Propiska was both a residence permit and migration recording tool in the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 before 1917 and from 1930s in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. It was documented in local police (militia) registers and certified with a stamp in internal passport
Internal passport
An internal passport is an identity document used in some countries to control the internal movement and residence of its people. Countries that currently have internal passports include Russia, Ukraine, China and North Korea...


Depending upon the terms of residence, in the USSR there was a difference between permanent (прописка по месту жительства or постоянная прописка) and temporary (временная прописка) propiskas. The third type—business propiska (служебная прописка) was an intermediate type, when a person and his family could live in an apartment built by an economic entity (factory, ministry) as long as he worked for the owner of this housing (similar to inclusion of house rent into a labour contract). In the transition period to the market economy the permanent propiska in municipal apartments was considered to be a sufficient condition for the emergence of private property rights during the privatization
Privatization is the incidence or process of transferring ownership of a business, enterprise, agency or public service from the public sector to the private sector or to private non-profit organizations...

 (those who built housing at their own expense obtained a permanent propiska there by definition).

Etymology and history

The Russian verb "propisat'" is formed by adding the prefix "pro~" ("про~") to the verb "писа́ть" ("to write"). Here this prefix emphasizes the completion of the action, which supposes permission (like in , "let [go]" – "yield [the way]") or other related formal action (like in , "give" – "sell").

Originally the noun propiska meant the clerical procedure of registration, of enrolling the person (writing his name) into the police records of the local population. Dahl's Explanatory Dictionary
Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language
- Sources :*Terras, Victor, Handbook of Russian Literature , ISBN 0300048688- External links :...

 describes this procedure as "to enroll [the document] in a book and stamp it". Page 20 of the internal passport of the Russian Empire (see illustration) was entitled: ("Space for registration of vids by police"). Five blank pages (20 to 24) were gradually filled with stamps with the residential address written in. It allowed a person to reside in his/her relevant locality. Article 61 of the Regulations adopted on February 7, 1897 (see pages 18–19 of the passport) imposed a fine for those found outside the administrative unit (as a rule, uezd) in which they were registered to live.

As a clerical term the noun vid is a short for . Although translated into English as a "residential permit", in Russian this combination of words also conveys a presence of a right of a resident to live somewhere. In the sense of "[legal] right" the word vid also appears in the phrase ("planning to gain husband's rights with her"). Among many explanations of "вид" the Dahl's Explanatory Dictionary
Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language
- Sources :*Terras, Victor, Handbook of Russian Literature , ISBN 0300048688- External links :...

 indicates a "certificate of any kind for free passage, travel and living", mentioning "passport" as its synonym.

Propiska stamps (handwritten texts as an exception) in the passports of the Russian Empire use one of two verbs which describe the civil act committed: (to present or to claim). Their non-reflexive form (no postfix "~ся") clearly rules out the binding of this act to the owner of the document. So it is not the person who appeared (presented himself) in a police department but the passport itself. Dahl mentions both verbs in his description of "propiska" procedure as related to passport. Presenting a passport to the officer implies a claim of a person to stay at a designated location.


In the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, a person arriving for a new residency was obliged to receive (depending on estate) to enroll himself in the registers of the local police authorities. The latter could deny undesirable persons the right to settle (in this case no stamps were made in passports). In most cases that would mean the person had to return to his/her permanent domicile. The verb "propisat" was used as a transitive verb with "vid" being the direct object.

After the internal passports were reintroduced in the USSR in the 1930s, the noun propiska was also associated with the result of residential registration. In common speech the stamp in the passport in which the residential address was written into was also called "propiska". Permanent propiska somehow confirmed the housing rights of its owner. Temporary propiska could be provided alongside with a permanent one when a resident had to live outside his permanent residence for a long period of time. As an example, students (workers) leaving to study (work) in other cities received temporary propiska at their dorms.

When reintroduced in the 1930s, the passport system in the USSR was similar to that of the Russian Empire where passports were required mainly in the largest cities and in the territories adjacent to the country's external borders. Officers and soldiers always had special identity documents, while peasants could obtain internal passports only by a special application.

In USSR the term ("vid na zhitelstvo", residential permit) was used as a synonym for temporary propiska, particularly with regard to foreign nationals. By the end of the 1980s when immigrants from the USSR obtained greater freedom of movement those who lost Soviet citizenship also could apply for an identity document with this title.

The "passportization" of the citizen of the USSR reached its all-encompassing scope only by the 1970s. In the 1930–1950s local rural authorities' refusal to issue passports to their residents was an effective way to curb migration to urban areas (according to memoires of many Russian people in modern blogs, the rural authorities usually provided such permit after the Great Patriotic War, and it was usually easy to obtain it). Instead, in the 1970s the right (and obligation) of every adult (from the age of 16) to have a passport promoted the propiska as the primary lever of the regulation of migration. On the other hand, the propiska underlined the mechanism of the constitutional obligation of the state to provide everyone a dwelling: no one could refuse or be stripped of their propiska at one location without substitution with another permanent propiska location.

All the employers were strictly forbidden to give jobs to anybody without a local "propiska". To provide themselves an extra labour force, the largest enterprises had to build housing for their workers beforehand. In addition to dormitories, some of them also built conventional apartment blocks for individual resettlement. Registration in these apartments was called "vedomstvennaya" or "sluzhebnaya" propiska .

The Limit system

This introduced the system of "limit" (propiska limit), existed in the last ~30 years of USSR. The meaning of the system was that the large city enterprises were building dormitories at their own expense, to provide them as dwelling place (with " vedomstvennaya propiska") for the migrated workers from smaller towns and rural areas. After the long-time employment at this enterprise (like around 20 years), the person was given the real apartment (not a bad-quality dormitory, often with single bathroom and kitchen per floor, more or less sustainable for singles but very hard for family life), with permanent "propiska" in it. Millions of people were using this system.

The system was introduced with the goal of social fairness in distribution of scarce resource of inhabitable real estate across the society, and in a way replaced the Western system of mortgage (except that the service years on the enterprise were used instead of real money).

Nevertheless, the conditions in the dormitory were often very bad, and this was worsened by the mandatory security outposts on the dormitory's entrance, who would disallow any non-dwellers (without proper documents) to the dormitory. Though this reduced the chances of the dormitory to turn to a criminal den this was a major hindrance for love/romantic relations and future family forming. There was usually no official gender segregation in the dormitories, but, since some jobs are mostly male or mostly female, and so are some student's specialties (the future teacher was usually female, and the future engineer, more or less usually male, with nearly exclusive males in all military schools)—this often caused the de facto gender segregation in the dormitories.

Students coming from rural areas/smaller towns were dwelling in very similar dormitories, with termination of dwelling right in the dormitory on graduation/being fired from their schools.

The native dwellers of the large cities (like Moscow and such) were often despising the limit-dwellers, consider them being rude, uncultural and aggressive. The word of "limitA" (limit-dweller) was coined for this.

Some details on Propiska system

The verb "propisat" was used with both the passport and its owner as a direct object. Reciprocally, "propiska" became an object which one can have, e.g.: – "to have a propiska in Moscow".

The propiska was recorded both in the internal passport
Internal passport
An internal passport is an identity document used in some countries to control the internal movement and residence of its people. Countries that currently have internal passports include Russia, Ukraine, China and North Korea...

 of the citizens of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 and at the local governmental office. In cities it was a local office of the utility organisation, such as РЭУ (District Production Department), ЖЭК (Housing Committee Office), ЖСК (Housing and Construction Cooperative). The passports were stamped in MVD (i.e. police precinct), with the Military Comissariate (the draft body) also involved. In rural areas it was a selsovet, or "village council", a governing body of a rural territory. Propiska could be permanent and temporary. The administrations of hotels, student dormitories and people who rented out their accommodation (very rare case in the USSR, since the "sanitary norm" would usually cause rejection of temporary propiska for such a person) were obliged to maintain temporary propiska records of their guests. The propiska played the roles of both residence permit and residential registration of a person.

Moving to a large city, especially Moscow, was extremely difficult for migrants, and was a matter of prestige. However, marriage or moving to relatives did not automatically provide a person with a permanent propiska due to the limitation of minimum area per each resident of the specific apartment.

Due to Soviet realty-related regulations (officially based on the Universal Right for Housing for everybody), the permanent propiska (which provided the permanent right to dwell in this housing) was nearly impossible to terminate by force/authorities decision. The probably only exception was the second criminal sentence (after serving the penalty for the first sentence, the inmate returned to his old permanent propiska). If the authorities needed to regulate—they refuse permanent propiska for an individual, but mostly not revoke the existing permanent propiska.

This also caused an interesting effect that, if the spouse would agree (at marriage) to provide his/her spouse with permanent propiska at her apartment, the propiska could not be terminated by divorce, and so exchanging the apartment to 2 smaller ones was often the only possibility.

The Sanitary Norm

Spouses could always provide permanent propiska to one another, though the explicit consent was required for this. Children were granted permanent propiska at one of the parent's permanent propiska, this was mandatory and could not be terminated during the lifetime of the child even as an adult (with the exception of a second criminal sentence), unless the grown-up child voluntarily relocated to another place (and was granted the permanent propiska there).

It was not this easy for any other relatives. For such cases, as also for any unrelated people, the "sanitary norm" was used—the apartment area per person, with the newly registered one, must not fall below 12 sq.m. More so, the number of rooms in the apartment was important—there must not be any case of 2 persons of different gender elder then 9 years old to share a single room. If the new "propiska" of the new dweller would violate some of this—the propiska would not be granted (spouses were an exception). This was officially declared to have the goal of un-healthy overcrowding of apartments and sexual abuse preventions, but, since most Soviet people had only a bit more than 9 sq.m. per person—this was also an effective way of migration control.

The above-listed norms were very similar to the norms of getting into the governmental (not dependent on particular employer) "housing queue", which was yet another Soviet form of mortgage (again with real money replaced by years—the queue was free in terms of money). The main difference was that to get to the entrance of the housing queue required <= 9 sq.m. per person in existing apartment (and, due to above-listed room count rule, children of different gender raised the chances of getting to the queue). This housing queue was very slow (much slower then employer's one), and sometimes it took the person's whole life to get the apartment at the exit of the queue.

Since, according to the above, the situation with "<= 9 sq.m." could only legally arise due to marriage and childbirth, these 2 events were nearly the only chance for a person to improve his/her dwelling conditions. It also was a serious driving force among migration of young people to "monocities"—the new cities built from scratch, often in Siberia or Arctic, around some single facility (factory, oil region and such).

Housing property rights and mortgage

In the USSR, there was also some number of the so-called "cooperative" apartments, which were just plain Western-style mortgage, but they were very scarce and getting into them was very hard.

In all apartments except of the "cooperative" ones, there was no right of inheritance—if the last dweller dies, the apartment is returned to the government. Since, when the grandparents became elder, they usually prefer to live separately from their children+grandchildren family, this was usually connected to cheating of propiska system—the grandparents were registered not in the apartment they live, but at the apartment of their children, to avoid return of their apartment to the government in a case they will die.

Violations of propiska system within a single city/town were never de facto actually punishable. More so, Moscow employers were allowed to employ people from Moscow Region living in some radius (like 40 km) from Moscow.

In theory it was possible to exchange apartments over mutual agreement between parties, but few people wanted to move from a large city to a smaller one, even with additional money paid, although the exchange of two flats for one in a larger city was sometimes possible. More so, apartment exchange with money involved was something like a "gray area" near the criminal offence, and there was a real possibility that the participants will be prosecuted as of the economical crime, and the realty agents arranging such things were strictly outlawed and prosecuted, living in a "gray area" and hiding their activities from the authorities. Certain "risk groups", such as dissident
A dissident, broadly defined, is a person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution. When dissidents unite for a common cause they often effect a dissident movement....

s, Roma and former criminals, were often barred from getting a propiska in Moscow and some other major cities. However, many people used subterfuge to get a Moscow propiska, including marriages of convenience
Marriage of convenience
A marriage of convenience is a marriage contracted for reasons other than the reasons of relationship, family, or love. Instead, such a marriage is orchestrated for personal gain or some other sort of strategic purpose, such as political marriage. The phrase is a calque of - a marriage of...

 and bribery. Another way of obtaining Moscow residency was to become a limitchik, i.e., to enter Moscow to take certain understaffed job positions, e.g., at cleaning services, according to a certain workforce quota (limit). Such people were provided with a permanent living place (usually a flat or a room in a shared flat) for free. Some valuable specialists could be also invited by enterprises, which provided them with flats at expense of the enterprise.

At a certain period of Soviet history residents of rural areas had their passports stored at selsovets (officially "for safekeeping") which prevented them from unofficial migration to the areas where they did not have apartments. It was designed to prevent cities from an influx of migrants who sought higher living standards in large cities, but had permanent registration far away from their actual place of residence.

In 1993, propiska was abandoned, so the modern Russian legislation does not use the terms "propiska" and "propisat" (with the exception of situations where a reference is needed to the facts of the Soviet period). However, it is still used as a colloquial abbreviation for permanent residency registration. The lexical archaism helps to keep many unaware about the legal essence of registration and how it is different from that of propiska.

Propiska Toll in Moscow

In early 1990, just after the USSR's downfall, the authorities of the City of Moscow introduced the official toll for somebody to be permanently registered in Moscow even on their property. The toll was around USD 5000, around a fourth of the small apartment price of that time.

This system lasted for several years only, causing major public uproar from the human rights protectors and other people of liberal attitudes, and was cancelled after several rulings of the Constitutional Court of Russia. In late 1997, it had been cancelled.

During Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin served as the second President of the Russian Federation and is the current Prime Minister of Russia, as well as chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus. He became acting President on 31 December 1999, when...

's era, the regulations on propiska in Moscow became more mild.

Propiska and education

Students not of the city in question were provided the temporary propiska in the dormitories of their uni's campus (generally, the dormitory space was not provided to the students from the same city, though they often wanted it a lot to be free from their parents).

Nevertheless, after graduation, this temporary propiska was terminated.

In Soviet times, this was connected to a "distribution" system, i.e. mandatory official assignment of the first job place for the uni graduate (even from the same city), where the graduate should work for around 2 years "to pay back for the education". Only the post-graduates were freed from this.

This system was hated a lot due to being freedom violation, since nobody wanted to relocate from the larger city to the smaller one, but nevertheless it provided at least some propiska (and dwelling space connected to it) to a graduate. Also such a "young specialist" could nearly never be fired, similarly to a pregnant woman and other beneficial (in terms of labor laws) categories of people.

After the USSR downfall, the distribution was nearly immediately abolished, so usually most graduates had the choice to either return to the home town/village (to their parents), or to make hard efforts to remain in the large city where the school is located.

To do this last thing, some people became the "propiska hunters", i.e. the people with urgent desire to marry anybody with permanent propiska in the large city, just to retain their legal right to stay in the large city after graduation.

Since, once provided, the permanent propiska was not revocable, the native people of the large city were very much suspect about the senior-age students from smaller towns or villages, treating them as suspects when it comes about marriage.

Modern usage

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the propiska system was officially abolished. However some of the former Soviet republics
Republics of the Soviet Union
The Republics of the Soviet Union or the Union Republics of the Soviet Union were ethnically-based administrative units that were subordinated directly to the Government of the Soviet Union...

, such as Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan , officially the Kyrgyz Republic is one of the world's six independent Turkic states . Located in Central Asia, landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east...

, and Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, chose to keep their propiska systems, or at least a scaled down version of them. In Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

, even though citizens issued just one passport, severe restrictions on movement with the country applied, particularly in the capital city – Tashkent. After the explosions in 1999 all restrictions of Soviet era were imposed, making it virtually impossible to legally acquire propiska in Tashkent.

Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 changed propiska to registration, though the word propiska is still widely used to refer to it colloquially. Citizens should register if they live in the same place for 90 days (Belarusian citizens in Russia and vice versa—30 days). There are two types of registration, permanent and temporary. A place of permanent registration is indicated on a stamp made in an internal passport
Internal passport
An internal passport is an identity document used in some countries to control the internal movement and residence of its people. Countries that currently have internal passports include Russia, Ukraine, China and North Korea...

, and a place of temporary registration is written on a separate paper. Living in a dwelling without a permanent or temporary registration is considered an administrative offence. Registration is used for economic, law enforcement and other purposes, such as accounting social benefits, housing and utility payments, taxes, conscription
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

, medical care etc.

Now registration plays little role in questions of property. In Soviet times, for example, if after a marriage a wife was registered in accommodation her husband rented from the state, then, in case of divorce, she could obtain some part of her husband's place of residence for her own usage. In modern Russia this was mostly abandoned due to apartment privatisation, but if a person has no other place to live, he still cannot be evicted without substitution (Housing Code of Russian Federation, Art. 31, part 4. (Russian)). This makes many people fearful of registering others on their property title.

For foreigners it is called "Migration control" and stamped on a Migration card
Migration card
Migration card is an identity document in Russia for foreign nationals. Originally they were bilingual , but were changed into Russian-only...

 and/or on coupon approximately one-third A4 paper which are to be returned to officials before departure.

Migration control is much more strict than internal registration. For instance, to employ any Russian citizen, even with the permanent registration out of the city in question, the employer need no special permit—just the employee needs to get registration at his/her own. Employing unregistered people is an administrative offence for the employer, but the cases of actual penalty application are very rare—sometimes even Western companies in Moscow do employ unregistered people (usually graduates of the good universities who lost they dormitory registration due to graduation). The penalty is much more real and strict for the case of foreigners. To employ the foreigner, the employer must have explicit permit from the Federal Migration Service.

The citizens of Belarus are equalized to Russian citizens in employment rights in Russia.

Nevertheless, if the person with permanent registration somewhere else, living in Moscow on the basis of temporary registration, purchases the car—then he/she needs to put the car to police accounting (i.e. to obtain the license plates from the vehicle registration police) at the location of his/her permanent registration. Some people do drive 1000 km or more, and then back, to their native cities to get the license plates for the new car, and they will have their native region code on them—not the Moscow region code.

In Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

, the Constitutional Court
Constitutional Court of Ukraine
The Constitutional Court of Ukraine is the sole body of constitutional jurisdiction in Ukraine. The Constitutional Court of Ukraine interprets the Constitution of Ukraine and decides whether laws and other legal acts are constitutional....

 ruled that propiska was unconstitutional in 2001 (November 14) and a new "informational" registration mechanism was planned by the government, but, in effect, it has never come into being. Additionally, access to social benefits
Social security
Social security is primarily a social insurance program providing social protection or protection against socially recognized conditions, including poverty, old age, disability, unemployment and others. Social security may refer to:...

 such as housing, pensions, medical care, and schooling are still based on a propiska, as are things like the location for a driving test and the associated lessons.

Attitudes for and against propiska

People of liberal attitudes and human right protectors were always criticizing the propiska system starting of Gorbachev's perestroika.

Their attitude is that the propiska system actually turned the whole country of some bantustan
A bantustan was a territory set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa and South West Africa , as part of the policy of apartheid...

-like land, with dwellers outside Moscow being impaired in their rights.

On the other hand, the police officials were always for this system, since this system allowed them to track criminals and suspects much more easier.

Also, the propiska system was effective in preventing all kinds of overcrowded dwellings of poor people, very difficult to control by the law enforcement with much crime.

Also, the general plans of city development of most Soviet cities were designed with propiska in mind, so, propiska relaxation caused the major migrant flow to the cities, dangerous for the infrastructure like subways and such.

Registration authority in Russia

Registration allows
  • Pass-free access to a border zone (If registered in location in a border zone in the same subject);
  • A pass card to be issued closed city
    Closed city
    A closed city or closed town is a settlement with travel and residency restrictions in the Soviet Union and some of its successor countries. In modern Russia, such places are officially known as "closed administrative-territorial formations" ....

See also

  • Eastern Bloc emigration and defection
    Eastern Bloc emigration and defection
    Eastern Bloc emigration and defection was a point of controversy during the Cold War. After World War II, emigration restrictions were imposed by countries in the Eastern Bloc, which consisted of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern and Central Europe...

  • Passport system in the Soviet Union
    Passport system in the Soviet Union
    The Soviet passport is an identity document issued upon the laws of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the citizen of the USSR. For the general purposes of identity certification Soviet passports contained such data as name, date of birth, sex, place of birth, nationality and citizenship...

  • Russian passport
    Russian passport
    Russian passports are of two types: domestic passports issued to citizens of Russia for the purpose of certifying identity, international passports are issued for the purpose of international travel.- Internal passport :...

  • 101st km
  • Hukou system

External links

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