Of Russian origin: Registracia
- A certificate to prove that a person officially has the right to live (permanently or temporarily) in a certain territory or city;
- A certificate to register the company or the property of a person in a certain territory or city.
Registracia (which means registration in English) is the notion that used to penetrate (and still does) through all spheres of the economy: if you wanted to marry you had to go through registracia in a special department of the city hall, if you wanted to buy a car, you registered it with the traffic police If you run your own business, you also register your company with the city authorities. But the most important type of registracia deals with where a person lives. And it’s been a pain for many throughout modern history.
1932 – 1993: live where you belong
In the USSR this type of registracia was called propiska (assignment). It was the good old Soviet way of controlling the movements of the workforce around the country. Right after the October Revolution of 1917 the Bolsheviks tried in various ways to abolish the system of passports. However, after 15 years of experiments – in 1932 – the Soviet government came back to it in a hard way: authorities started to register places of residence.
Each Soviet citizen received a registration stamp in his passport with the apartment and building numbers and name of the street, district and city (or village) where he was to live. It meant that he was officially assigned to this very place; according to the authorities he should live here and nowhere else. Once the propiska was issued, the person officially began to rent his living space from the state (the idea of private property was alien to Soviet ideology). Without this type of residence permit it was next to impossible to find a job. The only excuses to move away from an assigned residence were:
- studies at colleges, universities and professional schools;
- marriages to people from other cities and villages;
- invitations from relatives who lived in another part of the country;
- official transfers approved by the managers of enterprises.
The good side of it, though, was that nobody could be refused a propiska or be stripped of it. That’s why officially you could hardly find homeless citizens in the USSR. But at the same time, it was very difficult to get this type of residence permit in big cities like Moscow. Some resorted to fictitious marriages and bribes causing some Moscow parents to go crazy when their children tried to marry their loved ones from small cities. There was a lot of anxiety on their part that these “newcomers” might take over their living premises.
However, there was a bypass in the legislation – many Moscow factories had certain quotas (or limits) to hire workers from other parts of the country on a regular basis. For many such workers – who were contemptuously called “limitchiks” by the residents of the capital – this was a chance to build a future for themselves and their families in the big city. Former criminals, Roma and dissidents could forget about it, however – no party apparatchik would ever think of giving them a green light to come to Moscow (Roma did not actually mind too much as they moved around to various places on horseback).
Besides Moscow, there were strict registration rules in all the capitals of the Soviet republics - like Kiev, Baku, Tashkent - as well as in big cities, industrial centers and ports - Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg), Novosibirsk, Odessa and Kharkov (these last two cities are in Ukraine now). In the 1970s the government adopted regulations to stop the construction of new plants in these areas. Authorities hoped that this measure would minimize the influx of great masses of people. This was another tool to keep the population scattered across the country. However, the measure kept many of these cities from becoming overcrowded – they fulfilled the role of a “nice-looking shop-window” for people from the outside world. As for the desperate job seekers they could try their luck in dozens of Russian towns specially built around big plants. Of course, it was not as attractive as working in a big city.
Officers and soldiers of the Soviet Army did not have passports while on military service - they were kept in the local military offices where they were enrolled, or at the unit they served in. They only got their passports later on – after their demobilization order. Some officers could choose the region they would like to live in after their resignation – but that didn’t happen very often.
Most peasants did not receive their passports through propiska either. They were stored, as a rule, in the village councils. The excuse of bureaucracy was simple - “if we don’t keep it, you could easily lose it.” This prevented unofficial migration – peasants could not go to areas where they did not have a place to live. So most of them were tied to their collective farms – getting their passports back was out of the question.
All governmental institutions did their best to monitor registration regulations. The police had a right to start criminal procedures against those who violated propiska rules. Generally, these people were expelled from Moscow. The Soviet Defense Ministry also received an order not to move demobilized soldiers to the capital. Colleges and universities used to send their graduates to various cities but not the biggest one - only students with a Moscow propiska could get a job in the capital.
1993 – Present: register if you can
By the end of the 1980s – when the Soviet Union started to open up – the notion of propiska was on the list of the country’s most-hated symbols. But it did not disappear completely. In 1993 the Russian Federation introduced the law of registracia. The new notion resembled propiska but it no longer limited the freedom of movement. There were some positive aspects of the new law - if you wanted to buy apartment in Moscow you could automatically get your registracia.
This legislation also introduced the notion of temporary registracia. For Russian and foreign citizens the rules were different. If you were a newcomer from a Russian city, you could get a temporary registration for a period of a half a year up to five years - the period has now been reduced to three to 12 months. When the registration expired you could prolong it if you could prove to the local police that you were not doing anything illegal.
Registracia was one of the barriers for many young men from the regions who came to try their luck in Moscow at the beginning of the 1990s. To obtain a registration, you needed the written consent of your landlord, many of whom were quite reluctant give it as they didn’t want to show their income to the state in order not to pay taxes. Another barrier was the size of the apartment. You could not get your registracia in a small flat because the owner of the flat needed an extra 15 square meters for you to live in. In most cases they didn’t have it. This created a huge opportunity for kickbacks.
In most cases to obtain a registration you had to bring your landlord and all the members of his family registered in his apartment to the police. Special attention was paid to children – the authorities had to look at their faces to see that you weren’t violating their rights. In some cases you had to present extra papers from the communal services, military office, etc. – all this made the procedure complicated. Many “grey companies” soon sprang up to provide registracia to those who did not want to go through all the police procedures.
This temporary registracia was very important for citizens of former Soviet Republics who come to Russia in search of work. The main reason for not going to the authorities was the fact that some of the newcomers could not afford to rent an apartment by themselves – some of the guest workers lived by tens in one-room apartments, which was against all the rules. In some cases the employers took away their passports, which is why these migrant workers – most of them from Central Asia – found themselves in a position similar to the peasants of the 1930s; they had to work because their papers were somewhere else. And they were constantly stopped by the police, who knew that most of the migrants’ papers are forged.
In 1999 a series of the terrorist acts targeted Moscow – two buildings were blown up in a week. Right after this the Mayor of Moscow issued an order for all non-Muscovites to re-register. This provoked long cues in police offices – with Moscow residents filing for their routine papers and people from other cities waiting for their registracia. Locals began to blame the newcomers for making their lives more difficult.
Later on the process of registracia became less stressful and less hectic – both for police and residents. Now each citizen of the Russian Federation can stay and work in any part of the country for 90 days. This lets people get a job and work in Moscow without registracia – in Soviet times that would have been unthinkable. To protect themselves they travel somewhere every three months and after that they keep the tickets with them in case they are stopped by the police.
Some people went to court to prove that by obtaining registracia you didn’t have to ask for the permission of the state to live where you want – you just let the authorities know where you would like to live. In spite of the efforts to abolish registracia Russia and many other former Soviet republics so far have failed to find better mechanisms to control migration and keep track of the population.
Register your visa and be happy
However, Moscow authorities are still very particular about registration laws. Some policemen like to stop guests from other countries to check their documents. So you are advised to carry your registration papers at all times. This registracia is a small stamp in your passport or on your migration card (the form you fill in upon arrival in the country).
If you come to work for a Russian company, your inviting party should have your visa registered for you – you can’t do it yourself according to Russian law. It is also the responsibility of the company to notify you in writing that your visa papers have been submitted for registration. If you are a guest of a Russian citizen the person who invited you should register your visa at a local immigration office. If you’re a tourist staying at a large hotel, the hotel will do it automatically, free of charge or for a small fee. In other cases ask your inviting organization for detailed information on the registration procedure.
Within three working days of arrival in Russia, your visa needs to be registered with the local branch of the migration service. If you don’t do it, you may be fined or, at worst, deported from Russia. The only exception is when you come to Russia for less than three days. It’s better to get your visa registered as soon as you arrive – and you will have no problems whatsoever. And if you have a misunderstanding with the police don’t be afraid of them and never pay them bribes – it might work against you. Just behave normally and enjoy your stay.
Written by Oleg Dmitriev, RT