Staunton, October 5 – In different places and different times, the death of rural communities have been marked by the closing of high schools, food stores, post offices, and other institutions, a major reason why holding on to those institutions is so psychologically and practically important that even the threat of their closure has the potential to mobilize people.
The author of these lines grew up in the American Midwest at a time when school consolidation was seen by many as marking the approaching death of small settlements, and he has watched how residents of these places subsequently have fought hard to hold onto post offices even if the latter couldn’t be justified on practical grounds.
Russia which has seen the passing of more than 20,000 villages over the last several decades also has been going through this traumatic transition; and the question has naturally arisen as to what institutions when closed signal the death knell of those communities – and consequently which ones will be defended most intensely or missed the most.
In an interview with Dmitry Steshin of Komsomolskaya pravda, Pavel Grudinin, the collective farm director who ran against Vladimir Putin in the last presidential elections, says that villages can survive the loss of almost anything, but if they lose the school and the medical point, they are almost certain to die (kp.ru/daily/27038.5/4103058/).
The European Union spends half of its budget on rural areas because its leaders understand that it is easier to solve problems at that level than letting them fester and concentrate when rural people move in massive numbers into the city. But Russia does not do this and it pays a high price as a result, the farm director says.
Along federal highways, Grudilin concedes, rural areas in Russia do not look so bad because that is where businesses invest; but go a few kilometers off in any direction and what you will see is a disaster. But people and managers in Moscow don’t understand because they live apart.
He says that in contrast to them, he “lives in the same apartment house where my workers live, our children go to the same kindergartens and school. We go together to the same polyclinic. On the Soviet principle, all these structures are supported by agricultural enterprises” whose managers understand what is going on.
Asked whether a new Stolypin reform was needed to save the villages, Grudilin responds that one needn’t look so far back as that. Indeed, there is a contemporary program he would emulate: Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s agricultural cities, villages with all the convenience of the 21st century.
One way to save rural Russia, the collective farm chief says, is “to declare war on Belarus and then surrender.” But more seriously, the situation can be rectified by putting more money into rural needs, improving the coordination of the various groups involved, and ensuring that the spending is directed by those who produce things rather than bank that don’t.