Russia: Student Government with a Capital G

At only twenty, Dmitri Miroshnikov, a student of the Moscow Institute of Electronic Technology, has a hands-on role in the Moscow city administration, and has numerous official meetings and visits with executive officials.

Elena Nechaeva, aged twenty one and a student of the Moscow State University of Printing Arts, assists at council meetings and in various commissions of Moscow’s Northwest Administrative District, shadowing the district’s prefect on official visits.

In March 2009, both Dmitri and Elena received honorary positions in the city administration: Dmitri was appointed Alternate for the Head of the Transportation Department, and Elena became the Alternate Prefect of Moscow’s Northwest Administrative District.

Dmitri Miroshnikov, Alternate for the Head of the Transportation Department

Dmitri Miroshnikov, Alternate for the Head of the Transportation Department

Both are participants in the youth project “Grazhdanskaya smena” (Citizen shift), ongoing since December 2005. Since then, every minister and head of department in the Moscow government has a young alternate, chosen from among the most promising university students in the city. Currently in its third generation, the project involves 51 young men and women from across the various metropolitan universities.

Alternates are primarily responsible for analyzing projects submitted to the Moscow government. They study the issues at hand, examine the relevant documents, meet with experts and researchers and, most importantly, come up with their own solutions to real problems. If one of his or her proposals has a positive reception from the city government, the alternate gets the right to the floor at a sitting of city officials.

They often come up with fresh solutions to long-standing urban problems.

“We suggested using video cameras to monitor parking infractions, and the suggestion was supported by the government,” said Dmitri. “Moreover, while studying the metro system, we paid special attention to the problems of disabled people. It would be very helpful for the visually impaired if we installed sound signals warning about coming trains and set up special tactile floors and wall components using the Braille system.”

Over the course of 2008, this ‘junior cabinet’ made 470 suggestions to the city government.

Aside from organizing and participating in city- and country-wide events, student alternates are also expected to stay up to date on their areas of expertise. “Recently, the Department of Consumer Market and Services requested that we monitor the financial situation and the dynamics of price change during the economic crisis,” explained Elena. She is also monitoring the cities’ sports facilities and the conditions of parks and recreation areas in her district.

Alternates work on a voluntary basis, without any wages. Participants say they sometimes find their additional responsibilities hard to handle on top of their regular workload – exams, labs, and assignments are often hard to juggle with their executive work.

But Dmitri says he does not regret his choice to participate in the program: “Such work gives me invaluable experience and knowledge. Thanks to this unique project, students interested in public administration get to know the practices of many successful people who run Moscow.”

Many participants consider the program to be a launchpad for future work in government service and some are given job offers upon completing the program. For example, Elena’s predecessor now has a permanent job in the prefecture of the Moscow Northwest Administrative District.


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