Saturday, November 2, 2019

Moscow Pushing Sub-Regional Consolidation, Weakening Local Control and the Ability of Dispersed Non-Russians to Survive

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 – Under the terms of a law that has just gone into effect, regional governments can unilaterally combine rural settlements in one rayon into a municipal okrug, a step that will tighten the power vertical at the regional level, accelerate the depopulation of rural areas, and threaten the survival of non-Russians to survive as distinct groups.

            Those are the conclusions of Tatar scholar Nail Gyylman on his Zamanabiz portal about a reform that may transform much of the Russian Federation by depriving villages of the organs of self-administration but that up to now has received almost no attention in the Moscow media (

            This process began on an experimental and selective basis four years ago, he continues, but now Moscow has put in place a law that doesn’t make further consolidation a requirement – that might spark popular resistance – but does create a situation in which regional officials will have much to gain career-wise and little to lose if they proceed.

            Combining village governments into metropolitan districts represents “the furthest centralization of power at the regional level” and makes it easier for the regional bosses to control the territory they are charged with supervising – but, Gyylman argues, it hardly corresponds “to the interests of the majority of rural residents.”

            “In his view, “the demolishing of the system of local self-administration [in this way] is one of the most harmful and destructive plans of the authorities” because it undermines local democracy, destroys local schools and other institutions, and is certain to radically accelerate rural depopulation.

            As long as local governments exist, so too do social institutions, including schools and the like, and these provide dozens of work places for residents and thus hold them in the villages. Once those institutions are gone so too will likely follow the residents, and the villages will simply cease to exist.

            “In the majority of regions, the liquidation of rural settlements and the establishment of municipal districts is capable of destroying what remains of Russian villages after the crises and reforms of the last decades,” Gyylman argues. But the mono-ethnic non-Russian villages, the basis of national life in many cases, will be hit hardest and most devastatingly.

            “Small mono-national villages remain the last bastion of the preservation of languages and cultures of the indigenous peoples of Russia,” he adds. “Only in them and not in fac everywhere at that is still preserved a living language milieu” that helps these languages survive the Russianizing impact of urbanization and Kremlin policy.

            “As long as such villages exist, there is the hope that in the event of a change in the attitude of society and the state to the problem of preserving languages could occur” and the languages could make a comeback – or at the very least, “the processes of the disappearance of languages of the indigenous peoples will be slowed.”

            “In small villages are located the majority of schools in which even formally instruction in native languages is retained,” Gyylman says; “and in certain republics, for example, Udmurtia and Mari El, only in the villages is the native language” of the titular nation still the language of instruction.

            Most of these village schools are small with no more than 100 to 150 pupils. Schools in the existing rayon centers are larger; and in almost all cases, the language of instruction has become Russian. If the villages are consolidated into municipal okrugs, most schools with non-Russian languages of instruction will be closed.

            And that will hit these non-Russian nations as a whole hard. Indeed, Gyylman suggests that may be the point of this new law. After all, “the fraction of the rural population among all indigenous peoples is higher than among the Russians, and the villages are in better condition than the Russian ones.”

            That means, Gyylman concludes, that “the liquidation of rural settlements will accelerate the destruction of the language and cultural milieus of the indigenous peoples.”

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