Thursday, December 31, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Bryansk Governor’s Call to Deliver Vodka to Isolated Villages Highlights Problems of Rural Russia

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 31 – Bryansk Governor Nikolay Denin’s directive this week that officials there deliver vodka, champagne and other goods to isolated villages for the New Year’s celebration highlights the increasing isolation of many Russian villages from the amenities available in Russian cities and the growing desperation of the rural residents in that country.
Yesterday, “Rossiiskaya gazeta” reported that “only just ahead of the New Year did [regional officials] suddenly remember that in [their] Bryansk oblast [which is located in central Russia not far from Moscow], some 1386 population points somehow are living without any stores” (
Indeed, the paper’s Aleksandr Fedosov said, “to reach some of them now is more difficult than it was for the Germans who during the war launched attacks against [the famed] Bryansk partisans.” There are no passable roads, he continued, and in many heavily-forested places even a helicopter has no safe place to land.
Normally, Fedosov continued, officials ignore these people and their problems, but this year, they have had to pay attention because “on the eve of the [New Year’s] holiday, many [of the villagers remain without moonshine [samogon] and even without home-brewed beer [braga]” that have long been an integral part of the holiday.
Bryansk Governor Denin explained to the Moscow paper how this happened and what he was doing about it. “Just over the course of the last week,” he said, “the militia had [destroyed] five tons of samogon and 31 tons of braga. But people all the same will greet the New Year with a bottle.”
But because so much has been seized and because it will take longer than a week for those who brew these things to replace what was taken away, the governor continued, there is a danger that this anti-alcohol measure will drive people to turn to “some kind of surrogate alcohol” especially in villages where there are no stores.
“Unlike legal traders,” he suggested, those who deal in such things will manage to get through any obstacle to deliver their wares. And consequently, Denin said, he had directed Valentina Zhuravleva, the head of the trade administration in the oblast, to ensure the delivery of alcohol in advance of the holiday to isolated villages.
The villagers themselves can come up with food of various kinds, the governor suggested, but “we will supply them with vodka.”
As Zhuravleva pointed out, that won’t be easy. She promised that trucks carrying food would reach half of the 1386 villages, where she said on average 50 people each. “I hope,” she said, “we will not leave them without goods. But our possibilities are severely limited: there is no transport and there are no roads.”
Despite those obstacles, Denin declared that “the trade networks must remember that there are not only cities and district centers. They must send their Father Frosts and Snow Maidens into the most distant places in order to see how people live and to supply them with needed goods, including alcohol.”
“That is required,” he said, “not in order to keep the population drunk but in order to struggle with the [illegal private production of] moonshine.” And he announced that in the future, his administration would purpose dozens of mobile stores and even all-terrain vehicles, which would allow deliveries even to the most isolated areas.
That probably won’t be enough to ensure that all the villages of Bryansk oblast get legal alcohol and other supplies this New Year’s Day. Indeed, the “Rossiiskaya gazeta” journalist concluded, there is yet another obstacle to doing so: meteorologists predict the kind of weather that will make even what roads there are in that oblast impassable this week.

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