Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Infrastructure Shortcomings Dividing Countries in Russia and Other Post-Soviet States

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 21 – Statistics about the size of the highway or rail networks in Russia and the other post-Soviet states fail to capture the extent to which these links are so few in number that the disruption of any one of them can isolate one or another part of these countries for other parts for an extended period, something with economic and ultimately political consequences.

            Three stories about such transportation bottlenecks surfaced this week. First, in Tyumen, flooding destroyed a bridge on the only highway linking the oblast capital with Khanty-Mansiisk. People in the latter joked that rain had made the latter “a real autonomous district” (ura.ru/news/1052215707).

            Second, in Kostroma, people continue to feel cut off from the rest of Russia now that Russian rail has eliminated direct train service there and those who want to go to another place must use a complicated combination of trains and buses, something that is infuriating many and costing the Russian oblast its young people (forum-msk.org/material/region/10916120.html).

            And third, in Tajikistan, flooding has destroyed the only road linking the Pamir region of Tajikistan with the rest of the country and forced Dushanbe to turn to turn to Chinese, Iranian and Turkish companies to try to construct an alternative road there, a task made more urgent because of threats to the Pamirs from Afghanistan (rus.ozodi.org/content/article/27137940.html).

                But roads are not the only kind of infrastructure that may divide societies: the balance between schools and religious facilities is another. And in two cases this past week, there have been reports about developments in Tajikistan and the Russian Federation which many may find disturbing as an indication of new divides.

            In Tajikistan, there are now more mosques than middle schools, something that local people say is promoting the radicalization (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1437370560); and in Russia, over the last 20 years, almost as many Orthodox churches have been opened as schools have been closed, a trend some see undermining civic values (midgard-info.ru/religion/v-rossii-chislo-pravoslavnyx-xramov-priblizilos-k-chislu-zakrytyx-shkol.html).

            But what is particularly alarming, in addition to the fact that officials in Russia and many of these other countries are not investing in the infrastructure that their peoples need, is that some governments, and the Russian government in particular, appear to be exploiting their infrastructure shortcomings as means of social control.

            Last week, there were complaints in Daghestan that Russian airlines had boosted their rates during Ramadan to keep Muslims from Daghestan from travelling to or from Moscow in order to reduce the number of the faithful celebrating the holy month in the mosques of the Russian capital (kavpolit.com/articles/dagestan_prazdnichnyj_vzlet-18444/).

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