Thursday, September 13, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Russians Overwhelmingly Want to Protect Villages

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 13 – Two out of every three Russians now view the village not only as a place where people live but also as a source of the special values of their nation and are thus prepared to impose tariffs on imported food and take other steps to save this rapidly vanishing part of Russian life, according to a new poll.
Even though most Russians live in cities, they retain strong ties to or at least continue to identify with village life, according to a poll conducted across the country at the end of July by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (
The results of that survey, which were posted online yesterday, showed that 65 percent of all Russians “conceive the village not only as a place of residence but as a source of the spirituality and its uniqueness.” Urban residents were slightly more likely to say that than village ones, 66 percent to 62 percent.
And because of these convictions, the polling organization said, 88 percent of the total sample said that it was now time for the country to provide assistance to the village, with 68 percent backing the introduction of new tariffs to restrict food imports with only 26 percent saying that the principle of free trade should take precedence.
Russian ties to the village and even more to the image of the village and the threats against it have played an important role in powering Russian nationalist values. And consequently, it is not surprising that many Russians now that open manifestations of nationalism are once again in fashion are prepared to speak out about village life.
But there is an additional reason why many Russians now look to the passing of village life with regret: terrible conditions in the increasingly over-crowded and smog-filled cities, conditions that are having a negative impact on the health and well being of their residents.
One indication of how bad things are in some Russian cities was provided by a report today that two of the country’s cities – Dzerzhinsk and Noril’sk – now rank in the top ten of the world’s most environmentally contaminated cities and as a result have some of the lowest life expectancies in the Russian Federation.
Dzerzhinsk, which in Soviet times was the center of Moscow’s chemical weapons industry, is the worse of the two, and life expectancy there, experts say has declined to 42 years for men and 47 years for women, some 15 to 20 years less than the national averages (
The second city on this list is Noril’sk, a longtime center for the mining and processing of heavy medals. Life expectancy for workers there, Moscow’s “Vzglyad” reported, is ten years lower than the national average. Officials, it said, may sanction their employer, Noril’sk Nickel (
Whether Moscow officials will take action either in this specific case to protect the residents of Noril’sk, something that could impose serious costs on the heavy metal industry, or to protect villages by protectionist measures that might complicate Russia’s accession to the WTO, of course, remains very much an open question.

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