Slava Gamenyok (Residential association NGOs), 2008

Transcript of Interview with Slava Gamenyok, May 2008. See audio clip, and Metta Spencer’s notes, at end of text.
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Interpreter — Olga Medvedkova

Olga Medvedkova: “So, I would like to present you with Slava Gamenyok. He is a advisor of the Deputy Mitrokhin. He’s a Deputy of Moscow City Duma and he’s representative of Yabloko. So, maybe he’s one deputy from the Democratic branch of the Russian politics in the Moscow City Duma. And, he’s also ________ with Khovanskaya. She is a deputy of State Duma in….. Before, she was a representative of Yabloko also, but now she works for a, she work… [side speech]”

SG: “…just Russia”

SG: “OK, but he also involve in civic activities which is, you know, in this foundation, is, is non-government foundation which is called (Russian words)….”

SG: “OK, it’s a, it’s…., which is dealing with solidarity among residents”


SG: “So, we are actually sitting here in this office and this office is the original headquarter of, of our organization of, for a, human rights organization”

SG: “Well he’s a specializing in various issues but particularly he’s specializing in, in evolution of NGO’s which are dealing with housing problems. It’s like … [side speech]. Yeah, so it’s NGO’s which are dealing with residential issues with housing problems”

UP: “Yeah, well, actually when I say this housing NGO but it’s also sort of creation of residential associations, ok, which trying to advocate their rights and to get together and things like that. So, which is not easy to achieve because if you take some housing projects, some people privatized their plot and some people didn’t. Some people are interested in maintenance of the whole house and some don’t think it should be their responsibility. So he’s really dealing with those issues and with those associations. And also talk, he’ll talk a little bit about the history of this process”

SG: “Well, first, residential associations came around, came even during the Soviet Union because as far as I remember in _____ about eleven percent of housing stocks in Moscow had being cooperatives. Cooperatives meant that you could buy your own apartment and that would be sort of your private property. I’m saying sort of because there was no way to sell it on the market. So, to a degree it was yours because you’ve been paying money for that, you’ve been making down-payments and then you’ve been paying eventually off your debt. But if you wanted to sell it, you had to return it back to cooperative and in Soviet time, it worked like that. You been driving a car, it depreciated, it’s much cheaper now right? You know that real estate usually grow in the, you know, in price. But so it’s considered that you used it, you lived there, so it was _____. So if you would sell it to cooperative back you would really get just a fraction of what you paid for that. So, but that it was sort of beginning of those residential associations and sort of ….”

SG: “Well, he’s also saying that there’s been some predecessors of those residential associations even the, in the twenties, let’s say between twenty-first and twenty-fours and that was actually during the civil war. A lot of cities, and starting from Moscow, lost a lot of residential stock because, as you remember, private property was abolished and you remember that from Dr. Zhivago video – you’ve been watching that. It’s been, the housing was split up and turned into communal flats. People did not maintain anything. There are, they didn’t pay the rent because it belonged to people, it belonged to state. Residential stock was deteriorating and about twenty percent residential stock in Moscow was lost in the twenty’s due to this process”

SG: “New process of a, you know, creation, creating this residential association started as they called ____ after democratic revolution which took place in, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union”

SG: “Well, he participated, he was an active participant in all, you know, establishment of this system structure of self-governance from the very beginning. He together with Galina Khovanskaya, we met Galina Khovanskaya a couple of times because she used to work in Moscow Duma and she was in charge of housing problems and issues in Moscow. And what she was doing, she was sort of a mediator between people who had some problems on the municipal local level and Moscow government because she would know how to move with those issues and complaints through various channels, so she would reach really up to _____ level and some of those issues would be resolved. So they’ve been working together and, they’ve been working in this, in the establishment [side speech]. So, they’ve been working in this, kind of at that foundation of this self-government system and they’ve been working in Okrug, in Central Okrug and you know what it is”

“And they end up as a part of executive power of Moscow and they ended up in an, not very usual way”

SG: “So, Democratic Russia, it’s a, it’s a movement, actually been selecting people who would be able to work in executive branch of a, the, of the government in Moscow. And they selected about thirty people”

SG: “Well, if Khovanskaya was working for, in residential area, you know, residential housing, he was working [side speech]….”

SG: “…, management of, OK, management of a….”

UP: “….public relations and information. He created this agency”

SG: “Well the main idea of this agency was to involve rank-and-file citizens to the management of, of the city”

SG: “This agency….”

SG: “This agency survived for eight years thanks to a person, a democratic person who was in charge of, who was [side speech]”

SG: “He was a prefect of the Central Okrug and he also was Deputy Prime Minister”

SG: “Well one of the main idea was how to involve as I said already before local people on local level to the process of self-governance”

SG: “Somewhere in ninety-two, ninety-three, a lot of investments been moved, you know, those investments went to, into Central Okrug [side speech]”


SG: “Well the whole central district was under reconstruction and remodelling and those houses which should, would be remodelled or demolished, well people live there”

SG: “Well as usual those residents hadn’t been affluent or anything like that and they really didn’t take part in what was happening in Central Okrug”

SG: “Housing stock in central district was as a, as are all, sort of not exactly dilapidated but not in the best state”

SG: “Some of them been built in _________ since nineteenth century”

SG: “Ok, so some of those buildings been declared, you know, they should be demolished. People been forbidden to privatize their space there, their apartments there and people had to be resettle from those buildings”

SG: “But for people, actually I participate, I mean I’ve been at that time in Moscow and I went with my friends who been, you know, running real, real estate agency through those apartments. I was very painful process for people because for people it wasn’t just place. Even if, if it’s been communal place, and you think what’s wrong to give them apartments on outskirts of the city – it would be their own apartments – usually it would be older people, very old and single. And you know longevity between men and women, you know, is huge so most of all it would be old women. And that was their social network and social niche and environment where they lived. Not to say everything was in a very close proximity. And you’ve seen how new districts been built, like spaces are huge. So for them the whole network, the whole there, you know, niche in which they lived was pretty much ruined”

SG: “But Central District also has a lot of people with, you know, high degree intellectuals. Some of the, you know, substantial elite also lives in Central District. Of course they didn’t live in a communal flat”

SG: “So, and those people who’ve been educated enough, and they been networking in the _______, they realized there is, that their, you know, existence, their livelihood is in danger. And that’s, that was the time when they start coming, getting together and creating those associations where they can fight against it”

SG: “First associations of, it’s not homeowners, most of all it’s apartment owners, ok, came around ninety-three”

SG: “And the more privatization of real estate was taking, real estate was taking place, the more associations been created”

SG: “Ok, in ninety-eight, it was the first program was created to support those association of apartment owners” [side speech]

SG: “They also in this centre, they created another centre which was supporting those associations amongst residents”

SG: “So, according to the initiative, the first program was confirmed by Moscow government about support for this, you know, which would support those associations of residents”

SG: “Yeah, this centre existed up to 2002 and because they’ve been so active and they really achieved some results in involving the rank-and-file citizens into civic activity, government decided that they’ve been too active and they dissolved their centre in 2002”

SG: [side speech]

SG: “Well the order which the centre was kind of creating how…. OK, residents want to communicate to Moscow government, right, so they created an order in which those requests been channelled. They split them on complaints, on some requests, on some suggestions and they help to speed up, you know, the process channelling that to, to, to the political, you know, the political, to Moscow government”

SG: “So, and they also enforced, during this process they enforced the following procedure: ‘This complain or this request is still in and nobody is going throw it away until some powerful people in this Moscow government, you know, stand that, agree, you know, to satisfy this request or agree to look into this complain and things like that so it wouldn’t be thrown into garbage unless some stamp would be there”

SG: “So this process, it looks like what’s the big deal but it was very important because they’ve been dealing with highly bureaucratic apparatus, it’s still highly bureaucratic, and yet they forced them to really consider each of those letters rather than to write like, you know, reply which would be really _____ for people”

SG: “So, they channelled like the two thousand, you know, complaints and requests, and they also, based on their experience, suggested to mayor’s office to change the way how they been working, you know, answering to citizens”

SG: “Well it didn’t, it didn’t get through because they’ve been told that if, those complaints and requests should be kept in their file until citizens also would sign the agreement. Then they have to turn the whole system of corruption around. They have to bribe citizens so they would, you know, sign agreement. And so far citizens had to bribe bureaucracy to sign it. And we know what is more advantageous for, for the bureaucracy”

SG: “Well, as we know initiative is punishable, so after this initi…., you know, initiative this prefect of the Central District lost his position, also position of Deputy of Prime Minister [side speech]. Well not too bad for my taste, and he became Minister of Communication and Information”

SG: “But he lost his power”

SG: “Well nevertheless, they created new agency, new centre, governmental centre really, where they’ve been dealing with municipal reforms and he’s working there”

SG: “But because, you know, the whole process was so…, anyway…. So he loved that agency and he went to work as an advisor to party Yabloko, which you’re familiar with, which is considered to be more or less Democratic Party”

SG: “They’ve been working on behalf of reforms of municipal economy inside Moscow but they really didn’t get any support from Moscow government. And thinking like back what were referred yesterday from architects, it’s like a total chaos and jungle. No planning, particularly dealing with long term planning like utilities and roads and other infrastructures, really no investments going there because you cannot turn around money in three years, _____ and put it in your pocket. [side speech]”


OLGA M: “________ is the editor of this magazine, and it’s called, you know, it’s a magazine which is devoted to associations of, well you would, you would say homeowners, but most of all it’s like ninety-nine percent of apartment owners, right. And it’s going already for two years, and for them it’s kind of a forum where all those problems may be discussed”

UP: “Well what we just was talking about various problems that was like a general picture but in this magazine, they are describing specific issues and specific areas, specific regions and people are exchanging their, you know, experience in trying to solve some problems and just sharing some good recipes how to fight bureaucracy”

UP: “OK, on every cover, there is new view on the, mostly subjects…. [side speech]”

UP: “Every cover there is anoth…., you know, every time it’s new subject of federation is _______ because it’s actually on issues which are prevalent across the country, not only Moscow”

SG: “So in spite of all bureaucracy, they succeeded putting into major documents of Moscow government that the reforms of this residential areas and creation those, in support of those association of owners are very important”

SG: “They also had, they used their network, you know, all their network and one of those people who’ve been in this agency which was cut off in 2002 still works in the Moscow government so they’re trying to use those channels to get to the power structure”

Notes: 1. The interviewee’s comments are a combination of direct translation and paraphrase by Olga Medvedkova, the interpreter.
2. UP is used to represent an unidentified Russian female speaker(s)
3. [side speech] is inserted in areas of the conversation where the participants speak to each other in Russian

Metta Spencer’s notes, taken while Gamenyok was speaking:

This house was the original headquarters for a human rights organization. Gomanyok specializes in the evolution of NGOs dealing with housing problems, which also creates a residential association. The first residential associations arose during the Soviet period. You could buy your own apartment but if you sell it back to the cooperative you’d get only a fraction of its value, not its appreciation.

There were predecessors of these residential associations even during the 1920s. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, new associations arose. I participated in this system of self-government with Galina Havanska. They ended up in an unusual way. Democratic Russia chose people able to work in the executive branch of Moscow. I worked in management of public relations agency. It was to involve citizens in management of the city. This agency survived for 8 years, thanks to a democratic guy, a deputy prime minister.

How to involve people in self-government? In 1992-92 investments went into central okrug. Whole district was being demolished, but people lived there. Some of the houses were old, run-down. People were re-settled from them. Their social network was destroyed. Central district also has numbers of intelligentsia. Those who were educated saw their livelihood in danger. They formed associations fo fight against it. Associations of apartment owners came about 1993. In 1998 the first program was created to support the apartment owners. They created another association to support residents, confirmed by the Moscow government. It existed until 2002. Then the government dissolved it because they thought they’d been too active. Residents created an order through which complaints and requests where channeled to appropriate branches of Moscow government. Also, they watched it to make sure it was not ignored until every issue was handled. Forced them to deal with each letter they sent. They channeled 2,000 complints and requests,, suggested to the mayor’s office to change the way they handled them. They were told that they’d have to turn the system around, so citizens would have to sign off too, so authorities would have to bribe citizens to sign.

I went to work for Yabloko on behalf of municipal reforms but didn’t get any support from the Moscow government. Salma is editor of magazine for home owners (apartments).

So this has created an association of owners, despite Putin’s opposition. They ysed their network. Still works in Moscow government, so we still use those channels to get to Moscow power structure. When negotiations were going on before Luzhkov’s re-appointment, he promised some huge reforms to help those homeowners. There are about 30,000 multi-story complexes, about 13,000 of them have associations.

Power structure is afraid of real self-government, so they try to manage it. As Berdyaev said in 1918, in essay, “Russia’s Soul,” he wrote that Russia is the most bureaucratized and most non-political country. Russian people don’t want to be in charge and don’t want to be rich. This is because of the dominance of the huge country over the Russian soul.

Now in Moscow 80 percent of housing is privatized. In rest of country it’s about 70%. It wasn’t just middle-class who got ownership, but mainly poor people. These no-affluent owners are now responsible for the maintenance of their apartments but don’t do it well.

But results when management is elected, not outsourcing to others but managing on their own.

We think of we can awaken sense of responsibility for home owner associations, this may encourage the formation of more democratic parties.

Audio file

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The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books