Russia's Amnesty Proposal Tests Entrepreneurial Attitudes

A recent survey [ru] conducted by Russian polling firm FOM found that only 5% of Russians say they are involved in “entrepreneurial activity,” concluding:

Главными препятствиями для открытия собственного дела россияне считают высокие налоги, недостаточную поддержку со стороны государства и высокую коррупцию.

Russians say that they consider high taxes, lack of state support, and high corruption levels to be the main impediments to starting their own business.

FOM also asked [ru] its survey respondents why they think people in Russia engage in entrepreneurial activity. 72% said they think the main reason people go into business for themselves is to earn more money.

When asked why they did not have their own business, 17% of respondents answered that they were too old, 8% said they lacked the necessary skills, 7% replied that they already had a job, and 6% answered it was simply too difficult. Nearly half of those polled did not answer the question at all.

The government is clearly concerned about this trend, and believes that such attitudes are stifling economic activity. To that end, Boris Titov, the Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights, has proposed an amnesty program for economic crimes. Under his plan, some 10,000 men and women incarcerated for economic crimes would be freed, though amnesty would be limited to first-time offenders who also agreed to repay the damages of their crimes.

Speaking to investors at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said [en], “It’s not just an act of humanity; it’s a signal to our supervisory bodies that we have a chance to reorganize the environment for entrepreneurs.”

Putin addresses the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, 21 June 2013, Russian Presidential Press Service, public domain.

Putin addresses the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, 21 June 2013, Russian Presidential Press Service, public domain.

Titov defended the planned amnesty in an interview, saying, “So this is the logic of the amnesty – yes someone will (be let) out who really committed a crime, but it’s better to do this than to keep a really innocent person – even one – in jail.”

Valery Fedotov, a United Russia Duma deputy representing Saint Petersburg, shared his own thoughts about Titov’s amnesty in a blog post [ru], titled “Who Needs This Amnesty?”:

Предложенная Путиным экономическая амнистия устроена хитро: реальным жуликам по ней выйти проще, чем невиновным и оклеветанным.

По поводу проекта экономической амнистии, основательно урезанного в процессе согласования с Кремлем, хочу заявить, что как политику, мне очевидно: данный проект – компромисс между экономическим блоком Кремля и всевластными силовиками.

Putin’s proposed economic amnesty is artfully arranged: the real crooks get through the process easier than the innocent and maligned.

According to the draft amnesty, thoroughly trimmed in the negotiation process with the Kremlin, I want to point out that, as a politician, it is clear to me that this project is a compromise between the Kremlin’s economic bloc and the omnipotent security forces [the siloviki].

Meanwhile, Fedotov pointed out, Titov’s original proposal had been edited to ensure that ex-Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky would not be eligible for early release.

"Mentality is our prison." An anonymous demotivator widely distributed online.

“Mentality is our prison.” An anonymous demotivator widely distributed online.

Fedotov’s blog post brought out the skeptics [ru]:

Чтобы выпустить на свободу невинным и оклеветанным, нужно проводить не амнистию, а дополнительное следствие по их делам, дабы убедиться в том, что данные лица действительно невинно оклеветаны. Амнистия – не средство борьбы с судебными ошибками и преступлениями. Она направлена на действительно виновных, по крайней мере, тех, кого власть имущие считают таковыми.

In order to release the innocent and slandered, what we need isn't amnesty, but an additional investigation of their cases to ensure that these people were indeed innocently slandered. Amnesty is not a means to combat judicial errors and crimes. It is directed at the truly guilty, or at least those whom the powers that be consider as such.

Another commenter remarked [Ru]:

Мне тоже режет ухо термин “амнистия”. Амнистия подразумевает милость к виноватому. Иными словами, абсолютно правая власть дарует милость виновным перед ней.

Вот эта твердая несгибаемость есть признак уязвимости.

Мне пришло на память, как в России давали свободу крепостным: была объявлена “высочайшая милость императора”.

The term “amnesty” also grates on my ears. Amnesty implies mercy for the guilty. In other words, the high and mighty authorities grant mercy to those guilty before them.

It is this hard inflexibility that is a sign of vulnerability.

I am reminded that in Russia, when freedom was given to the serfs, it was declared “the supreme mercy of the Emperor.”

One commenter was more blasé [ru]:

Лучше чем ноль.

It’s better than nothing.

To which Fedotov replied:

С этим не поспоришь.

There is no disputing that.

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