Red flags wave in the sky as several thousand protestors shiver in St. Petersburg’s September air. A troubled crowd of seniors and youth alike hold their hastily made posters. “We want to live on our pensions, not die at work,” one sign reads. Police stand by restlessly waiting for the protest to get out of hand. A reporter’s camera snaps photos of several older woman whispering soberly behind their posters. The younger Russians begin shouting and chanting. At the end of the day, the police detain over 400 protestors.
Thousands of Russians rallied to protest a new government petition to raise the pension age. The Russian government, on behalf of Vladimir Putin, proposed to raise the pension age from 60 to 65 for men, and from 55 to 63 for women.
With a life expectancy of 66 years for men and 77 years for woman, many seniors fear that they will pass away before they even have the chance to retire. Others complain that the rising pension age will compel seniors to stay in the workforce longer, decreasing job opportunities for Russia’s youth.
In attempts to soften the views of the protestors, Putin dropped the proposed pension age for women to 60. “In our country, there is a special, gentle attitude to women,” he stated. While three million people have already signed a petition against this reform, Putin warned the Russians that Russia would see an economic collapse and threats to its national security without severe preventive measures. However, the Russians were dissuaded and continue to gather in city squares. Polls show that 90% of Russians disprove of this petition and that Putin’s approval rating plummeted more than 10 % since the pension reforms were proposed. Even Putin’s concessions to lighten the reforms have not helped his popularity.
Regional authorities were also challenged by the large masses of protestors as they were eager for a high turnout at elections.
As crowds continue to protest, the police have begun to clampdown on these rallies. Over 1,000 protestors have already been detained nationwide.
52-year-old factory worker, Olga Sokolova, was shocked when she heard of the raise in pension age. Hoping to retire from her physically taxing job at 55, Sokolova decided to risk detention by joining the Moscow rally.
Likewise, 24-year-old Igor Panov risked detainment because he felt that “the reform is a robbery of [his] parents and grandparents. Stealing [his] future, too.” Panov felt compelled to protest to protect his future.
While the current pensions provide some relief for the millions of Russians without relatives to help support them, the monthly pensions only add up to 13,342 rubles (200 USD). These seniors often supplement their pension by selling baked goods or working part-time jobs until they are too old or sick to continue. Many of the protestors claim that pensions funds could be attained through budgeting or fighting the corruption in the Russian government. Seniors at rallies say that they are proud that the younger generations came out in full force to help them protest the controversial bill.
While this is not the first protest Russia’s government has faced, it will certainly not be the last.