Thursday, September 10, 2020

Another Nail in the Coffin of Rural Russia: Villages May Soon Lose Drug Stores

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 8 – First, schools were consolidated with many villages losing the focus of their existence; then, Putin’s optimization program closed many medical points and post offices, eliminating yet more institutions holding villages together; and now, Moscow plans to close many of the drug stores in villages that are a lifeline for the aging residents there.

             As with most Putin initiatives, this one is cast hybrid-fashion in terms of something else, in this case, protecting the population by requiring that apothecary shops be self-standing rather than located in apartment blocks in urban areas or houses in villages (

             Because more people will be affected by the elimination of apothecaries on the first floors of many apartment blocks in cities, that impact of the reform has attracted greater attention. Elena Nevolina, head of the Apothecary Guild, says a ban on such stores will lead to a decline in competition, rising prices, and inconvenience for many urban Russians.

            But if in the cities, the closure of a local apothecary shop will mean that customers will have to go a few blocks, the closure of such a store in a village will mean that people will have to go many kilometers, often over bad roads with little reliable public transport, far greater obstacles on villagers than those the new “reform” will impose on people in the cities.

            As someone who grew up in a small town and now lives in a slightly larger one and who has watched the smaller settlements around die when key institutions are closed down as a result of social and economic change, the author of these lines is not impressed by the arguments of economic efficiency and cost savings typically invoked by those pushing for these “reforms.” 

            When these smaller settlements pass from the scene, an entire way of life does as well. And the consequences of that are far greater in Russia than they are in the United States not only because Russians are unlikely to have as many cars or passable roads but because the process has been slower and generated by state directives rather than the working of the market.

            And there is an additional reason as well. Many Russians even several generations after their families moved to the cities still view the villages as the basic source of Russian culture. As long as the village exists and can be visited, they will retain that view; once it is no more, Russian culture will be further impoverished.

            Putin’s war on the villages in the name of saving money is hardly his greatest crime given his wars against Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine and his attacks on the Russian social state, but it is one that needs to be remembered and when possible resisted because it too destroys a nation, in this case, the Russian one he says he is defending. 

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