Staunton, January 16 – Because of the Soviet government’s tight control over where people could live, the so-called propiska system, cities in the USSR did not develop either the ethnic ghettos or economically defined slums characteristic of other countries. But since 1991, that has changed, threatening one of the bases of integration and cohesion in Russian society.
Experts are certain that “there are no purely ethnic quarters in the capital,” Oleg Adamovich reports in Komsomolskaya pravda – there hasn’t been enough time for the turnover of all apartments in particular areas to new groups arriving from elsewhere – but there are clearly ethnically defined neighborhoods and slums (kp.ru/daily/26777.1/3811842/).
The rich and poor increasingly live in separate worlds rather than interacting at least minimally on public transport and in the yards of apartment blocks. That isolation means that neither views the other as parts of a common community and that they increasingly form different peoples with different values, different behaviors, and different ways of speaking.
For poorer groups, Adamovich says, “this provokes asocial behavior” and participation in marginal groups of various kinds. When young people know no other life, they live according to the rules of the life they do know. Over time, that will break down the social ties that have bound them to the larger society.
And when these slums acquire an ethnic dimension, he continues, they can even come to form “criminal ethnic enclaves” that no one on the outside controls. When the poor or the non-Russians reach a certain percentage of the population, the old residents try to leave even if they have been there all their lives.
An extreme case of what can happen, Adamovich suggests, is the result of the government’s own actions. “In St. Petersburg, something like a ghetto has already arisen. As a result of the efforts of the local administration. Officials bought up 900 apartments in the cheapest houses of the Novaya Okhta district and resettled in them former orphanage residents.”
That sounded like a good idea, but it was a disaster and one that points to what may happen elsewhere not because but despite government action. In this case, “almost 1000 young people, unprepared for independent life, were concentrated together. What was formed was a gigantic communal apartment.” And the results have been awful.
“The guys destroyed the elevators, broke the windows and formed aggressive groups, No one was looking after their socialization. And if earlier the youths when settled throughout the city could lead the rules of normal life from their neighbors, now they had to make them up on their own.”
That should be a warning to those running all Russian cities, Adamovich suggests.