Wednesday, July 4, 2018

‘Withering Away According to Plan’ – Moscow Policies are Destroying Russian Villages

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 3 – Most analysts view the demise of the Russian village as a natural process reflecting the flight of young people to the cities for a better life and the gradual dying out of older generations left behind. But some say Moscow is promoting it by closing first medical points and then schools, actions that lead to their “withering away according to plan.”

            Since 2000 and especially in the last for years, the Russian government in the name of optimization has closed most medical points in villages and followed that by closing an average of almost five rural schools every day, Lydmila Butuzova says. And once the schools close, even the strongest villages begin to die (

            The authorities have to know that, the Novyye izvestiya commentator says; and thus, this approach suggests that they know what they are doing or at least know very well what their closing first of hospitals and then of schools will mean for rural Russia – its destruction and with it an important foundation of Russian life.

            Butuzova first examines the situation in the village of Novokalmanka in the Altay.  There, the population is so upset about plans to close its school and send students 25 kilometers away that it is organizing a protest to block all roads leading into and out of the village with people and cows.

            “The villagers in general don’t understand what is being done,” Olga Golubeva, a teacher says. “In tsarist times there was enough money for a church school. In the post-revolutionary destruction, there were schools not only for children but for adults … and no one thought abut closing schools during the years of the Great Fatherland War.”

            “Why then,” she asks rhetorically, “in the 21st century is our powerful Russia so impoverished? They close the schools and with this the villages die – and they are satisfied. Who is having their school taken away?” And sending pupils up to 30 kilometers away is no solution, especially in winter when roads become impassable.

                This village has more than 500 people. It has five stores and two cafes. All are “privately owned, without a single kopeck of government investment,” local people say. Why can’t the government give them at least a school, a medical point and a post office? Questions that not only the population but local leaders are now asking.

                Faced with opposition from both the population and local leaders, officials up the line have made promises that they won’t close the school but simply make it a branch of a school in a district center. But the villagers say that this is simply a ruse and that soon their school will be “optimized” out of existence – and then their still-vibrant village will die.

            Their conclusions are shared by three experts. Yury Krupnov of the Moscow Institute of Demography, Migration and Rural Development, notes that the Duma has rejected three proposed laws that would give villagers a voice in decisions about the closing of schools in their areas.

            But the government’s campaign for “optimization” has overridden all efforts to stop this “catastrophic” development.  He says that the closing of schools is leading not only to the destruction of villages but also to the intellectual degradation of the population by signaling to young people that education and training are not highly valued in Russia today.

            Duma deputy Vladimir Pozdnyakov adds that the death of villages caused by the closure of schools is leading to the rapid depopulation of Siberia and the Far East and that this has a national security dimension because Russia’s neighbors now “lust” after these increasingly empty spaces.

            And Vasily Ikonnikov of the Center for National and Political Reforms says openly that “experts are certain that the government is intentionally conducting a population of the depopulation of rural territories and is depriving villages of ‘the last hope for the future.’ The present situation is a vicious circle: optimization of social conditions goes much faster than the decline in the number of people in rural areas.”

            Worse, he continues, this Kremlin project isn’t saving money. In 36 regions where schools have been closed, spending on education has not declined but increased. It isn’t going to teachers but to bureaucrats up the line. The results not just east of the Urals but elsewhere as well are horrific:

            “In 9500 population points having fewer than 1500 residents, there are no kindergartens today. In 6,000 of them, there are no schools. And from 940 villages, children have to travel more than 25 kilometers to reach their schools.”

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