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Many regard tighter registration rules as comeback of Soviet-era residence permit

January 22, 2013, 16:57 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Many in Russia see the presidential bill on amendments to the registration of residents, submitted to the State Duma, as restoration of the Soviet Union’s residence permit. Many human rights activists have sounded alarm bells. In their opinion, the new law will concern millions of Russians who are registered at one address, but reside elsewhere. Experts believe that registration should be left in effect only for foreign workers, while Russian citizens made exempt from it. This theme has been one of the most discussed ones in the media over the past month.

On January 9 Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted to the State Duma a bill introducing criminal punishment for violating the rules of registration at the place of residence. The official purpose of the bill is to fight “massive abuse by owners of housing, in many cases, involving ill-gotten gains.” According to the explanatory note to the bill in 2011 alone the authorities identified “more than 6,400 addresses where almost 300,000 residents are registered.” These people “shirk their constitutional obligations to other citizens, the state and society.”

Among the newly introduced legal terms is “fictitious registration of a citizen at the place of stay or residence.” In other words, registration “on the basis of false information or documents,” or registration “without the person’s intent” to reside at the given address.

The proposed amendments to the rules of registration of Russian citizens and the migration registration of foreigners within Russia are in fact confined to two measures. The introduction of the term “fictitious registration,” for which individuals will be fined 100-500 rubles a month or sent to jail for a period of up to three years is one. Sanctions for residence without registration is the other. Tighter responsibility for registration will concern both citizens registered at a different address and housing owners.

Advertisements with offers of temporary or permanent registration are seen on every street lamp post. The Internet is literally brimming with them. “Registration in Moscow. Fast, cheap, official.” Ads of this type attract the attention of people eager to promptly get the needed document. It is pretty clear that such firms operate not quite officially. Thousands of Moscow’s visitors and guests have to resort to their services, because without registration it is impossible to apply for Russian citizenship, in many cases have the wanted job, get a passport or take a bank loan.

The mandatory residence permit institution existed throughout the Soviet era. It was one of the tools the authorities used to control the movement of citizens. Residence without registration was prohibited and fraught with deportation, fines and correctional works.

The mandatory residence permit was canceled in Russia on October 1, 1993 from the moment the law on the citizens’ right to the freedom of movement took effect. It was replaced by registration and the place of residence, for which simple notification was enough. Only foreign nationals and migrants still had to have themselves registered.

However, the heads of some regions of Russia, including Moscow, in fact defied this law. Tight registration rules in the Russian capital stayed effective up to 1996, when the Constitutional Court declared a number of regional laws on registration ran counter to the Fundamental Law. However, in February 1998 the very same court ruled that “notifying the registration authorities of one’s place of stay or registration is not only a right, but also a duty of each Russian citizen.”

Should it be adopted, the new law will harm the interests of millions of Russians, human rights activists have warned.

The leader of the organization called Civil Assistance, Svetlana Gannushkina, is quoted by the daily Novyie Izvestia as saying the proposed bill is “a project for jealous wives and husbands.” In her opinion it will concern not only migrants, but a great number of people registered in one apartment but resident elsewhere for this or that reason.

The head of the federal migration service FMS, Konstantin Romodanovsky, has said, though, “I would like to say once again that it does not concern people who have an apartment at one address, but reside at some other place… We shall not be chasing them or trying to expose them. There is nothing for them to worry about.”

The explanatory note accompanying the bill says the real purpose of amendments is struggle against so-called fake registration addresses and overcrowded flats, where several dozen or even hundreds of residents are registered at the same time. Gannushkina believes that such a phenomenon as phony registration addresses is quite natural. “The people do this because on their way to Russian citizenship there is such an obstacle as absence of registration at the place of residence,” the human rights activist said. “Cancel registration as a mandatory factor for getting Russian citizenship.”

In her opinion, the institution of the mandatory residence permit has already staged a comeback. It forces people to seek registration in order to be entitled to medical care, education, etc.

The Opposition is certain that this is yet another move to “tighten the screws,” which would merely harm the ordinary people. Experts are certain that harsh problems would not eliminate any of the migration-related problems.

The State Duma’s former member, retired federal security service FSB Colonel Gennady Gudkov, speculates that “the bill is consonant with the mainstream trend of taking a harder line,” but in the context of a corrupt state it will not be effective.

The deputy chairman of the State Duma’s constitutional legislation committee, Vadim Solovyov, of the Communist Party, believes that order must be restored, of course, but in a way that would not harm the law-abiding citizens. “Millions are constantly looking for a job and have to travel all over this country. We should not overdo it,” the daily Kommersant quotes Solovyov as saying.

There is the opinion legislation is being tightened for the purpose of political control of politically disloyal people. “I believe that behind all this there is an attempt to restore the Soviet style system of control of citizens,” Itogi magazine quotes political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin as saying. “It will be possible to use these rules against political opponents. First, registration procedures will be unduly delayed, and then charges brought forward.”

“No other act would violate the law on the right of citizens to the freedom of movement as seriously,” says expert Alexei Mikhailov, of the Center of Economic and Political Studies. With the adoption of the new act more loopholes will appear, he warns.

“My proposal addressed to the State Duma members is simple – cancel this law. Do away with the mandatory registration at the place of residence or stay for Russian citizens. Leave it in effect only for foreign nationals.”

“Will the state ever begin to trust its own people?” he asked in conclusion.