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‘What is there to argue about here?’ Ksenia Sobchak vs. Lyubov Sobol on how to support people during the coronavirus crisis. A debate in brief.

Source: Meduza

Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), led by opposition politician Alexey Navalny, debated television host Ksenia Sobchak during a May 10 broadcast on the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy. The debate centered around the question of whether or not money should be paid to people directly during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The crux of the debate was inspired by a statement from Navalny himself, who at the end of April said that every Russian citizen should receive 20,000 rubles ($272). Sobchak — who is a former presidential candidate — considered this idea populism, while Sobol insisted that her opponent is simply opposed to supporting people during the crisis.

The following is a brief retelling of the debate, direct quotes are in quotation form.

Ksenia Sobachk: Navalny engages in populism very often, in addition to the fact that he often does a lot of good deeds. But populism is something you are doing constantly. I am not against paying people, “I am against the lies and distortions that you, Lyubov Eduardovna, are taking part in.” People need to be given money, I agree, but we need to help businesses, which will pay people salaries. I have been talking about this since April 6th. What is there to argue about here? “To address the details, that 20,000 [rubles] is populism, but I agree that aid is needed.” 

Lyubov Sobol: I do not agree that the 20,000 rubles is populism, this is a necessary measure of support. Why 20,000 rubles and not [100,000]? Because we did the math, our government cannot provide 100,000 rubles in aid, but it can provide 20,000. And now we can pay the people, whose refrigerators are currently empty. 

Sobchak: When they ask Navalny, will [Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin] also be paid 20,000? He says: yes, Sechin too. Why 20,000 for Sechin? Why 20,000 for me? Giving 20,000 to everyone is stupidity, given that, for example, state employees are receiving a full salary, while people who were laid off are getting nothing at all. So why are [Navalny’s supporters] going with such a slogan? Because it is memorable. Like “Land for peasants.” 

Sobol: We are also saying that taxes for small businesses need to be cancelled for a year. But people who are sitting around without money right now need to be given 20,000 rubles each. The path Putin and the government are taking is not working due to bureaucracy. If you or Sechin don’t need this money, then don’t take it, don’t ask for help. If we classify people [as you suggest], then people will not receive assistance because of bureaucracy.

Sobchak: What will remain in the National Wealth Fund in four months [if we give money to everyone]? 

Sobol: You are repeating this mantra, which is just to repeat after [Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin], [who said] that the budget will break. The budget will not break. The National Wealth Fund has 11 trillion rubles (nearly $150 billion), that’s enough, there are all of these calculations. 

Sobchak: I am asking the question, what will happen after four months, did you make the calculations? We have not heard these numbers, that is you lied, you don’t have any calculations.

Sobol: There are many numbers, they are published on [the website], everyone can go on and look. The main number is the 11 trillion rubles [in the National Welfare Fund]. Some of our support measures are designed for a year, others for…

At this point Sobchak and Sobol began to talk at the same time. The moderator, Echo Moskvy’s Tatyana Felgenhauer, asked for both of their microphones to be turned off.

Tatyana Felgenhauer:  We have four minutes before the end. I want to spend these four minutes figuring out how to help people. You each have 1.5 minutes to answer the question: what to do with those who worked in the black or grey [market]?

Sobol: Now we need to help everyone, [whether] they are good, bad, young, strong, weak — it’s not important. If we have come to the conclusion that business is working according to grey schemes, then maybe something is wrong with our government. 

Sobchak: Now is not the time when we will figure out if businessmen were right, it’s the time to help them. Time to cancel taxes for a year, help pay salaries, [and] provide big discounts on loans. This is extremely important to do right now. The budget will not break.

Debaters Lyubov Sobol and Ksenia Sobchak: “20,000: populism or necessity?”
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Translation by Eilish Hart