Shock for impulsive visitors

March 1, 1996

Security in Moscow State University's halls of residence will soon be tighter than in Soviet times. New regulations now being drafted will require proof of identity from all visitors, and in the case of parents or spouses proof of relationship to the students being visited.

Under a pilot project already in force at one of the smaller hostels, in Vernadskiy Street, only one visitor per student is permitted at a time - and only if the student concerned files an appropriate application the previous day.

Access to student accommodation in the former Soviet Union was always subject to strict control. In the residential blocks of Moscow State University's skyscraper campus on what was then known as the Lenin Hills, the intending visitor had to call by internal telephone to the "commandant" of the appropriate floor, and give the room number of the student to be visited.

The commandant then informed the student through a device known as the domophone that he or she must go to the entrance hall to sign a pass for the visitor.

Ostensibly, this was all in defence of socialist morality - one block was for female students and one for males. But in the course of time, the technology went out of order and - as usual in the Soviet Union - was not repaired. Shortage of money led to cuts in the number of floor commandants, and by the late 1980s it had become relatively easy for a visitor to bypass these checks.

Now, visitors to the main campus will be divided into two categories. The first will comprise parents, spouses and other students of Moscow State University not resident in the block. These will have to leave their identity documents (including, for parents and spouses, proof of relationship) with the security guard in the entrance hall.

For the second category - everyone else - visitors will be admitted only if the student concerned comes to the entrance hall to meet them, and both the visitor and student must deposit their identity documents with the guard. Visitors of both categories must vacate the building by 11pm.

Under the stricter pilot scheme at the Vernadskiy Street hostel, the student must fill out an application the day before, stating the surname, first name and patronymic of the proposed visitor, and the purpose of the visit.

In practice, these requirements, and the one-visitor rule, can, it is rumoured, be circumvented by students or visitors with sufficient money to "arrange matters" with the guards.

The proposed new rules have provoked relatively little outcry from the students - largely, it would seem, as a result of recent events in Chechniya (the Moscow State University campus would make a fine target for terrorists).

However, the rector of the university, Viktir Sadovinchiy, a former member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, seems to view such checks and controls as a positive good rather than an unpleasant but unnecessary precaution.

In 1992, shortly after taking office, he introduced a new campus security service. The following year he had metal grills installed to block the access from the residential units to the central teaching block - thus adding considerably to the difficulties of evacuating the complex in case of fire.

When the students asked why, he explained that it was "to stop people barbecuing kebabs on the 22nd floor" - a comment, which, in the context of post-Soviet Russia, has implicit racial overtones.

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