Staunton, January 7 – Since 2012, 20 percent of the residents of Siberia and the Russian Far East have left for the European portion of Russia or abroad. Most explain this by pointing to the region’s climate or its lack of opportunities for careers or recreation. But there is a more fundamental cause, Yaroslav Zolotaryev says: the imperial nature of the Russian state.
“Climate of course also plays a role,” the Russian regionalist says, although it is far from clear that “Moscow with its ecological problems is obviously superior to Tomsk as measured by ‘climate and the surrounding milieu.’ Moscow also has its winters, and so people aren’t moving there to escape cold weather (afterempire.info/2018/01/05/siberians/).
Instead, Zolotaryevo argues, “Everything can be summed up in one word: empire. If you are fated to be born in an empire, then your life chances are connected with moving to the capital, which is psychologically and pragmatically considered as ‘the main thing’ while the regions are viewed as ‘unimportant and peripheral.’”
Many acknowledge that because the center extracts so many resources from the regions, it is only natural that “cadres follow them.” But this is not the only thing that is going on: “In a centralized empire, the mental denigration of the regions is also obvious and it strongly affects the psyches of people.”
And that means, Zolotaryev says, that in order to address the problem of population flight from the regions, one must focus not just on resources but also on “raising Siberia in the eyes of people as a brand, as a play where life is honorable and prestigious.” The same thing is true for other parts of the empire as well.
“Now,” he continues, “when almost everything in the country is decided in Moscow, it is natural that the most active part of the population will be drawn there, to the center of all decisions. If, however, the regions felt that they had the chance to choose their own fate, this would weaken the psychological factor” that plays such a large but often unnoticed role.