May 24, 2006

Dollar a dirty word for Russia’s State Duma

By Ivan Rodin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's parliament gave initial
approval on Wednesday to a draft law that will punish
government ministers for saying "dollar" when they could have
used the word "rouble" instead.

Backers of the law say they want to rebuild pride in the
Russian currency and draw a line under the years when galloping
inflation meant most people did business in dollars. Critics
say it is unworkable and political posturing.

The State Duma, or lower house of parliament, backed the
draft in its first reading by 384 votes, with one abstention.
It must pass a further two readings but is not expected to
change significantly.

"The rouble is on the move," said nationalist lawmaker
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, drawing a parallel with the Soviet Red
Army's victorious march across Europe at the end of World War
Two. "The next stop is Berlin."

The rouble has risen 6.7 percent against the dollar this
year. President Vladimir Putin has said he wants restrictions
on trading in the currency to be lifted by July 1, making it
fully convertible.

To seal the currency's revival, Russia's Central Bank has
been instructed to come up with an official rouble symbol that
would be as easily recognizable as the dollar or pound sign.

After the Russian economy went into meltdown in the 1990s,
the dollar became the unofficial national currency. For a time,
restaurant menus listed prices in dollars.

Some government officials still express large amounts in
U.S. currency, either out of habit or because the smaller
dollar sum is easier to visualize.

The Communist Party, the biggest opposition grouping in the
State Duma, abstained from the vote.

"This bill proposes that we wage war with a shadow instead
of fighting the real problems of the Russian economy," said
Communist lawmaker Oleg Smolin.

The 450-seat Duma is dominated by United Russia, a party
closely allied to the Kremlin.

The draft law applies only to ministers' public

Parliament is due to vote soon on the size of the fines
ministers would be liable to pay for saying "dollar"
inappropriately and on extending the measure to cover the media
and legislators.