Saturday, January 28, 2012

How I became homeless: an open letter from Elena Odnovarchenko to President Medvedev

Note. This is an open letter addressed to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by Elena Odnovarchenko, an artist and sculptor who became homeless as a result of the abuses of local government officials. -- Stephen

Dear Mr. President

Since my letter had no effect on you, I decided to appeal to the public. I’d like to remind you about my horrible story, which deserves your attention because it concerns the entire state system of which you are head.

At the beginning of 2011 I should have received an apartment of adequate quality under the federal program for resettlement from run-down accommodation. I remind you that the building containing my old apartment, where my family was living on the basis of a public rental contract, had been declared “unfit for habitation” as early as 2007.

I won’t describe again the awful conditions in the place where we lived. When we realized that we couldn’t stand such conditions any more, we took with us some necessary things and temporarily moved to another region.

In 2010 the local authorities at last started to build a new building in which we could have an apartment. That was a really happy time, which unfortunately didn’t last very long. While I was staying in another town, I kept in touch with the local authorities about the progress of construction. They had always told me that I would have to pay extra in order to get an apartment. I was warned that if I refused I would get a smaller apartment than I was supposed to or even no apartment at all. Anticipating events, I will say that the local authorities carried out their threats. They justified their actions by reference to certain regulations that say that a person must pay extra. But I wasn’t provided with the documents concerned. I had to consider the issue from a legal point of view for myself. And I found out that demands for any extra payment are illegal. That is why I refused to pay extra. In February 2011 I asked your help, hoping that you would sort out this creepy situation.

But what happened next?

The letter that I addressed to you was redirected to the local authorities. Instead of sorting out the "misunderstanding" and giving me an apartment, the local authorities literally started to go crazy. First, they responded by letter, accusing me of not being a good householder. For example, I "did not pay for public utilities” (even though I paid for them in full). In fact, the law allows a person not to pay rent for such a house if he or she is living somewhere else, so I was paying more than legally required. Especially shocking in its cynicism was the accusation that I had violated the rights of my neighbors by not heating the apartment (since I wasn’t living there). It was supposedly disrupting the thermal circuit and damaging the house -- which had been declared unfit for habitation! I was literally accused of not living in my apartment.

Is our country a maximum security prison where everyone must stay within a specified zone???

Then at the beginning of May 2011 I got another letter from local officials, informing me that the new building had not been commissioned. However, people had already been settled in apartments in the new building in April. There was even an official article in the newspaper about it. But I was not notified in any way. Was this letter an attempt to mislead me? It really looks like that because at the end of May, instead of a notification about resettlement, I received a judicial notification that the local authorities had evicted us to “nowhere” (making us homeless) on the basis of "resettlement to other accommodation"! The petition to evict us had already been filed in March and been considered by the court in my absence.

Mr. President, I wrote to you in February and told you that my family has no alternative accommodation. The local authorities received the same letter.

How should we describe the petition of the local authorities to evict us? Banal revenge, or what?

By the way, in Western countries criminal charges are usually brought against people who take others to court on fraudulent grounds. I don’t even mention moral satisfaction. The local authorities are dropping the case against me, three months after I hired a lawyer.

But the greatest shock came when my petition to provide us with the promised apartment was granted by the court. From the court ruling I learned that no apartment had been allocated to us in the new building. I also learned that the old building where I used to live had already been demolished together with my belongings!

Dear Mr. President, put yourself in my place. Can you imagine the shock I felt? All the belongings that we have acquired over the years are now destroyed!

For me as an artist and sculptor, it was a double tragedy. The whole of my life work was lost in a single moment! Even then we did not get an apartment, because there is none. The court even rejected my claim for financial compensation in lieu of an apartment.

Never before in present-day Russia, so far as I know, have the authorities destroyed buildings containing the private belongings of residents without notifying them in advance. It is a violation not only of the human right to sanctity of the home but also of property rights, subverting the constitutional foundations of the state.

I really have no confidence in the objectivity of the investigation being conducted by the local procuracy. They will just treat it as a case of ordinary theft and close their eyes to everything. What is there to talk about when they write as follows? “Allocation of the apartments in the new building was based on family composition and also on the opinions expressed by tenants at meetings and in direct conversation with each tenant.” Not a word about the law! So, it seems, they allocate apartments not in accordance with law but on the basis of "opinions." And this was in an official communication of the procuracy. Can we really expect an objective investigation by such people?

Dear Mr. President, I do not ask you for an apartment or for compensation. Not because I don’t need them, but because it would be too fantastic. As a voter and a citizen, I ask you to bring an action against the local officials concerned. I know that this will happen only if you take a personal interest in the matter. Take note that we have here a singular criminal offence!

Mr. President, I’m sure you realize that my story reveals the attitude of the local authorities not to me personally, but to the authority of the law and to you as the president. You cannot just do nothing!

I’ll be glad to get your response!

Elena Odnovarchenko

No comments: