[main page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][guestbook][publications][hot issues]
By Yevgenia Borisova

Fists fly as Duma approves land bill

The Moscow Times, June 18, 2001, p. 1

The State Duma passed the Land Code in an emotionally charged first reading Friday that saw lawmakers chant, come to blows and whole factions march out en masse. The Duma voted 251-22 with three abstentions in favor of the Kremlin-backed code, which would allow the sale of commercial land and plots in cities and villages to Russians and foreigners. The sale of agricultural land is not provided for in the code and will be dealt with in a separate law. The legislation must pass two more readings in the Duma and then be approved by the Federation Council before it can be sent to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into law.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, whose ministry drafted the legislation, said the code would allow the sale of 2 percent of the country's land. "This draft is the basis for investment activities in Russia," Gref said before the vote was held. "It gives citizens the rights to use their property."

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said last week that 98 percent of the country's land could be sold off under the legislation, and his party and its supporters put up a fierce fight to prevent the Duma from passing the Land Code.

Lawmakers were greeted at the Duma on Friday by about 500 protesters blocking the street and carrying posters slamming the legislation as an attempt to sell off the "Fatherland."

After some debate, the Duma agreed to consider the version of the Land Code drafted by the government and another more radical version drawn up by the Union of Right Forces. The SPS version, which allowed the sale of farmland, was nixed.

Communist and Agrarian lawmakers, chanting "Shame, shame, shame," flocked around the podium to prevent Gref from taking the floor to discuss the Land Code. Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov was eventually forced to call for a timeout. Later, as a result of the heightened tension throughout the day, Seleznyov was hospitalized in the Central Clinic Hospital with high blood pressure.

The Communists and Agrarians were invited to meet with Gref in a separate hall, but they refused and stayed in the main hall singing a rousing World War II favorite. "Stand up, enormous country, stand up and fight to the death with the fascist dark forces, with the cursed hordes," they sang.

During the break, Viktor Anpilov, head of the ultranationalist Working Russia movement, said in an interview: "I haven't read this draft, but it is bad. The worst is that the land will be sold to foreigners and that the regions will be allowed too much independence in dealing with land."

A main objection put forward by opponents was that the regions have not had enough time to comment on the draft Land Code. Zyuganov said that only 21 regions had responded by Friday morning and called for the hearing to be postponed for public discussion.

"Why can't you wait for a week or two?" said Khapisat Gamzatova, a Communist deputy from Dagestan. She said 92 percent of the people in her region recently voted against land sales in a referendum.

However, liberal factions said that too many years have already been lost in idle discussions and that reforms cannot wait any longer.

"Let's just stop making political statements. Let's discuss the legislation and make amendments," said Vyacheslav Volodin of the Fatherland-All Russia faction. "Regions will have enough time a month before the second reading to give their amendments."

Some deputies accused the Communists of trying to manipulate people who are poorly informed.

"We have confused people [about land legislation] to such an extent that even the most educated person does not know what his rights to land are," said Gennady Kulik, a deputy with Fatherland and former deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture. "I understand the desire of certain forces to score points from everybody, including from poorly informed people. The leftist forces are claiming that 98 percent of the land could be sold under this draft," he said.

Kulik, citing a recent government report, said Russia has 1.63 billion hectares of land but the code only covers the 18.6 million hectares in cities, towns and villages and 17.4 million hectares of industrial land.

A number of deputies said that Communists are supporting a land mafia in the shadow land market. "We have seen how strong the positions of the land mafia are in the country," said Sergei Mitrokhin of the Yabloko party. "The mafia does not want to give land to peasants it only wants to keep on robbing and exploiting the land."

SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said later that land is being sold in Moscow suburbs for $4,000 to $15,000 per 100 square meters but the city is earning pennies in land taxes.

"We clearly understand that in the absence of real land ownership, the country has
black market for land and those who are using the shortcomings of our legislation are thriving on it," Nemtsov said.

Seeing that Gref was preparing to make his presentation, Zyuganov asked that the speech be delayed by 30 minutes so that he could talk with Putin, who was boarding a plane to fly from China to Slovenia.

But Seleznyov, saying he had just spoken to the president, refused to wait. He told Gref to present the draft.

However, the opposition, which was blocking the podium, also cut off access to the government box. Gref, sheltered by the shoulders of deputies from pro-government factions, gamely spoke from a microphone in the hall while the chanting Communists and Agrarians tried to drown out his words.

"Today, 25 percent of all land in cities is already in private ownership and not passing this legislation would mean confiscation of those land plots," Gref said.

"In accordance with an agreement between the Communist and the Agrarian factions and the president, all controversial parts that concern the turnover of agricultural land have been taken out of this draft," he said.

Gref added that the government is ready to "take into consideration all amendments concerning the ownership of land by foreigners, especially of agricultural land."

After his speech, tension remained high. Communist deputy and actress Yelena Drapeko shouted "Shame, shame" into the ear and microphone of Duma property committee head Viktor Pleskachevsky when he started a report supporting the government's draft.

During the speech, deputy and pharmaceutical tycoon Vladimir Bryntsalov head-butted and kicked hard-line Communist Georgy Tikhonov, one of the people orchestrating the Duma protest. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, well-known for his own emotional outbursts, offered only a joke that the protests were not really that noisy because "no one was shooting."

Shortly after Gref's and Pleskachevsky's speeches, Zyuganov announced that the Communists would not participate in "this farce" and the Communists and Agrarians left the hall.

By that point it was clear that the draft would be passed no matter what the opposition said at least 230 deputies supported it, more than the 226 required to pass it.

In the silence that settled over the hall after opposition left, the remaining lawmakers pledged to support the draft but insisted that significant amendments be made, including on the participation of foreigners in purchasing land.

Another serious objection was that the draft was too much of a framework law and left too much to be regulated by regional laws.

Amendments to the Land Code will be accepted over the next three weeks, and the second hearing which may be immediately followed by a third hearing is scheduled to take place in four weeks.

See the original at www.themoscowtimes.com

The Moscow Times, Junuary. 18, 2001, p. 1

[main page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][guestbook][publications][hot issues]