Friday, January 29, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Plan to Move Company Town Residents Likely to Create New Problems

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 29 – The Russian housing agency has developed a plan to transfer unemployed workers and their families in company towns to other locations in the country where they will be able to find employment, a strategy that in the short term at least may exacerbate the company town problem and anger residents of the areas to which the unemployed are to be sent.
Yesterday, “Vedomosti” reported that Andrey Yazykov, the general director of the Russian Agency for the Restructuring of Mortgages and Housing Credits, has announced a program for “the transfer of residents of company towns to other regions of the country” in order to provide them with employment (
Yazykov said that Moscow would first offer its support to the residents of the hard-pressed company town of Tol’iatti and help them move to the city of Tikhvin in Leningrad oblast where they should be able to find jobs at the new wagon-construction factory there which began operation at the end of last year.
This year, he said, the program will move 450 to 500 families at a cost of 400 to 500 million rubles (13 to 15 million US dollars), the money being spent to subsidize the cost of acquiring new housing in an expanding market compared to the revenue from the sale of housing in a declining one.
If the trial program is a success, he said, it will be expanded first to other workers in Tol’iatti, where more than 10,000 workers have been displaced, and to some of the 500 other company towns that were created by Soviet industrial policy and whose suffering as a result of infrastructure problems has been intensified by the current economic crisis.
Natalya Zubarevich of Moscow’s Independent Institute of Social Policy told the paper that “the program’s logic is correct: it is necessary to help people to escape from depressed cities,” but she said she could not understand the government’s choice. Tikhvin, at least potentially, is “a second Pikalevo,” the archetypical company town.
“If the powers that be want the program to help, they must not limit the ability of workers to move to a specific town,” but rather allow them to move to wherever they can find work. According to Yazykov, his agency plans to lift such restrictions if the Tol’iatti-Tikhvin program proves successful.
But other experts are skeptical that this program, even if “universalized,” will work. Andrey Balin, a sociologist in Tol’iatti, said he thinks that “local residents will find it hard” to “throw over everything and move,” breaking with “their customary circumstances” and taking a leap into the unknown (
Moreover, officials in other company towns are worried that the launch of this program could undercut their efforts to find another way out of the current difficulties: Baikal’s Mayor Valery Pintail, for instance, hopes his town can get government help to become a tourist center, something the relocation program might preclude.
And Osama Dmitriyeva, a member of the Duma budget and taxation committee, said that the government should be more careful in choosing the places to which workers are transferred. Instead, she said, the powers that be should try to give people more choices rather than shifting them en bloc as was done in Soviet times.
Since the program was reported in “Vedomosti” yesterday, there have been relatively few comments in the Moscow media, print or electronic. But there are clearly three other problems with this idea that are likely to attract attention in the near future.
First, such a program, if expanded enough to do any good for the more than 20 million people affected by the company town phenomenon would be prohibitively expensive, requiring the diversion of funds from other parts of the government budget and from other programs designed to help these people with little certainty of return.
Second, because the program is unlikely to be fully funded, the possibility of getting into it will likely trigger a new round of demonstrations in company towns, with people in some now assuming that while they may not be able to force Vladimir Putin to visit them as they had hoped in the past, their activism may force the government to choose them rather than someone else.
And third, the introduction of workers into new areas may prove counterproductive, not only introducing new competition for jobs and downward pressure on incomes but also spreading the protest spirit that the company towns have pioneered to other locations which have not known such actions up to now (

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