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Russia: Call for international solidarity with the victims of property pyramid swindle on hunger strike

200,000 people throughout Russia fallen victim to dishonest property dealers

On 17th April the swindled victims of the property pyramids began a hunger strike in Moscow.

19 people are taking part in the action, from Moscow, in the suburbs, in Voronezh and Smolensk. In Novosibirsk, the hunger strike had begun the day before , with the involvement of 5 people. The following day, 18th April, it was the turn of the town of Ulyanovsk, where 10 victims of the property fraud, including two women and their children, went on hunger strike.

From early 2000 these property companies have been going bankrupt, one after the other, and the vast majority of these blocks of flats have not been completed, leaving the “co-investors” in a state of utter distress. Most of them are small investors who have spent all their savings, indeed sold their dilapidated or tiny flats where the families were living, in cramped conditions, up until then. The result is that they now have neither savings nor housing. Many are living with friends of the family or doing their best to rent a flat (at runaway market prices).

Born and protests of the “duped co-investors” movement

The “controlled” media puts the blame for the crisis on the “co-investors” themselves, who should not have been so naïve. The more independent media and the movement itself speak of a major politico-property fraud, since the local authorities themselves vouched for the property companies in question. The scandal gets widespread media coverage since the movement does not shy away from radical action (blocking of roads, hunger strikes, squatting of administrative premises or unfinished blocks of flats, camps of tents, etc).

The most significant action was the camp of tents demonstration which took place in May 2006 when several hundreds of thousands of demonstrators set up camp in front of the White House (the headquarters of the federal government in Moscow). They were there for less than 24 hours before being violently removed by the police. Not long after, in October 2006, a hunger strike was organised in the centre of Moscow, in one of the blocks of flats which had been abandoned before being finished and left as a building site. About forty people took part in the hunger strike which lasted for 11 days, whilst meetings and spontaneous demonstrations of support took place each day in the area around the building. At the end of this action the movement finally received the State’s recognition of its political responsibility, through an official statement by Vladimir Putin. Several committees were also set up within the State Duma (the lower house of the federal assembly) and in the Civic Chamber.

The hunger strikers “we have nothing left to lose, having already lost everything”

Today, in April 2007, it is clear to the “duped co-investors” that the promises made by the political representatives have not been kept and that no real measures have been taken to solve this crisis. It is this that has led to the decision to re-launch protest actions.

The protesters are determined to see this through to the very end for, as they say themselves, “we have nothing left to lose, having already lost everything.” “If we die Putin and the other accomplices to this scandal will have our deaths on their conscience,” they warned, during a press conference on 18th April.

The international solidarity with the demands of the duped co-investors

A solidarity movement is gradually being organised with demonstrations of support in several towns. The crisis has even been brought before “Habitat,” the UN’s commission on housing conditions, by the Advisory Group on Forced Evictions (AGFE) during a press conference which was held on 17th April in Nairobi.

Cesare Ottolini, coordinator of the International Alliance of Inhabitants and a member of the AGFE, is trying to gain the support of the UN’s “Habitat” commission in Russia in order to ensure respect for the housing rights enshrined in article 11 of the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, of which Russia is a signatory. In an open letter to the hunger strikers, Cesare Ottolini declared, amongst other things: We therefore add our voice to yours to demand that the Federal Government of Russia assumes its responsibility to listen to this cry for help and takes the proposed immediate measures in order to restore respect for housing rights in your country.

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