Audio content: Borrowers describe their difficult situations and engage in some fiery arguments with bankers.
Visual content: Upset borrowers, gathered outside banks and restaurants, with protest signs.
A few weeks ago I featured the protests of the truck drivers. Now we look at the protests of mortgage borrowers, one of the leading topics in last week’s news. The borrowers who have been storming the banks recently belong to a specific, relatively small and unfortunate category, the “валютные ипотечники,” i.e., those who took out a mortgage denominated in foreign currency, usually in dollars. The value of the ruble with respect to the dollar has plummeted in recent years, moving from about 32 rubles to the dollar in 2012-2013 to around 78 rubles per dollar today. (This sharp change, beginning in late 2014, was driven by factors such as the sanctions imposed upon Russia in the wake of the annexation of Crimea and the sharp fall in the price of oil worldwide.) Since most of these borrowers receive their salaries in rubles, the amount of money that they owe has in effect almost doubled and they can no longer keep up with payments. They are asking banks to restructure their loans by converting them to rubles at a more favorable rate, one closer to 40 rubles per dollar rather than today’s 78. Bankers — and, for the time being, Putin’s press secretary Dmitri Peskov — are reluctant to offer any blanket remedies. They suggest that the borrowers need to accept responsibility for the risky financial decisions they made. Some borrowers claim that the banks pressured them into accepting foreign-denominated loans for technical reasons related to the different interest rates charged for loans in different currencies. Banks have been contacting borrowers individually to make arrangements (or threats), but during the last week borrowers came together and occupied the lobbies of numerous different banks in Moscow and other Russian cities, demanding to speak to the management and receive a workable solution to their problem.
In the videos below we’ll hear from both the borrowers and the bankers. The tone of the segment grows progressively more passionate, moving from the matter-of-fact comments of the first featured speaker to a heated confrontation between a banker and several borrowers at the end of the segment.