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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Frees Bread Prices, Hurting Poor

Russia's reformist government on Friday ended a key element of the social contract that had sustained the population through 70 years of Soviet rule, cutting all subsidies on the price of bread.

Russia's poor, guaranteed huge supplies of cheap bread under socialism, formed queues in front of Moscow shops to buy bread and other flour products before an inevitable and dramatic rise in prices.

It will be a few days before stores begin to pass on the effects of Friday's dramatic changes, which ended the huge and costly government subsidies on the price of grain used to make bread, pasta and other staples.

Bread prices have already risen sharply in the past year as a result of rising fuel and labor costs. According to the Russian Statistics Committee, a kilogram of bread sold for between 92 and 192 rubles on Friday, compared to between 13 and 25 rubles per kilo in September last year.

Industry sources predict that the price will now quickly rise to a minimum of 300 rubles by the end of the year, and some estimates go as high as 700 rubles.

The elderly have been among the hardest hit by the price rises, which were set off by price liberalization in January 1992. Those who have relatives, who are healthy enough to grow food at the dacha or make some money selling cigarettes manage to get by. But for the legions of lonely invalids, there is less and less of everything.

Anastasia Gorbacheva, 89, is old enough to remember Lenin's promise of "Peace, Land and Bread" that won the hearts of the Russian people to communism 75 years ago.

"Oh Lord, oh Lord", she mumbled when her social worker calculated the price of the food she brought. "Everything has become so expensive". She had received a pack of kefir, two tiny bags of milk, 10 eggs and a handful of onions for 1, 271 rubles.

With a monthly pension of 35, 000 rubles ($29) and a 25, 000-ruble allowance for her mentally handicapped daughter of 45, Gorbacheva gets more than some but too little to eat meat more than once a month.

Standing in her bare flat in a nightgown, Gorbacheva said that her only luxuries are subscriptions for two newspapers. Within the next few days, bread will become a luxury too.

The government has tried to meet the fears of Russia's poorest by paying monthly compensation for the rise in bread prices. It says it must reduce the grain subsidies to cut Russia's budget deficit and slow inflation.

While grateful for the 1, 400-ruble extra allowance, Gorbacheva and other elderly people interviewed said they fear they will not be able to afford even the most basic black rye.

Gorbacheva is not generous to the reformers and new businessmen who have reduced her to such poverty.

"They are criminals, she said. "They are stealing everything".

Social workers like Lyubov Savchenkova, 50, have the hard job of helping women like Gorbacheva get the few food items they can afford. For invalids, she brings in free medicine, and for those with pensions of less than 25, 000 rubles, occasional free meals from a nearby cafeteria. Doctor visits are still free as well.

Some medicine has gone scarce, however, while the coupons needed for the free meals suffice only to feed four of the eight pensioners she serves. With a salary of 26, 000 rubles, Savchenkova earns even less than the pensioners and is looking for another job.

Meanwhile on the street, at a bread shop south of the Belorussky station, at least 20 people stood in line to buy bread at 3: 30 P. M. , but prices had not risen.

"The factories have an inventory", said the shop's director. "When that inventory is gone, we'll see what happens".

According to the Russian Statistics Committee, Russians on average spent 8 percent of their budget on bread in the first half of 1993, but this percentage is much higher for Russia's poorest, who have long since stopped buying meat and vegetables.

Russians have in the past two years switched more and more of their diet to bread and flour products, which have stayed relatively cheap compared to meat, milk and sugar.

According to the Economics Ministry's Center for Economic Analysis, meat consumption per person per month has fallen to 4. 7 from 5. 7 kilograms.