Russian Funeral Business Goes Digital

In February State Duma deputies intend to submit a bill on the funeral business in Russia and make funerals a public service, Vedomosti business daily reports. In the Soviet era, the state was responsible for all funerals, but this mortuary monopoly was abolished after the USSR’s collapse.

bird's eye view of the cemetary in Petrozavodsk
Сemetery in Petrozavodsk. October 2020. Photo by Andrew Cilikov.

In 1996, Russia adopted a law according to which the state remained in control only of cemeteries and crematoriums. The management of funeral services was entrusted to municipalities.

The federal government’s expenditure goes towards goods, services and transfer payments. As a consequence, local authorities are not prepared to invest in unprofitable funeral infrastructure. This creates a significant shortage in burial equipment, which could be compensated by involving private enterprise.

Funeral for all

The Federal Law of the Russian Federation on Burial and Funeral Business was adopted on 12 January 1996. The law guaranteed all citizens the right to funeral services at public expense, and entrusted the oversight of this sphere to municipalities.

For instance, on 6 December 1996 the Mayor of Petrozavodsk signed the Decree on Approval of the Rules on the Procedure for the Maintenance and Operation of Cemeteries in the City. Procedures for the operation of public cemeteries are primarily regulated by the decree adopted on 19 November 2012.

Protecting grieving citizens

The new bill completely replaces the Federal Law. According to it, funeral services can only be carried out by specialized services created by regional governments. Organizations will be able to apply through regional portals of public services. All companies that have received permission will be entered in a special register, which should list the services they provide, as well as their cost. In addition, the bill provides for an inventory of burial sites. All cemeteries, burial places and information about them will be included in another special register.

“Protecting the rights of citizens who have lost loved ones, forming a clear conceptual framework and digitalization in relation to the industry, ensuring state supervision and suppressing illegal actions by all participants in the process. These are just some of the aims of the new law,” Artyom Kiryanov, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Economic Policy, told Vedomosti.

“Funny business” at graveyards

About two million people die in Russia every year. The funeral business has always been a fertile ground for criminal activities. The law allows many activities to be carried out in the grey area. Since the early 2010s, the most prestigious cemeteries in the Republic of Karelia have been run by businessmen with a dubious reputation. Most of the investigative reporting on the topic has not led to any changes, since it is up to individual companies to decide just how strictly they adhere to state funeral regulations.

The framework for burial and funeral business oversight should be revised to provide an effective mechanism of tracking incomes and expenditures and verifying the completeness and accuracy of reporting.

The research project on Transnational Death: Practices of Death and Remembrance in the Transnational Everyday on the Finnish-Russian Border continues to monitor the situation closely.

The Vedomosti report: