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Askhabali Gasanov, 64, lives in Makhachkala, capital of the Republic of Dagestan, in the Russian Federation, on the Caspian Sea. For 14 years he has run a school for tightrope walking. He has 13 pupils, mostly children. He started tightrope walking in 1972, after studying to be a theatre director. His troupe performs at weddings, village fetes and in schools. He is married and has six children.

Income, basic costs and retirement provisions

Gasanov receives the equivalent of €396 (£350) a month from the culture ministry, and for the past four years has drawn an additional pension of €132, after deduction of taxes, health insurance and social welfare contributions. He pays €198 for his flat and on average €92 for the driver who takes the troupe to its venues. Electricity, gas and water bills come to another €66 a month. Since 1986 he has been on the waiting list for a rent-free flat, available to creative people in Russia working in the cultural sector. He also does some writing, but he does not make any money from this.

What does work mean to you?

It is my life. I have never done anything other than tightrope walking. That is why I am now teaching it to children.

What is the most important thing in your life?

My family. The other thing that is important to me is to preserve tightrope-walking traditions, and for the children and me to be able to express ourselves creatively.

What would you like to change about your life?

I would have liked to study literature in Moscow. I deeply regret never having done so. And I dream of opening a big circus school, to teach tightrope walking to hundreds of children. 

What are your biggest problems and how do you deal with them?

It is difficult to get hold of good equipment. Our steel rope was old and heavy, but a local factory made us a new one out of titanium and donated it to us. Our costumes are old and threadbare, too. Sometimes we receive a grant from the ministry. 

What do you do when you want to give yourself a treat?

I read books.

What would you do if you didn’t have earn a living for one year?

Probably the same as I do now, only I would devote more time to writing and to literature. Having to organise a lot means that those often get neglected.

What is your view of the Russian economy?

At the moment, the situation is really bad. There is a big gulf between rich and poor, between those who work for the government and ordinary people. When I was a child I had plenty of caviar on my bread, and flights to Moscow were cheap. Nowadays, no one knows how they will manage to get by from one day to the next.

Russian Federation

Population: 144.5 million
Currency: rouble (RUB)
GDP per capita: €8,840
Human Development Index (2018): ranked 49th of 188

Current average costs

1 litre of petrol: €0.59
A chicken:
1kg beef:
A cabbage:
An egg:
Packet of cigarettes: