Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Russians in Isolated Villages Very Different from Russians Elsewhere, New Study Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 30 – Because Russia is so large and because its road system is so bad, many Russian villages are effectively cut off from the world for most or even all of the year and live their own life with little regard for the rest of the country. And they seldom attract much attention from others.

            But a new study by Artemy Pozanenko throws useful light on this neglected part of the Russian world. Entitled “A Separate Type of Republic: Structural Features of Isolated Rural Communities,” Mir Rossii, 27 (2018), 4: 31-55 (, it has been summarized by Alena Tarasova at

            The researcher at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics interviewed 85 residents of 15 isolated settlements in five regions of the European portion of Russia. He found that they were far more ready than other Russians to cooperate with and trust each other and helped keep the communities going even in the face of unemployment and poor prospects for the future.

            Most of the residents of these villagers were of pension age, a smaller share working age, and only in a few were there significant numbers of children.  There is a great deal of marriage among close relatives because there are no longer the constraints imposed by the church in tsarist times or the authorities in Soviet ones.

            There are few real jobs and so most people live in a natural economy – hunting, fishing, gathering or gardening -- or work part time in various capacities, Pozanenko found.  Few register as unemployed because that requires a costly and often difficult trip twice a month to the district center, something that would eat up any money someone who did register might receive.

            Nonetheless, many are able to maintain a reasonable standard of living, the researcher said. One of his informants observed that “no one works anywhere, but each has two cars.”  But their lives are nonetheless hard: they have far fewer fruits and vegetables especially in wintertime and rely more heavily on meat.

            Such villagers rarely go to stores to purchase food, and those they do visit once every several weeks have poorly stocked shelves. 

            “In the majority of homes, there are weapons although they are not officially registered,” the scholar found. Police look the other way because “they understand that no one can live face to face with the natural world without a gun.” Most houses have television and Internet connected by satellite dishes, but few have telephones.

            Residents don’t lock their houses but do take care of each other. Despite their reputation, they are seldom alcoholics – and anyone who descends into that life is helped along by other villagers rather than left to die. Medical care is minimal, and people rely on natural remedies. There is virtually no money economy. Everything is by barter.

            Local residents try to independently solve all their problems because they cannot count on outside officials, Pozanenko said.  “The only thing which really constitutes a threat to their independence is the closure of the local school.” People aren’t interested in home schooling, and if the school closes, the continued existence of the village is under threat.

             Most residents think their isolation is basically a good thing, and few want to leave, men in particular. Women are somewhat more interested in moving away. But what is striking, the researcher found, is that many young people who go away for schooling ultimately return home to live.

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