Friday, June 21, 2019

Siberian Cities Now Dying from Boredom, Verkhoturov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – In addition to all the other factors working against their survival – the closing of major industries, the flight of young people to European Russia, and the lack of infrastructure connecting them to the broader world – there is another underlying factor at work, Dmitry Verkhoturov says. And that is simple boredom. 

            The Siberian writer who evolved over the last two decades from an anti-Moscow regionalist to a more pro-Moscow essayist who often attacked his earlier allies argues in a new article on Irkutsk’s Babr news and analyst portal that Yeniseysk, a city of 20,000 in Krasnoyarsk Kray, typifies this situation (

            Yeniseysk has a long history by Siberian standards and once was an important administrative center, but now it is dying as are many other cities in the region. The usual explanations are the lack of any serious economic role, the loss of its administrative responsibilities, and the lack of a university which could make it an intellectual center.
            That last point is especially important, Verkhoturov suggests, as a comparison with Tomsk shows.  That city set up a university and thus has outpaced Yeniseysk which did not, despite sharing many of the other problems that appear to point to the disappearance of its coeval city.

            Consequently, it is worth noting that “the life and death of cities depends not only and not so much on economic conditions” as on other factors including a dynamic intellectual life which a university can promote and local leadership committed to making changes in order to grow and prosper rather than acceptant of that fate.

            The mentality of a city’s population and especially of its leaders matters enormously. If that mentality is not only open to change but actively promotes it, a city can survive even if everything else is working against it. But if the mentality of residents is not, then few of the other factors will matter in the longer term.

            The Siberian commentator reaches that conclusion on the basis of his own recent experience. He proposed that Yeniseysk create a special niche for itself by creating a major construction center for building river boats.  That would not only bring in money but it would put Yeniseysk on the mental maps of Russians far from the city’s borders.

            That idea was poohpoohed by residents who basically said who has ever heard of Yeniseysk or ever will. But that is how cities “die from boredom.” They come to assume that there is no reason to change and so stop making any effort to do so, even if changes would bring them prosperity and survival and a failure to change represents a death sentence. 

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