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Social Organizations

In the mid-1990s, the structure of Russia's civil society was still in flux, but by that time the country had developed a large and growing network of social organizations, including trade unions, professional societies, veterans' groups, youth organizations, sports clubs, women's associations, and a variety of support groups. Whereas all types of organization during the Soviet era functioned as "transmission belts" for the communist party, in the years that followed the emergence of a large number of diverse, autonomous nongovernmental groups was an important aspect of the growth of civil society.

The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (Federatsiya nezavisimykh profsoyuzov Rossii--FNPR) is one of the largest trade union organizations. Created as the official trade union movement was reconstituted following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the federation includes thirty-six unions--many of them quite small in the mid-1990s--grouped by type of occupation. Among the FNPR's activities is the collection of contributions to the Social Insurance Fund by Russia's enterprises, each of which is required to earmark 4.5 percent of its total payroll for the fund.

Breaking the legal stranglehold of the Soviet-era trade union structure on the provision of social security benefits was a complicated but essential stage in enabling new unions to gain legitimacy in the eyes of workers. In the early 1990s, most workers saw the FNPR as representing the interests of management and the government, so they relied more heavily on unofficial, independent unions and a variety of worker-oriented organizations. However, in 1995 and early 1996 the FNPR, now a partner with top businesspeople in an umbrella party called Trade Unions and Industrialists of Russia, played a central role in organizing large-scale rallies and picketing actions to protest chronic late wage payments by enterprises all over the Russian Federation.

In the 1990s, substantial independent union activity has also occurred in the coal industry. There, the Independent Miners' Union (Nezavisimyy profsoyuz gornyakov--NPG) and the Independent Trade Union of Workers in the Coal-Mining Industry (Nezavisimyy profsoyuz rabochikh ugol'noy promyshlennosti--NPRUP), a reformed version of the official Soviet-era trade union, share power and have organized large-scale strikes.

In the 1990s, independent individuals and groups have begun establishing professional, research, educational, and cultural organizations. This activity has included a substantial upswing in the number of voluntary charitable and philanthropic organizations. In 1995 about 5,000 nonprofit organizations and 550 formal charities were operating in Russia. In Moscow more than 10,000 volunteers worked for these organizations in 1996. These numbers are low by Western standards, and a legal framework for the existence of charities and nonprofit organizations still did not exist as of mid-1996. However, the starting point in 1992 was nearly zero in both categories.

A significant token of citizen awareness is the proliferation of local and regional ecological and environmental cleanup groups throughout the Russian Federation (see The Response to Environmental Problems, ch. 3). For example, Epitsentr, an umbrella organization in St. Petersburg, has spawned numerous smaller groups that focus on controlling pollution in the city's water supply, stopping the construction of a controversial dam in the Gulf of Finland, and preserving St. Petersburg's historic buildings and cultural monuments. Students at Moscow State University and other educational institutions have played an important role in directing public attention to the massive environmental degradation that plagues Russia. The Socio-Ecological Union, which was founded at Moscow State University in 1988, has become one of the Russian Federation's most influential umbrella organizations committed to environmental protection.

The Family

As the Soviet Union became urbanized, families grew more numerous and smaller in average size. Between the censuses of 1959 and 1989, the number of family units increased 41 percent, from 28.5 million to more than 40 million. Average family size in the Russian Republic declined from 3.4 persons in 1970 to 3.1 in 1989. Already in the late 1970s, more than 80 percent of urban families had two children or fewer. In 1989 some 87 percent of the population lived in families, of which about 80 percent were based on a married couple.

In the 1980s, the divorce rate in the Soviet Union was second in the world only to that of the United States, although "unofficial divorces" and separations also were common. Crowded housing and lack of privacy contributed heavily to the divorce rate, especially for couples forced to live with the parents of one spouse. Drunkenness and infidelity were other major causes. Divorce procedures were relatively simple, although courts generally attempted to reconcile couples. Custody of children normally was awarded to the mother. In the first half of the 1990s, the conditions contributing to the majority of Russia's divorces did not change, and the divorce rate increased.

In post-Soviet attitudes, the family continues to be viewed as the most important institution in society. In a 1994 poll funded by the Commission on Women's, Family, and Demographic Problems, less than 3 percent of respondents named "living alone without a family" as the best choice for a young person. Although the size of the average Russian family has decreased steadily over the past quarter-century, nearly 80 percent of respondents named children as the essential element of a good marriage. At the same time, about three-quarters of respondents said that a bad marriage should be terminated rather than prolonged; the poll also showed that, generally, the Russian attitude toward divorce is more positive than it was in the Soviet era.

According to the 1994 survey, the dynamics of the average Russian family have changed somewhat. Compared with 1989, about 3 percent fewer individuals characterized their marriages as in conflict, and 9 percent fewer called their marriages "egalitarian" in the distribution of authority between the partners. The average distribution of common household tasks was shown to be far from equal, with women performing an average of about 75 percent of cooking, cleaning, and shopping chores. Between 1989 and 1994, women's expression of dissatisfaction with their family situation increased 13 percent, while that of men rose only 2 percent. Women reporting family satisfaction were predominantly young or elderly, with adequate-to-high incomes and at least a secondary education. According to experts, social and economic crises have caused Russians to rely more heavily than ever on the family as a source of personal satisfaction. But these same crises have caused the standard of living to fall, and they have required that more time be spent at work to keep it from falling further, thus making it harder for families to sustain their most cherished attributes.

Data as of July 1996

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