MOSCOW--Several hundred scientists in several major Russian cities took to the streets earlier today to protest continuing delays in paying the salaries of employees at the roughly 300 institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS).
The protests--held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, and Vladivostok--were in support of two prominent Russian scientists who began a hunger strike on 30 September. The strikers--academician Vladimir Strakhov, director-general of the RAS Schmidt Institute of Earth Physics in Moscow, and his colleague, Igor Naumenko-Bondarenko, chair of the institute's trade union committee--have urged the Russian government to pay its outstanding debt to RAS institutions and to keep its promise to boost funding for research. "The champing hog of the Mafia capitalism is already crunching the bones of science," Strakhov said at a press conference last week. He and Naumenko-Bondarenko have pledged to continue their hunger strike until the government meets their demands.
As reported in the 11 October issue of Science, RAS officials confirm that their institutes have received only 67% of the funding they were due by the end of July, while institutes outside the academic framework have gotten barely half the expected amount. No funds were awarded for salaries in July, and only 24% of the total was paid in August. The government has offered some concessions to the protesters: Russia Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has promised to pay RAS what it is owed by the end of the year. About $17 million, enough for 1 month's salaries, was released on the day the hunger strike began. "That has eased the tension," says Andrey Gonchar, RAS vice president. "But RAS could face the same problems again."