'It is impossible to get by on 54 USD a month without harm to health'
A deputy from the city of Saratov, Russia, has proved that the market basket in Russia includes far not all vital products — he is seeking the ways to increase it
Nikolay Bondarenko, a Saratov Oblast Duma Deputy, Communist, has completed his personal 'experiment' on 23 November, on which he resolved after a dispute with former minister of employment, labour and migration of the region Natalia Sokolova. The deputy touched upon the painful and understandable for the Russian regions topic of low cost of the market basket, on the basis of which the level of minimum pension and wage is calculated. Officials are trying to convince the population that, for example, a resident of Saratov Oblast can live on 3,500 rubles a month (about 54 USD) and that additional social benefits from the state compensate for the income of the poor. Bondarenko decided to prove in practice that it is impossible to have good nutrition on this money — at least, without harm to health. After his 'ministerial diet', Mr. Bondarenko told Realnoe Vremya how he was feeling himself during his experiment.
''In reality, prices are higher than Saratov Statistics Service provides''
Mr. Bondarenko, what products and where did you buy during your experiment?
I bought potatoes, carrots, onions, sometimes cabbage, chicken, eggs, cereals, pasta, vegetable oil at 875 rubles (about 13 USD) a week. Of course, in the cheapest markets, where you can bargain. I could not buy some of the products that are recommended by the relevant ministry in the market basket, because in reality the prices are higher than Saratov Statistics Service provides. The amount established by the officials did not allow me buying other meat except chicken, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, butter, which from a medical point of view are necessary for a balanced diet. To my great disappointment, in the first days of the forced diet, I found out that I could not eat dairy products. I stretched a litre of milk for a week. These products are the cheapest, of low quality. Milk is reconstituted, and therefore, with vegetable fats. For a week, I had from one to two kilograms of chicken. From fruits, this diet allowed me to buy only apples.
''The amount established by the officials did not allow me buying other meat except chicken, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, butter, which from a medical point of view are necessary for a balanced diet.'' Photo: agro.tatarstan.ru
You went to Khakassia. How did you eat during the trip?
Because of the forced restrictions on food, in Abakan I did not stay in a hotel, but rented an apartment to cook for myself. But I faced with problems in psychological terms. The flight to Khakassia lasts four and a half hours. A flight hostess brings lunch, offers food to choose from. I answer that I will not eat. They ask me again, they think I didn't understand something. I explain the reason for the refusal, tell about three and a half thousand rubles. They tell me again, ''Perhaps, then, at least a snack?''
In fact, the situation when an able-bodied person, leading an active life, deprives himself of herself of the necessary food due to lack of money happens very often and everywhere. You see how everyone around you eat, but you have only an apple in your hands. You are in a psychologically serious condition, in which many citizens of our country constantly are. So I am strongly against the word 'experiment' in this case. According to the official data of Rosstat, 22 million people live below the poverty line. But we understand that Rosstat, as part of the state structure, distorts these figures and understates them to justify the results of our country's leadership of the current liberal government of the Russian Federation.
Tell us about your physical condition in these four weeks.
All my life I do sports, I did not have problems with excess weight. Therefore, the conditions of this forced diet were abnormal, critical for my body. Within a month, I understood from my clothes and feelings, that I began to lose weight. I lost 7,4 kg in 31 days. Now I weigh a little more than 87 kilograms. I was having a constant feeling of hunger, irritation, fatigue. Doctors commented that in such conditions, of course, there is a loss of muscle mass, and this affects the general condition of the person, causes confusion, fatigue, affects the labour performance as a whole.
''You see how everyone around you eat, but you have only an apple in your hands. You are in a psychologically serious condition, in which many citizens of our country constantly are.'' Photo: agro.tatarstan.ru
''It is a genocide policy on the part of the government''
If all the officials and most of the deputies in part of the market basket defend the position opposite of yours, it turns out that Sokolova was fired in vain? She's no different from the others.
No, not in vain. But she should have been dismissed not for the spoken words, but for her policy not in the interests of the people.
But in the dispute with you, she represented not so much her personal opinion, but the opinion of the regional government?
Yes, all the government and the governor should be dismissed.
''This amount allows people to consume cheap products of poor quality in insufficient volume, they are malnourished. So there live tens of millions of people every year.'' Photo: Maksim Platonov
What will follow after your 'starvation'?
After a month of the diet, I made several conclusions. The first and most important: of course, it is impossible to live on three and a half thousand rubles without harm to health. Second, this amount allows people to consume cheap products of poor quality in insufficient volume, they are malnourished. But so there live tens of millions of people every year (in fact — about a third of the population), realizing that this is abnormal. Condemning the population to a difficult fate is the policy of genocide on the part of our government.
As a deputy of the regional legislative assembly, I have the right to appeal to the State Duma. If my colleagues-opponents, who are the majority in the regional duma, do not support me, we bring to the federal parliament through our vertical, the State Duma deputies from the Communist Party, the initiative to increase the market basket to 10,000 rubles and the minimum subsistence level to 20,000 rubles. By raising the subsistence minimum, from which the minimum pension and wages are formed, we will be able to improve the welfare of the whole society. Last year, the profit from the sale of oil and gas companies of our richest country amounted to 27 trillion rubles, but only less than a half went to the budget. This needs to be changed. If the government rejects our initiative, it will be possible to show the population whose interests it expresses. Our petition for this proposal has already collected tens of thousands of signatures of citizens on the website of the Russian public initiative.
''We aim to unite people. I am sure that the government under the pressure of the society will be forced to listen to the population and to make compromises and concessions.'' Photo: kprf-saratov.ru
Do you think you, the group of Communists, will be heard in the regional duma and by state leaders who are able to change the situation with the subsistence minimum?
Certainly. We see that any issue of national importance, which was previously accepted quietly, with the tacit consent of the overwhelming majority of representatives of the party in power, is being discussed at the highest level today. It is commented by federal politicians, senators. Many media outlets, when covering serious social issues, set the right direction in the interests of the country's population. It is an achievement of the society. This is the only way to make a difference.
But recently, the regional budget for 2019-2021 has been adopted without taking into account the proposals of deputies from the Communist Party. During its discussion, representatives of your faction inflated black balls in protest. You forced to draw attention to yourself, but still could not resist the Duma majority. Do you think your initiatives will find support in the State Duma?
The region has an opportunity to make the budget much more. We proposed to reduce the cost of maintaining the government, the regional public chamber. Instead of buying 30 new Toyota Camrys, it is better to repair schools, kindergartens. However, today all the deputies from the United Russia vote on the establishment of a rigid centralized power… Our party works in the interests of the majority of the working population, which clearly supports us. Another question is that many people have hammered into their heads the idea that ''nothing depends on us''. But this is already the task of the Communist Party deputies — in every way to destroy these ridiculous arguments. We aim to unite people. I am sure that the government under the pressure of the society will be forced to listen to the population and to make compromises and concessions.