Thursday, June 17, 2010

Russian Internal Passports

Here's one that I hadn't focused on before: Russia still has internal passports. That is: you can't move from Palookaville to, say, St. Petersburg, unless you have the approval of some bureaucrat. I learn this because I read in the Moscow Times that President Prime Minister Putin wants to abolish liberalize these requirements.

A spasm of liberalism on the part of the famously authoritarian elected leader? Not quite. It turns out that some places in Russia have labor shortages. Putin has ordered bureaucrats to find some way to cut through the paperwork so Russians can go where the work is.

One person who would have been glad of such an opportunity is the 19th-Century social thinker Alexander Herzen. He writes about his own experience with the passport system (apparently in 1847):
The second day after my arrival in Petersburg the house porter came to ask me from the local police: "With what papers had I come to Petersburg?" The only paper I had, the decree concerning my retirement from the service, I had sent to the Governor-General with my request for a passport. I gave the house-porter my permit, but he came back to say that it was valid for leaving Moscow but not for entering Petersurg. A police-officer came too,with an invitation to the oberpolitsmeyster's office. I went to Kokoshkin's office, which was lit by lamps although it was daytime, and after an hour he arrived. Kokoshkin more than other persons of the same selection was the picture of a servant of the Tsar with no ulterior designs, a man in favour, ready to do any dirty job, a favourite with no conscience and no bent for reflection. He served and made his pile as naturally as birds sing. ...

--Alexander Herzen, Ends and Beginnings 207
(Oxford UP World's Classic ed. 1985)
What a shame he wasn't a citizen of a free country. Oh wait.


Anonymous said...

This is not 100% accurate. Russia still has internal passports, yes, but these are basic identification documents. Yes, they do have registered addresses, but this does NOT mean that this is the only place you are allowed to be - in fact, freedom of movement is guaranteed by the constitution.

That said, as always in Russia, what exists on paper is not always respected in practice by the authorities.

Specifically, changing one's address is more difficult than it should be - you have to show you are registered somewhere, and to do so, that you have the right to reside there (i.e. a proper rental agreement). And there are some requirements to 'register' (like at a hotel) if you are going to be somewhere for more than a certain period of time.

And in some places, esp Moscow, bureaucrats and police will use these contradictory requirements against people who are not registered. Moscow in particular categorizes certain jobs (for the municipality) as requiring 'local residence.' And will enforce (rather arbitrarily) the residence/registration requirements when they want against certain categories (esp minorities and foreigners from poor countries).

There is an underlying reason for this: tax payments in part go to local governments based on registration (by passport, not temporary).

So in addition private companies strongly prefer local residents, because the tax authorities will look for 'non-residents' and create additional problems.

Of course, there are lots and lots of 'non-locals' working in Moscow especially - and those migrants are particularly vulnerable to abuse by employers. This is a huge problem for 'migrant workers' in construction, etc.

And as always in Russia, the severity of the laws is moderated by the fact that they can be ignored. A solution to all of these problems can be found with money. You can get temporary registration easily and reasonably cheaply - there are a host of companies that will provide a stamp showing that you are 'residing' at some hotel temporarily.

Getting 'official' residence registration in Moscow is more expensive. Many landlords do not want to provide the support needed to show residence, so renting a place may not be enough. Purchasing a residence is almost always enough.

So the problem is not the existence of internal passports, but their administration.

Anonymous said...

Having re-read the Moscow Times article, I'll add:
1) Yes, moving and getting registration is far more difficult than it should be - and this difficulty leads to corruption. (I believe the tech guys would say "it's not a bug - it's a feature!" - at least for those who benefit from the contradictions).
2) Saying it's as bad as in Soviet times is an exaggeration, but also needs clarification. A big step forward in the Soviet Union was making internal passports universally available - I don't remember what year, but it was thirties or forties - because prior to that, internal passports were specifically denied to much of the population, esp residents of collective farms. This was similar to the situation for serfs in the 19th century.

The system as presently administered (and abused) is problematic. But it's not the existence of internal passports that's the issue, and the issues shouldn't be exaggerated.