Sunday, July 21, 2019

Russian Villages aren’t Dying a Natural Death; Moscow is Killing Them, Begiyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – It is universally acknowledged that be that Russian villages are dying. What is not understood is that this is not some natural process but rather the result of specific actions of the powers that be, including the adoption of laws that have “transformed rural life into a hell,” APN commentator Nikolay Begiyev says. 

            In the first of what he promises will be a series of articles on Moscow’s pernicious role in this process, the commentator points out that “’in the depth of Russia’ no one knows precisely what is going on” because there are few sociological studies and the people there live in “a half-natural, almost medieval” way (

                Moreover, “the powers that be in the Kremlin and at the level of federal districts is completely uninterested in the real picture of life in the villages, even from the point of view of protest potential,” Begiyev says. “The authorities aren’t afraid of the village and have already written it off.”

            Some of Moscow’s laws about the village appear to have been adopted because of good intentions, improving public health, for example; but they have been written without any recognition of the realities of the Russian village or applied in ways that have led to impoverishment or even starvation, the commentator continues.

            While some in the villages may be doing more or less all right, the rural poor now do not have money “even for daily bread for their children.” In the North Caucasus, for example, people have been reduced to what looks like “stone soup” because they do not know who now owns the land and cannot sell their own private production without being in violation of the law.

             “In recent years,” Begiyev continues, “a new generation of ‘inventors of laws’ has grown up.” Many of them are to be found in the Higher School of Economics whose denizens take their ideas and sometimes even texts from the Chicago school of economics without bothering to consider Russian realities and particularly the realities of the Russian village.

            For example, when Moscow began to talk about import substitution, instead of relying on the private plots and stock of Russian peasants, the authorities at the center decided that the only group worth supporting where the rural oligarchs, those who owned enormous swaths of land and could meet Moscow standards.

            As a result, new laws were adopted which made local trade illegal. The consequence was the impoverishment of rural Russians and the death of villages without a significant improvement of the diet of Russians in urban areas. This all was justified by reference to fighting disease, but the consequence was to fight Russian villagers in the first instance.

            Villagers were told they couldn’t raise food or livestock or, at a minimum, they could not offer it for sale.  That led to a dramatic decline in the standard of living in the villages, a falloff in deliveries to urban centers outside of the megalopolises, and protests by hungry villagers. But Moscow did not reverse course. Instead, it imposed new limits on local production.

            The situation has been especially bad in Siberia and the North Caucasus, but the worst case involves Russian-occupied Crimea. There overly zealous officials have not just banned the sale of livestock owned by peasants but actually destroyed it, thus leaving the rural population without money, food or hope.

            All this has been compounded, Begiyev says, by problems with the registration of property. In many places, the peasants do not know who owns what and therefore decide not to grow food lest the rural oligarchs take it from them. Again, food production has plummeted as a result, with fatal consequences for the villages.

            But perhaps the worst Moscow law as far as villagers are concerned, at least among those Begiyev surveys in this first part of his report, involves legal requirements for packaging of foodstuffs.  “Urban residents, in the opinion of liberals and liberal officials must east only products packed in plastic by major food corporations.”

            Laws back up these corporations, and individual peasant farmers are thus legally excluded from the marketplace. Fortunately, the APN commentator says, these laws aren’t enforced everywhere; but any peasant who sells his products piecemeal is at risk of being hauled into court.

            “The peasant and the small-time farmer aren’t needed by the Russian state,” and they know it. They have been “thrown to the winds of fate and the arbitrariness of local authorities.”  They may protest, but ultimately, they are driven to flee their villages in order to save their lives.”

            Consequently, Begiyev says, when officials in Moscow shed tears about the death of the village, these are hypocritical crocodile tears shed by people who have caused many of the problems that they are now complaining about. 

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