Personnel at a hospital just outside Moscow were convened this week and made an offer that would be hard to refuse.
Turn up on Saturday for a rally supporting strongman Vladimir Putin that aims to rival an opposition protest on the same day, they were told, and earn $100 with transport laid on, a hospital nurse told AFP.
Complaints have multiplied in recent days that teachers, nurses and other state employees are being offered incentives or even given orders to attend the pro-Putin Moscow rally ahead of March presidential elections in which Putin is seeking a third term.
The authorities want a strong turnout for the pro-Putin rally at Poklonnaya Gora War Memorial Park, as the opposition hopes to muster tens of thousands for their latest protest urging Putin to quit and claiming fraud in December parliamentary polls.
“They said all those who want could sign up and get 3,000 rubles ($100). Buses will be provided,” the nurse from a hospital in the Moscow suburb of Zelenograd told AFP.
The nurse, who agreed to speak on the condition her name not be published, said 15 of her colleagues have agreed to go.
“I myself will not go,” she said. “First off, I will work on Saturday. And then, I don’t want to support this meeting.
“I want things to be honest. Before elections, during elections and after elections.”
The nurse said the staff at her hospital, where nurses receive around 20,000 rubles ($660) a month, were not pressured and those who have decided to go were most likely in need of extra money to supplement their modest salaries.
Others appear less lucky amid reports that staff at state companies across Moscow are being forced to join the pro-Putin rally even on pain of being fired.
Complaints of pressure at secondary schools have reached such proportions that a member of an advisory Kremlin rights panel, Sergei Volkov, this week established a whistleblower hotline for teachers.
The hotline has received around 140 calls in two days but most were anonymous because people are afraid to lose their jobs.
“People are very afraid,” Volkov, himself a teacher, told AFP, calling the country’s educational system where teachers have no choice but to follow orders from superiors an “army, or worse ─ serfdom.”
The pro-Putin rally’s spokesman, Alexander Mikhailov, told AFP the organizers had not issued any orders to companies to send employees to the protest against their will.
Vsevolod Lukhovitsky, an activist at a Moscow-based trade union for teachers, said pressure was hard to prove because orders to attend the protest are made verbally and most often leave no paper trail. “Of course, no-one’s talking about any payment,” he told AFP.
According to posts on social networking sites and monitor group Golos, which set up a website to monitor abuses during a presidential campaign, employees from state companies are either encouraged or bluntly told in internal memos to attend the pro-Putin rally.
“At the Russian Postal Service in Moscow they ordered to send 3,500 people to the rally in support of Putin on February 4 on pain of repressions and promises of days-off or payment,” reads one anonymous message posted on the Golos website.
“Employees at (water utility) Mosvodokanal are being insistently advised to attend the Poklonnaya Gora demonstration in Putin’s support,” reads another anonymous message. “A bonus in the amount of 5,000 rubles ($165) is promised for participation in the rally.”
Rustem Adagamov, one of the members of the recently created Voters’ League aimed at fighting poll fraud, wrote in his blog he had received a letter from an employee of the Pension Fund revealing the organization’s Moscow branch is expected to delegate 12 percent of its staff to the pro-Putin rally.
The rally is called an “anti-Orange protest” ─ in a reference to Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution that ousted its old order from power and infuriated the Kremlin. Its organizers expect 50,000 people to turn up.