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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City to Give Facelift to 'Propiska' System

The city passport police are scheduled to eliminate the propiska document in favor of a more liberal registration plan beginning Feb. 1 in what will be at least a cosmetic change in Moscow's notorious system of resident registration.

Andrei Kiselev, a spokesman for the Moscow police, said, "The essence of the change is this: The current system is one in which the police must grant permission for a visitor to live in Moscow. The new system will simply be one of notification, in which a visitor notifies the police that he has arrived, and is registered.

"This is really just a way of bringing us up to speed with the civilized world," he added.

The new law is not the first to be heralded as an end to the propiska residence-permit system, which since Soviet times has been widely used by the police as a method of controlling the movement of the Russian population.

As far back as Jan. 25, 1993, President Boris Yeltsin signed a new national law guaranteeing freedom of movement and eliminating the propiska. It was due to go into effect in October 1993 but the failed coup attempt that month stalled its inception, and eventually most big cities, including Moscow, decided to completely ignore the statute.

According to Rachel Derber of Helsinki Watch, an international human rights organization, cities with large refugee populations like Moscow, Krasnodar and Stavropol have actually stepped up document checks in the past few years. "Krasnodar hasn't issued propiskas to anyone in years," she said. "And if anything, Moscow has stepped up its passport checks."

The current system has been especially difficult for refugees, people who are homeless, and people who are without citizenship as a result of bureaucratic confusion following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

According to Derber and to the City Economic Committee, which issues residence permits, a "notification" system of registration is already in place.

"There is currently a rule which says that anyone visiting Moscow must pay a fine [5,000 rubles, about $1.10, according to the committee] for every day spent in the city unregistered," said Derber. "What happens is that a person comes into the city, goes to the police, pays his fine, and is given a registration pass and a receipt proving that he's paid."

But the main obstacles to receiving a propiska -- without which it is impossible to make use of social services, get married, and, in many cases, get a job -- will probably remain under the new system, some observers said. "In order to register, even under the new changes they propose, you still need to prove you have a place to live," said Vera Pestrakova, a Moscow city prosecutor. "We have all kinds of problems with vagrants, ex-prisoners, refugees, and people without citizenship because they often have no place to live, so they can't get work and they end up committing crimes. And that won't change."

According to Kiselev, a person will have to demonstrate that he has 18 square meters of living space to be registered. He acknowledged that much of the change in the law will be cosmetic.

"First and foremost, what this change does is get rid of the word 'propiska,' which is always going to have that connotation of repression," he said.