‘Neighbouring countries’ money is used to fund opposition rallies in Russia!’
How the Tatarstan State Council’s parliamentary majority persuaded the minority of the necessity of making new amendments to the law on rallies
The Tatarstan State Council’s deputies discussed a bill on the beginning of the implementation of organic production programme in Tatarstan’s Agro-Industrial Complex and new amendments to the law on rallies that were, in fact, offered to regions by deputies of the Russian State Duma. As a result, both a representative of Yabloko party as well as United Russia deputy and economist Marat Galeyev who paid attention to the elite segment of such products, worse harvest and costliness were against the organic bill. Whereas the amendments to the bill on rallies made communists indignant, they accused the authorities and United Russia members of “ostrich-like attempts at banning all rallies”. Head of United Russia faction Yury Kamaltynov and Speaker of the Tatarstan Parliament Farid Mukhametshin didn’t agree with them.
Why Tatarstan needs its own organic produce
We should remind you that the necessity of developing a Tatarstan law on organic production in the Agro-Industrial Complex was mentioned for the first time a year ago. At a meeting dedicated to organic agriculture development (eco-friendly, using as few chemical additives and fertilisers as possible), Tatarstan Agriculture Ministry Marat Zyabbarov discussed the federal law On Organic Produce, which appeared on 1 January 2020, with the Russian State Duma’s deputy Fatikh Sibagatullin and head of the Tatarstan State Council’s Committee for the Environment, Use of Natural Resources, Agro-Industrial and Food Policy Azat Khamayev.
Agriculturists think that organic produce could be profitable for Tatarstan not only from a perspective of its impact on the population’s health but also the growth of the world market of organic foodstuffs and beverages by 12-15% a year. The total value of the market of organic produce was to be around $212 billion in 2020. Moreover, the share of the Russian agricultural industry in the organic market isn’t over 0,18%, though theoretically, Russia could hold up to a quarter of this market.
While Tatarstan, by Zyabbarov’s team’s estimates, has over 1,200 farms and sole traders that could make organic products. The necessity of an international or Russian certificate in accordance with adopted organic farming standards impedes it. The Ministry of Agriculture thought about the amount and types of support for private farms that switched to organic production during the whole year, while the deputies were asked to continue working on the bill, they had been doing this since 2015.
It will take Tatarstan another 2-3 years to launch eco-friendly production
Azat Khamayev presented the four-page bill at the 19th session of the State Council in spring, while even non-parliamentary parties were invited for discussion at the first hearing (however only 6 of 29 parties came).
“Today organic agriculture is a global trend. It must occupy a special niche in the structure of agriculture solving the problems that conventional agriculture can’t solve thanks to new approaches such as the refusal of pesticides, GMO, growth hormones, antibiotics, food additives,” the deputy said.
According to him the bill particularly determines key areas of state policy and duties of Tatarstan power agencies in organic production. State support is assumed to be provided to organic manufacturers in Tatarstan. However, it is impossible to set up the business right now, Khamayev admitted, it would take Tatarstan 2-3 years to clean the areas. Also, there is a handful of people who want to deal with expensive production, a total of 5-6 companies, unfortunately, the deputy noted.
“The bill won’t improve people’s lives”
Though the bill itself was adopted by the people’s servants at the first hearing, it was subjected to some criticism. Firstly, they noted, it doesn’t name the specific term when the Tatarstan Agro-Industrial Complex must switch to organic production. Secondly, support measures aren’t defined. Thirdly, it is still unclear which Tatarstan agency will certify organic produce, if it complies with the norms or not.
According to Yabloko’s representative Ruslan Zinatullin, the organic market in Russia doesn’t almost develop, the number of certified organic manufacturers doesn’t exceed 100 companies. The base of certificates itself is closed. Consumption of organic produce is growing at a high pace, but there aren’t enough producers. To satisfy the demand right now, the amount of companies that would deal with this area in Russia must increase annually by 200-300 enterprises. While today the market has no more than 5-10 enterprises a year. At such a pace, the problem will be solved in some 400-500 years. While the reason is that 90% of the market isn’t provided with private investments — the state doesn’t almost participate in it, Zinatullin explained.
“Four deputies wrote the law, and we see just four pages. What to say about the law? The law is pointless. It only empowers the Tatarstan Cabinet of Ministers as an agency responsible for agriculture. Where are the support measures? Why didn’t they explain what agencies should issue certificates? A lot could have been written down, but this law in the way it exists now won’t improve people’s life.”
“It is an exclusive thing, organic products are more expensive, the harvest is much worse”
Deputy of Tatarstan’s State Council Marat Galeyev expressed his scepticism about the Tatarstan Agriculture Ministry’s big plans. He reminded the audience that from 800 million to a billion people starve nowadays, by the UN’s calculations. Much more people used to starve previously, and precisely the use of chemicals in agriculture solved the problem of hunger, though partly.
“The gist of the Green Revolution that happened in the world in the 1960s was that the shortage of food was eliminated with the help of chemicals and fertilisers. And the problem of hunger was solved, even Europe starved in the early 20th century. But hundreds of millions of people starve now in some parts of the Earth, and this number won’t decrease by 2030. Yes, the use of chemicals worsened food quality, but it partly solved the problem of starvation,” the economist drew their attention.
Galeyev noted that when today we talk about organic produce, we should understand it is a “step forward” in agriculture, but it will be impossible to feed people with modern technologies only thanks to it.
“It is an exclusive thing, organic products are more expensive, the harvest is much worse. It is correct that we came to think about providing quality food. But at the same time we should understand contradictive processes. There can’t be much organic produce. By the way, even in those countries with organic stores where only the middle and upper classes go shopping this organic produce is discredited due to the impossibility of tracking the origin of produce at times. Organic production monitoring is also an expensive process. To adopt the law in general is also a responsibility to make sure this won’t turn into a marketing tool in the country. Organic produce won’t be able to account for a big share [in the Agro-Industrial Complex of Tatarstan]!” the deputy concluded.
“The organic initiative in Tatarstan would take much time and a lot of money”
Communist Khafiz Mirgalimov who noted that the new document was about strategic food safety and was just the first attempt in the right direction disagreed with the opponents of the bill:
“Yes, there are a lot of general words. But it is impossible to explain everything in a bill. Might the Tatarstan Cabinet of Ministers explain everything in detail. Any law is imperfect. But there is something, it is already good.”
Azat Khamayev himself justified the absence of support measures in the bill by the fact that organic production itself, as it is supposed by the federal law, will have to be funded by the federal budget. And it would be unfeasible to write specific numbers “without the applicants”. In Tatarstan, the deputy added, the Tatarstan Ministry of Agriculture plans to engage “more initiative lads” in organic production. However, the amount of republican support for 2021 named by Khamayev turned out to be absurd, just 10 million rubles. However, he didn’t specify, perhaps, 10 million rubles for every producer was meant.
To endorse the bill, the Tatarstan State Council’s Speaker Farid Mukhametshin expressed his opinion too. He admitted that the organic initiative in Tatarstan would take much time and a lot of money:
“But it is a new project for the republic, to start the activity with organic farming for Tatarstan residents. If we fall behind in the issue, Mr Galeyev, if we don’t arrange systemic work on the use of organic fertilisers and don’t reduce the utilisation of chemicals, we won’t get the products of better quality in the future. The bill will develop, there will certainly be specification, both in the Tatarstan and Russian budget. There won’t be any magic! Organic produce won’t become manna from heaven tomorrow!”
In the end, the bill was adopted at the first hearing with 77% of votes.
“If there is sensible legislation, there won’t be unauthorised protests”
A speech of Tatarstan Minister of Justice Rustem Zagidullin who presented amendments to Article 3 of Tatarstan Law On Enabling Execution of Citizens’ Rights to Hold Meetings, Rallies, Demonstrations, Processions and Pickets in the Republic of Tatarstan caused much more concerns and talks.
Zagidullin noted that the bill itself isn’t an initiative of republican authorities, it is necessary only to ensure compliance of Tatarstan legislation with federal: the Russian State Duma adopted new amendments on 30 December 2020. Firstly, they refer to requirements for organisers of rallies to provide its participants not only with medical but also sanitary service. Secondly, authorities now will require a public event’s organiser’s bank account details used to raise money to organise and hold a public event, the approximate number of participants whose quantity is over 500 people. Finally, authorities will require timely notification of a public event.
“We often consider laws on rallies with you. And it turns out that the changes become only stricter. This time the norm on sanitary service is introduced. It is an absurdity! Bank account details are required for events with more than 500 people. What for?” communist Artyom Prokofyev was indignant. “If there is sensible legislation, there won’t be unauthorised protests.”
“The Tatarstan authorities sensibly evaluate a situation when making decisions on rallies”
Khafiz Mirgalimov backed his colleague and urged the authorities to not only copy federal laws but explain the responsibility of authorities themselves in republican amendments, not only responsibility of protest organisers. And he asked to postpone the adoption of legislation. However, head of United Russia faction in the Tatarstan State Council Yury Kamaltynov and Chairman of the republican Parliament Farid Mukhametshin were in favour of the new amendments. Kamaltynov noted ironically that now every session will be used by opponents “to encourage their audience”. He assured that the bill on amendments itself was just “technical”.
“Our practice even shows that the Tatarstan authorities sensibly evaluate a situation when making decisions on rallies, just recommend holding events in a certain place of the city. Even Kazan hosted rallies last week. ‘The authorities are trying to corner political rivals and prevent some forms,’ this is just talk, it is strange to hear it from communists who sit in the legislative agency. If you want to hold unauthorised rallies across Russia, what can we talk about with you? You are statesmen and offer to violate the system. It isn’t about politics but the order!” Kamaltynov claimed.
Mukhametshin about foreign funding of rallies
Farid Mukhametshin also noted that the new bill “prohibits” nothing, it is rather designed to put processes in order, its name particularly speaks about it, On Enabling Citizens’ Rights to Rallies and Picketing. The new amendments, the speaker of the Tatarstan State Council, just increase the responsibility of organisers.
“As for the point about the necessity of a bank account in case of more than 500 participants, yes, they need information about what money was spent to make a crowd, lease buses and so on. You know, foreign money of neighbouring countries even is used to fund opposition rallies in Russia! As for submitting an application for a rally on time, this norm existed and will exist. We are the power here! Three groups can gather in one place and start to sort things out! Can we allow it? No.”
As a result, the amendments were adopted by a majority — 71% of the deputies.