Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has sparked national outrage. He told teachers to get another job if they want to earn more money. Now hundreds of thousands are calling for his resignation in an online petition.
"The cabinet should be led by someone competent and educated, someone who cares about the country. Right now, the opposite is the case." Those are the first lines of an online petition calling for the resignation of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The petition, on change.org, currently has over 250,000 signatures, collected in just over a week.
The cause of this wave of public outrage was a comment from Medvedev about teachers' salaries at an education forum last week (02.08.2016). A young university lecturer from Dagestan asked him why teachers in Russia receive a salary of 10,000 - 15,000 rubles (140 - 210 euros) per month when police are paid 50,000 or more.
Medvedev, who has worked as a lecturer in the past, replied that teaching is "a calling" and said that "modern, energetic" teachers could find ways to supplement their salary. "If you want to earn money, there are a lot of great places to do so faster and more easily. For example, in business. But you didn't go into business," he told the lecturer.
In a country reeling from Western sanctions and the fall of international oil prices, salaries are a sensitive topic. The public outcry following Medvedev's comments has portrayed the politician as callous and cynical. The petition calling for his resignation gathered enough signatures within two days to force a reaction from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov - even if it was just that the petition "doesn't deserve a response."
This is not the first time Medvedev has been in hot water over a political gaffe. He famously fell asleep at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. And in May 2016, his response to the money worries of pensioners in Crimea went viral. "There's no money. Hang in there. All the best and good health," he said. The video of his answer has been watched over four million times and the phrase has become an internet meme. This Twitter post quotes the prime minister's words:
After Medvedev's comments in Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the prime minister, saying that his words had been taken out of context. This time, the president hasn't commented. And Medvedev's actions have raised much more serious questions about his political future.
'Smear campaign' against the president
There have been rumors that Medvedev could be dismissed from his post after his most recent blunder last week. The day after the education forum, the Kremlin spokesman called the rumors "pure guesswork that don't deserve any attention."
But a week later, Medvedev's comments are still making waves. According to the Russian broadcaster RBC, anonymous Kremlin sources are calling foul play on the public reaction to them. Two members of the president's administration apparently told RBC (link in Russian) that the story "clearly seemed like it was planned," adding that, as a former lecturer himself, Medvedev had been open with his audience at the education forum and now "he has suffered for that openness."
The two officials claim the prime minister could have been set up by a political opponent of Medvedev's, trying to take over his political position - or by someone trying to damage Putin's party, United Russia.
Whoever is to blame for Medvedev's unpopular comments - even if it is Medvedev himself - the ongoing scandal is certainly not good news for the politician ahead of Russian Duma elections in September.