sparked the Revolution of 1905. The rally took place in a suburb of Moscow and garnered a few hundred supporters. The next day, 800 elderly demonstrators blocked the entrance to the highway that runs from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The police arrested twelve protesters, though they quickly released them when protesters threatened the police with legal action. There was no organizing body for this protest; word simply spread quickly amongst the angry pensioners that lived near the highway.
Over the next week, protests against the new pension measure spread across Russia, and many cities started holding daily protests. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexey II, voiced his support for the protests, even though he was known for rarely taking a stance on political issues. Opposition parties organized some of the protests, and others emerged spontaneous. On 13 January, 13,000 people gathered for a protest in St. Petersburg, demanding their benefits back and a raise in their pension amount. They waved red flags, which symbolized communism, and denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin, the ruling Russian political party, United Russia, and the specific lawmakers that had taken their benefits away. Protesters also called for the resignation or dismissal of the responsible lawmakers.
The regional government of Moscow, along with a few other rich regions in Russia, announced that they would reinstate the previous benefits. However, poorer regions were not able to follow through without the help of the central government. On 14 January, the central government announced that they would consider raising the basic pension amount in April by 15% instead of 5%. That day in St. Petersburg, protesters blocked several main roads.
On 15 January, the police arrested 10 political party leaders at a protest in St. Petersburg for not obtaining authorization for the protests. Nevertheless, unauthorized rallies and protests continued to take place around the country. Most of these were rallies outside of central government buildings, though in many cities like St. Petersburg, protesters continued to block off streets. Political parties organized some of these protests, but ordinary elderly citizens organized the majority of them. Young people started to protest in solidarity alongside the elderly. Two days later, Putin announced that pensions would increase on 1 March by $8. Pensioners saw this as a meaningless and vastly insufficient move, and continued to protest. In several cities, groups of pensioners and supporters that ranged from fifty to hundreds of people blocked the entrances to government buildings and important roads. The next day, Putin announced that the government would reintroduce free travel and would double pensions. Satisfied with this compromise, pensioners stopped protesting.