Monday, December 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Karelia Faces a Social-Economic Explosion

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 23 – Residents of Karelia, long viewed as one of the most peaceful regions of the Russian Federation, are no longer able to willing to tolerate the rising tide of unemployment and misery caused by plant closings and cutbacks, and consequently, a Moscow observer says, they are about to “explode.”

            In “Svobodnaya pressa” yesterday, Lyudmila Nikolayeva says that the situation in Nadvoitsy,, 200 kilometers north of Petrozavodsk is typical.  It had 11,500 residents in 1990, and its state-owned aluminum plant then employed 3500 at good wages. Now, it has only 8,000 residents, and the plant 800 workers, many of whom are poorly paid. Worse, the plant, now owned by Oleg Deripaska, may soon close completely (

            Unlike in many dying company towns across Russia, the workers in Nadvoitsy are refusing to go away quietly.  They have sent mass appeals to the republic government and been rewarded by visits from the Karelian economics development minister and head of the regional government.

            Such officials have made promises to address their concerns, Nikolayeva writes, but this has only added to the anger of the Nadvoitsy workers because none of the earlier promises such officials and Moscow have made have been fulfilled and because the workers cannot see any reason why the fate of the latest round of promises will be any different.
Consequently, the workers are increasingly angry, she reports. Everyone there understands that if the plant closes, they will have nowhere to work and will have to go elsewhere. The only other jobs are as prison camp guards – and because of Vladimir Putin’s imposition of unfunded liabilities on the camp system, even those are being cut back.
Adding insult to injury, Moscow and Petrazavodsk are increasing the price of communal services so that at a time when Nadvoitsy workers have less and less income, they are forced to pay higher and higher prices, a scissors crisis that will lead to an explosion, all the more so because the situation in Nadvoitsy is typical of that in many company towns in Karelia.
“In general,” their residents are saying, “we are not living but simply surviving as best we can. ‘Thank you’ those in power!”
Workers in Navoitsy and other company towns in Karelia have announced plans to hold a protest meeting in the Karelian capital on January 24th to focus attention on what they see as “the murder of local industry and company towns” by owners interested only in profit and a government concerned only about its own power and wealth.

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