Vienna, October 23 – Ever since Moscow economist Yevgeny Gontmakher warned in November 2008 that Russia’s company towns were likely to explode in the way that Novocherkassk did in 1962, commentators and politicians have focused on the consequences of the current economic downturn on the more than 400 such places in the Russian Federation.
On the one hand, Russian leaders have intervened as Vladimir Putin did in high profile cases like that of Pikalevo. In fact, the company town problem is now often referred to as the Pikalevo phenomenon. And on the other, various groups in these places and in Moscow have sought to exploit the threat of company town explosions to promote their agendas.
But as commentator Maksim Kononenko points out in “Gazeta” this week, few people anywhere are paying attention to the reality that there are now places in Russia which are far worse off than any company town, a neglect that reflects a widespread assumption that such places are unlikely to explode (www.gzt.ru/column/maksim-kononenko/267543.html).
Kononenko draws on stories circulating in the Russian blogosphere to report on conditions in the village of Paren’ in the Koryak district of Kamchakta. Its 60 residents do not have a store, they don’t have a doctor – the last time a medical worker visited was two years ago – there is medicine, and they ran out of their annual allotment of flour two months ago.
That means there won’t be any flour until next spring, which means, the “Gazeta” journalist said, “the entire village will have to live without flour. And they do not sell bread there.” As a result, all 60 of them will be forced to try to subsist on fish, berries, mushrooms, much as did a century or more ago.
The district city, the journalist continues is almost 200 kilometers distant. But villagers don’t go there: they have not means of transportation, “there isn’t always a road,” and they have problems with expired passports that were never replaced. “There will not be any link with the district center the entire winter: the helicopter will come only next summer.”
“In the village, there is no radio, no television, and no newspaper. [Paren’s villagers] simply don’t know what is taking place in the country or who now is the president.” And while there is one telephone, they can’t afford to make a call. They have to wait for someone to call them because under Russian law, they can’t be charged for taking such a call.
In the “hope” of getting such a call, residents of the village sit next to the telephone. “Not,” Kononenko points out, “to talk about an upcoming explosion but simply to tell about everything which as it seems to them is already coming to an end.” But there are few incoming calls because no one has any reason to.
When one call did come in recently, the villagers were excited. Perhaps someone would now address their problems. But the call apparently was made by an institute director by mistake, the Russian blogosphere suggests, and there is now no reason to think that “the entire village won’t die from hunger … all 60 of its residents … without any social explosions.”
Besides the horror of this situation and the moral failings of those in the Russian power vertical who refuse to address it – one Kamchatka official suggested that there was simply no way for the government to help all the villages that need assistance –villages like Paren’ may prove even more fateful for Russia than are the events in places like Pikalevo.
In an extensive article on the nature of Russian identity and culture that appears online today, Moscow analyst Mikhail Delyagin points out that “the legendary passivity of the bearers of Russian culture, their willingness to put up with everything until the very last possibility” is “not only the result of ‘the power of space over the Russian soul’” and “cruel oppression.”
“An important role in the formation of this aspect [of Russian culture],” he argues, has been played by “the scarcity of resources and the extremely limited material base available for any resistance” compared to the resources which the state can command at least most of the time (forum.msk.ru/material/politic/1571153.html).
But that scarcity-driven passivity, Delyagin continues, which many among the Russian powers that be count on in order to remain in control, represents a double threat. On the one hand, it makes it extremely difficult for the regime to mobilize the population for anything. And on the other, when this patience finally snaps, “the pitiless revolt” will be truly terrible.