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Russia: How a Bank’s Collapse Sparked Russia’s Least Likely Street Protests - by Eva Hartog

A woman holds a sign reading "Mr Trump, Save Our Tatfondbank" as she takes part in a protest in Petrov Park. Yegor Aleyev / TASS

“Remember how hard you worked to earn this money! Surely you're not prepared to just give it away?”

In the days after Tatarstan's second largest bank collapsed, Alexandra Yumanova's post on the Russian social media site Vkontakte became a battle cry for thousands who lost billions of rubles in savings.

The March 3 collapse of Tatfondbank — one of Russia's 50 largest banks — has plunged the oil-rich Tatarstan republic into a protracted political crisis embroiling its highest-ranking politicians and President Vladimir Putin himself.

Angry borrowers, who are demanding their money back, have stormed local government offices chanting “ Shame on you!” and “Resign!” in a string of protests sparked by the bank’s closure.

More than seven thousand have signed a petition calling for the republic’s prime minister, who was also chairman of the bank, to resign. Emotions are also running high on online, where users are holding the highest echelons of Russia’s government responsible.

“It must be tough being a president,” someone called Oxana wrote. “Everyone around you is thieving, but you can't lock anyone up because they're all your own.”
Too Murky to Fail

In recent years, Russia’s Central Bank has closed down around three hundred banks in an effort to clean up the country's infamously murky financial sector — a holdover of the 90s when regulation was minimal.

But the closure of Tatfondbank has demanded the country’s attention both because of its size and its close ties to local government, which owned a 45-percent share in the bank and held positions on its board.

“This is unprecedented,” the head of the news site Banki, Natalya Romanova, said of the bank’s collapse. “It's the first time in Russia's recent history that the license of a quasi-governmental bank has been revoked, let alone that of a region's second biggest largest bank.”

Rumors that Tatfondbank was on the brink of bankruptcy had been circulating for months before the end finally came. In December last year, it came under the temporary administration of the Central Bank regulator which suspended the bank’s operations.

Many who had accounts at the bank took the Central Bank’s intervention as a positive sign that responsible authorities had taken over. Local government officials, including the republic’s head, assured concerned account holders that a deal was being worked out. Even President Vladimir Putin chimed in.

“The Central Bank is working together with the local government to find a way to support all depositors,” the Russian president said on live television late in 2016.

Read  ore: How a Bank’s Collapse Sparked Russia’s Least Likely Street Protests

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