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Russia's arrogant elites

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Juri Rescheto
August 14, 2016

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's statement that Russian teachers should moonlight to make ends meet will hardly hurt his re-election campaign. It is a nation resigned to the arrogance of power, DW's Juri Rescheto writes.

München Sicherheitskonferenz - Dmitri Medwedew
Image: Reuters/M. Dalder

Stripping lecturers? That's been done. Teachers as vendors? I know that, too. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said teachers should find means of earning money outside of their full-time jobs at schools. His cynical suggestion brings back painful memories from the 1990s.

I was visiting my home on the Volga in Siberia following my university studies. Chaos reigned. People had to stand in line for a few grams of butter. It was a humiliating sight to see.

At the market, I couldn't believe my eyes. My former Russian teacher was behind the stands selling pickles for families to stockpile for winter. The teacher who had once so proudly and passionately taught me Pushkin, Gogol and Bulgakov was now struggling along with the rest to survive. Our eyes met briefly, but I quickly turned away in mutual embarrassment.

DW's Juri Rescheto
DW's Juri ReschetoImage: DW/J. Rescheto

Things haven't been quite as bad in recent years. However, the 10,000-15,000 rubles (140-210 euros/$155-230) a teacher earns per month is obscenely little money. Medvedev knows as much. As the head of Russia's government and governing party, he has to know that.

And yet, in a display of indifference, Medvedev told a teacher from the autonomous region of Dagestan to look for work on the side to make ends meet. Even worse, it reveals how little he cares about what he says. Perhaps he doesn't even realize how thickheaded his comments are. It's callous, derisive and arrogant.

'Just no money'

Any other politician would follow such a gaffe with an immediate campaign pledge to support teachers. But not Medvedev - and not in Russia. The prime minister simply told people to "remain patient" because there's "just no money." Or they could find new jobs.

This episode is unfolding just a month before elections for the Duma, but also in the context of the most recent corruption findings by the opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who has denounced the scot-free lives of luxury led by Russia's high-ranking public officials.

In Prime Minister Medvedev's detached worldview, Russians are nothing more than creatures whose voices don't matter. Just like my impoverished teacher, selling pickles in the market to supplement her disgraceful wages.

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