Staunton, March 21 – Under the terms of a Russian law adopted last week, oblast officials have the right to unilaterally combine city and village settlements into larger units without consulting with the population. As a result, “hundreds” of Russian population centers have been left without any immediate government presence at all.
Not only does that threaten some of the local identities and make it less likely that the villages and other small population centers will be able to survive, but it deprives their residence of the experience of working with government officials – and deprives government officials of the feedback they get from such contacts.
The measure, pushed by the government as yet another cost-saving “optimization” measure intended to reduce the number of officials, has already sparked protests in some areas near the Russian capital. It is likely to do the same elsewhere because it leaves Russians without any effective way to speak to the powers that be.
That is the conclusion of commentator Svetlana Gavrilina in an essay entitled “The Russian State Leaves Russia – Or the Destruction of Local Self-Administration as a Stick with Two Ends” that she posted today on the AfterEmpire portal (afterempire.info/2017/03/21/msu/).
What is especially duplicitous about this latest Moscow effort is that it won’t save nearly as much money as the center claims: most of the local deputies who will be displayed aren’t paid: “they are a local entrepreneur or librarian or pensioner.” And this will further alienate such people and the population as a whole from the government as such.
Gavrilina says that this trend in Russia is at variance with the one found in many countries where instead of centralizing political life, there is a drive toward decentralizing power and administration and political life as well. There is a recognition in the West but not in Russia that “the quality of the life of people is directly connected with local self-administration.”
To complain to officials now, Russians have to go far further, often taking a whole day to deal with something that in the past took only a few minutes. That will lead some of them simply to ignore the government altogether, but it will also mean, the commentator says, that people will not complain until things get really bad – and then it will be harder for the powers to respond.