Thursday, November 12, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s 10 ‘Third Capitals’ Attract and Hold Even Those Who Could Go to Moscow

Paul Goble

Ottawa, November 12 – Russians have long been inclined to call Moscow their “first” capital, St. Petersburg their “second” one, and all the rest of their country, including many cities with populations of a million or more “the provinces,” with all the almost inevitably negative connotations of that term.
But now, Vyacheslav Glazychev, a professor at the Moscow Architectural Institute, argues that there are approximately ten cities “which at the level of way of life are practically not distinguished from the capitals” and can even be provisionally called “the club of ‘third capitals,’” the membership of which is growing.
Among those already firmly members of this club in good standing are Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Rostov, Samara, Krasnoyarsk, and Nizhny Novgorod, with Novosibirsk and Perm knocking at the doors, even though they have “not yet been able to overcome the complex of being ‘industrial cities.’” And even Irkutsk is not completely outside.
These cities, Glazychev argues, have “everything necessary for a comfortable life: movie theatres, restaurants, hotels, bowling and so on.” And consequently, even though they are far away from Moscow, there is little reason to lump them all as being “provincial” and assume that creative people will flee them if they can (
In this week’s “Russky reporter,” Yuliya Vishnevetskaya not only discusses Glazychev’s argument but points out that at least some of these cities are pursuing their own “less traumatic paths” away from “provincialism” than many commentators in Russia and St. Petersburg still think.
As in the past, these regional centers have retained not only those who have no choice but to remain but also those who feel a deep attachment to the city or the region of which it is a part. One such individual is Sergey Stupin, who works in the cultural ministry in Irkutsk and told Vishnevetskaya that he “loves and feels Siberia and his own Siberian roots.”
But now there are two new categories of people in these “third capitals,” according to the “Russky reporter” journalist. There are those who see the absence of this or that service or activity in these cities as an opportunity for themselves, and there are those, increasing in numbers, who now move from city to city, passing through Moscow but not staying there.
Such people, she says, go “to Moscow for big money, then after a year return home to a better job or somewhere else to yet another city.” They do not feel “provincial” but rather part of an expanding mobile managerial elite. And that sense of not being provincial puts them at odds with some in the Russian capital.
Indeed, Vishnevetskaya continues, the reason most people in Russia continue to believe in the provincial quality of even the largest regional “capitals” has little to do with knowledge about what conditions are in these places but rather because of artistic and literary types who will do anything to leave these “backwaters” and head to Moscow or at least St. Petersburg.
The reasons such people leave, one member of the creative class told Vishnevetskaya is their sense of “the absence of a cultural milieu” in these cities. Any painter, artist or writer needs an assessment of his creativity, needs to interact with people like himself.” And that is harder outside of Moscow in much the same way that it is for many in the US outside of New York.
But the definition of “provinciality” offered by such people, a definition that centers on “the fate of unusual people with burning energy and ambition,” the “Russky reporter” writer argues, does not adequately describe the life of the far larger number of people in the emerging middle classes now forming in these cities even very far from Moscow.
If people at “the center” as Russians invariably refer to Moscow do not understand that, then the slighting attitudes of the residents of the “first” capital toward those living in the “third” may contribute to the further growth of regionalism among local boosters who are likely to feel they have ever less reason to defer to those who hold them in such open contempt.

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