Imagine if I asked President Vladimir Putin to take President Barack Obama to task over the student loan issue in the United States.
Hey, why not? Student loans affect millions of Americans. Due to the efforts of lobbyists, Congress scrapped virtually all consumer protections for student debtors. People in default are frequently hounded to the point of suicide – they can’t declare bankruptcy even if they have become disabled. Even debtors who have developed severe disabilities – those who have gone blind, lost limbs – face an extremely tough battle to get any kind of protection from creditors. And as your credit rating sinks, you lose the ability to rent an apartment – which means many debtors are virtually homeless.
As a debtor who doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of making her student loans manageable under the current legislation, I face serious trouble. Instead of going to university, I should have just spent all of the money I had in Vegas - at least gambling debts are discharged in bankruptcy. Even child support payments can be discharged.
So how about Russian officials fix this injustice for me? What’s that? It wouldn’t make sense?
Well, neither does it make sense petitioning the US White House to deny entry to Russian State Duma deputies who
voted for the controversial Dima Yakovlev Law, which bans Americans from adopting Russian children.
Global problems are, well, global. But the emergence of local politics as a driving force is the kind of phenomenon that drives realistic change. And if Russia is to have a functioning society, one where people relate to one another “horizontally,” as opposed to griping up the so-called power vertical whenever something goes wrong, then local politics must take precedent.
Take my neighbors. They could have petitioned Putin about the issue of disposing of certain hazardous materials. Or they could have petitioned their local housing council and housing management company. They went with option B. Now our building has a special receptacle for batteries and capacitors and the like. See? Real change.
The “run to daddy” mentality only reinforces authoritarian structures and thinking. This is what people who are asking the United States government to punish their Duma deputies must remember. Swapping Putin for US lawmakers in this equation doesn’t change a whole lot.
Like many people, I am appalled by the Dima Yakovlev Law. I think it’s totally self-defeating. I like the memes that have already sprung up in relation with this legislative initiative. One shows President Putin addressing the nation on New Year’s Eve. “If NATO invades Syria,” the caption reads, “We will bomb Voronezh.”
I also think that Russian orphans are primarily a local issue. Since the scandal with the law erupted, many experts have weighed in on how to solve it. The adoption process, the foster care process, the process of obtaining legal guardianship – they should all become more transparent. Officials should actually have incentives to have kids adopted out. There should be more accountability within the orphanage system – right now, abusive caretakers and corrupt administrators are asked to leave quietly, if they are asked to do so at all, as opposed to being named and shamed. All of these efforts should go hand in hand with preventative measures aimed at reducing child abandonment and with creating a better infrastructure for people with disabilities, so that raising a disabled child should not be a gargantuan, heroic effort that bankrupts and demoralizes parents.
I know a woman who, about ten years ago, nearly abandoned her child at the hospital. She and her husband had agreed to divorce just weeks before their son was born. She came from a conservative religious background, where single motherhood was pitied and reviled. She was young, with little experience, and, in her own words, she “panicked.” It came down to hospital staff to talk her out of her rash decision. They were very calm and professional and didn’t use shaming tactics. Instead, they explained to her how she could get help – and helped make the necessary phone calls to relatives to explain the situation.
Today, she is on her second marriage, and is the mother of two sons. Her firstborn calls his stepfather “dad.” She looks back on the people who helped her out with gratitude.
And the truth is they were just doing their jobs. And doing them well. The system needs to be held accountable – citizens need to demand that it to work well in general. It won’t be as easy as getting a bin for your batteries installed in your house – but it would be more than worth it.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Trendwatching in Russia is an extreme sport: if you’re not dodging champagne corks at weddings, you’re busy avoiding getting trampled by spike heels on public transportation. Thankfully, due to an amazing combination of masochism and bravado, I will do it for you while you read all about it from the safety of your living room.
Natalia Antonova is the deputy editor of The Moscow News. She also works as a playwright – her work has been featured at the Lyubimovka Festival in Moscow and Gogolfest in Kiev, Ukraine. She was borxn in Ukraine, but spent most of her life in the United States. She graduated from Duke University, where she majored in English and Slavic Literature. Before coming to Moscow, she worked in Dubai, UAE and Amman, Jordan. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Russia Profile, AlterNet, et al.