Monday, April 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: What Public Activism Looks Like Outside of Moscow – the Urals Federal District

Paul Goble

Staunton, April 15 – During the last week alone, workers at a Sverdlovsk factory have organized a hunger strike, citizens of one city are locked in conflict with their mayor, Tyumen officials have attacked company administrators, and local communists have become concerned with air defense, according to a survey of events in the Urals Federal District.

This list, prepared by the new agency, is presented with additional details on public activism in the Urals region in what that media outlet describes as its “Map of Conflicts of the Urals Federal District” (

What makes this compilation of seven cases of public activism outside of the Russian capital especially useful is that the news agency presents each case according to a common format, defining the sides involved in the particular dispute, the conflict itself, and the assessment of local experts. Three of these cases are especially noteworthy.

The first dispute involves the workers at a bankrupt firm, the city administration of Krasnouralsk, the government of Sverdlovsk oblast, and a court-appointed administrator.  The workers are owed 15 million rubles (500 thousand US dollars) in unpaid back wages, and 23 of them mounted a hunger strike to force the administrator to pay them before he extinguished other debts that the firm incurred.

After some back and forth involving city and oblast officials, the administrator agreed to pay and the workers ended their hunger strike.  So far, Tatyana Merlyakova, the human rights ombudsman for the oblast, told, he is ready to disburse 3.8 million rubles to the workers now and the rest later.

The second dispute pits the residents of Tyumen against the authorities of that city.  The former are simply not willing to participate in the unpaid “Subbotniki” to clean up the areas around their apartment buildings, but the latter do not see any alternative to that system given the absence of funds to pay someone to do the job.

As a result, the city is increasingly dirty, something residents blame on the city administration and the city blames on the lack of local patriotism among local people.  One official said there was little choice but to forcibly return such methods: “There are no major enterprises, and there isn’t the Komsomol” any more.  Consequently, he said, the citizens have to do the work. But they are voting with their feet and their time not to do so.

And third, the local KPRF Duma deputy has stirred up the local population against the Russian defense ministry and the high command.  He recently conducted parliamentary hearings about the basing of fighters in the Russian north because of the critical infrastructure of the gas industry there.

The deputy, Vyacheslav Tetekin, pointed out that American experts had suggested that there was no reason to bomb all of Russia as long as 12 major sites were taken out.  One of them, he said, is the Russian North.  And local people agree with him and are calling for rebasing Russian fighters closer to where they live.

            On the one hand, of course, such media reporting reflects Moscow’s demand for better monitoring of what is taking place in the regions as a means to evaluate governors and heads of republics.  But on the other, it constitutes an important source, already aggregated regionally, for those interested in the political behavior of the Russian population beyond the ring road.

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