Chechnya is suffering from a lack of jobs
By Ruslan Isayev
Post-war Chechnya has one of the highest unemployment rates in Russia. Reported figures show that only every fifth Chechen is in work. The authorities, realizing that unemployment levels are directly related to the stability of the republic, make attempts to counter this negative factor.
Chechnya is still an unattractive area for investment, and so far no well-known known domestic or foreign company has opened a business there that would help to significantly reduce the number of unemployed. Thus, having almost conquered separatism, the authorities are unable to reduce the lack of jobs.
The two Chechen wars have completely altered the lifestyle of Chechens. Whereas earlier a young man’s life after leaving school was mapped out for twenty years ahead, few are now able to guess what they may be doing even in the near future. A qualified programmer may end up working on a building site if he is unwilling or unable to join the police, while a policeman’s job may be taken by someone who used to work as a cattleman or a tractor driver.
In order to feed their families, most of the male population have to engage in types of work they have never done before. A former university professor works as a taxi driver, while a teacher of Russian language and literature repairs cars at home. It’s a confusing picture.
On Grozny’s numerous construction sites unskilled labourers are paid by the day. An ordinary worker receives from 300 roubles upwards, depending on the complexity of the job. So it pays the workers to remain in one place and to take their time.
I myself saw a gang of 12 labourers hauling six concrete pillars out of the ground with the help of a crane. One of the pillars had got tangled in wire and the gang waited for six hours before a welder arrived to cut the thin metal. “Why should we do the work quickly, for they’ll just send us on to another site?“ they reasoned.
It is quite possible that the unemployment rate in Chechnya has been exaggerated. But not by much. If a man is receiving unemployment benefit, his family receives a discount on public utility bills. Last year there were several cases where the prosecution found evidence that benefits had been obtained by men who were in work. Such misdemeanours are punished by large fines. People then complain to the human rights workers and the parliamentary commission.
In one case, criminal charges were filed against a woman who had received benefits, and she appealed to Parliament to investigate the matter. It turned out that she was employed in a rural café, and thus, in principle, had committed an offence. The prosecutor’s office publicized the case widely, but parliamentary deputies intervened on the woman’s behalf, and the charges were dropped.
A spokesman for the Chechen Department of Employment says that there are a fair number of such cases, and that quite often people will go to any lengths to grab money from the state.
45-year-old Adam works at home as a carpenter. With four children, elderly parents and a house ruined in the fighting, he has also registered for unemployment benefit. He does not consider that he is robbing the state.
"I haven’t received any compensation for my house, and I’ll hardly be able to rebuild it on 350,000 roubles. Who’s going to take responsibility for that? Why, as soon as we apply for benefit, do they start checking to see if we’re working somewhere?" Adam asks.
“There’s thieving right at the top of the government. The paradox of our time is that members of the law enforcement agencies can kidnap and kill people and they won’t be punished for it, but if a person tries to prevent his family from going hungry and short of clothes and shoes, he’s an offender. The authorities ought to be grateful to me and others like me for the fact that we’re raising our children for them, without expecting anything in return. After all, they are going to be the law-abiding citizens of the future," he says.
The problem of bribe-taking in Chechnya is also a very expensive one. The money involved would be sufficient to buy any kind of social support, pensions and disablement benefit for any group. The scale of the bribery is enormous. But people break the law because they have no prospects, and because of the lack of jobs. So independent observers believe that the fight against unemployment should not start from below, but with certain concrete steps. Unemployment is at critical levels, and threatens with the risk of social disruption.
This was the subject of an open letter published in the republic’s Vesti newspaper by a group of Chechen scholars and public figures last autumn. They warned the authorities of the dangers of ignoring the problem.
"The events of 1991 which led to a change of government in the republic, and ultimately to the outbreak of the first Chechen war, were above all supported by Chechens who were dissatisfied with their standard of living. If the same thing happens now, the consequences for the Chechen people will be catastrophic," the authors of the letter considered.
There is an official total of around 400,000 people who are registered as unemployed in Chechnya. The Department of Employment pays each of them 720 roubles per month. In addition, there is a national training program to prepare young people for certain professions: driver, tailor, programmer, etc. But this meagre sum is wholly insufficient to deal with such a difficult situation.
The Chechen Department of Employment recently appealed to its colleagues in Krasnodarsky Krai to provide jobs for Chechen construction workers at construction sites in the city of Sochi, which will host the Winter Olympics in 2014. From Krasnodar came the reply that no such vacancies exist.
(Translation by DM)