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Russian Parents Protest Lack Of Preschools

A protest in Krasnoyarsk against the violation of children's right to free preschool education last year

A protest in Krasnoyarsk against the violation of children's right to free preschool education last year

MOSCOW -- As the Russian government debates how to solve a growing demographic crisis, parents across Russia are protesting a lack of preschools, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Over the weekend, the civil movement Preschool Education for Russian Children! -- made up of parents and educators throughout Russia -- staged protests and held a three-day hunger strike in several regions around the country including Ulan-Ude, the Moscow region, Salekhard, Arkhangel, Novosibirsk, and Irkutsk. The hunger strike ended on July 12.

The rallies were a continuation of protests in Novosibirsk in November by parents whose children had been denied a spot in local preschools. They marched through the city in minus 20 degree temperatures with baby strollers demanding the resignation of Novosibirsk Governor Viktor Tolokonsky.

At the same time, in the central city of Tomsk, parents staged several protests demanding their children's "right to free education."

Maria Eismont, director of the New Eurasia Foundation's independent media program, told RFE/RL that there is a long waiting list for children to attend preschools in the Novosibirsk region.

"It's a giant problem; in the city Berdsk, where I just came from two days ago, the population is 100,000 people -- and 3,000 kids are waiting for a place [in a preschool]," Eismont said.

The Russian Duma plans to discuss these problems at the beginning of the fall session. Medvedev has outlined a plan to support businesses to develop private preschools around the country.

Duma Deputy Yekaterina Semenova told RFE/RL that Medvedev's plan is the best way to bridge the preschool deficit.

"This is an additional possibility for [people to start] businesses and for mothers who want to seen their children in more comfortable conditions [than those provided by government preschools]," she said.

While some members of the Preschool Education for Russian Children! agree with the government's new proposal, others say developing private preschools would only create more problems.

"[With private preschools] the task of solving the problem falls solely on the shoulder's of parents -- let them pay for it," said Semen Gunkin, a parent in Novosibirsk told RFE/RL. "And where, then, is the fulfillment of the constitutional guarantee that all children receive a free education?"

In Tomsk, two private preschools cost 15,000-20,000 rubles a month ($490-$650), while the average monthly salary in Tomsk is 19,700 rubles ($640).

Frustrated parents have written an open letter to Medvedev demanding he uphold the constitution and provide preschool education for all Russian children.