Staunton, October 23 – While it has not attracted as much attention as the territorial dispute between Chechnya and Ingushetia, the destruction via consolidation of local villages and districts that Moscow has been carrying out in response to declining rural population and/or in the name of “optimization” and saving money may be equally significant.
That is because this process is being carried out in ways that are anything but democratic and that as a result subverts the very possibility of any control by the populations involved of their own affairs, thus reinforcing the hyper-centralization of the state and the alienation from political life many Russians feel.
In an article entitled “Democracy in Action: How Local Authorities are Being Liquidated in Russia,” Novyye izvestiya journalist Irina Mishina says that neither the process of liquidation nor its results has much to do with democracy (newizv.ru/news/politics/23-10-2018/demokratura-v-deystvii-kak-v-rossii-likvidiruyut-mestnuyu-vlast).
That there should be some consolidation and reordering of political districts in rural Russia as a result of demographic collapse is beyond question. There are now more than 150,000 popular points in rural areas, but almost 20,000 of these – 12.7 percent – do not have any people in them and many more have fewer than 100.
But in many cases, consolidation and amalgamation is taking place not so much in response to population changes but out of the desire of governors to be able to control everything on their territories without having to take into consideration the will of the people, Mishina continues.
In most places, the already benumbed population simply goes along. But there are exceptions. One of those is in Pskov Oblast, the poorest ethnically Russian region in the country but one that has among its activists, the prominent Yabloko leader Lev Shlosberg has has publicly spoken out against this mass transformation of local governance.
“Officials say,” he notes, “that each district will be considered separately,” but in fact, that principle is not being observed. Instead, the oblast authorities are simply pushing through consolidations and transferring power from elected bodies whose number is falling to appointed officials whose number is increasing.
The way this is being done, Shlosberg says, is especially disturbing: “First the deputies are called in and warned how to vote. They vote ‘as required,’ and they then in their majority hand over their mandates … They and the residents of the settlements are thus broken on the wheel. We have almost no decisions taken by assembles of citizens or public hearings.”
Olga Molyarenko, a Moscow specialist on local administration, says that “unfortunately, this is a nearly universal practice.” And she notes that officials and people in many areas are now referring to the new system as demokratura, that is, a combination of democracy for show but dictatorship in practice.
She adds that “all this is leading to the further withering away of villages and the formation of urban conglomerations.” Without local governments and local budgets to hold them in the villages, people there will have no choice but to flee to the cities, leaving the countryside vacant and threatening further demographic and democratic decline.
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