Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Many Ethnic Russians Returning to North but Moscow isn’t Counting Them, Anthropologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 16 – Many Russians who worked in the Far North in Soviet times to make money are now returning to the region because they are relatives and friends there, Anastasiya Karaseva says. But this reverse flow has been largely ignored because there are so few registration offices in the North able to record and report about this trend.

            Karaseva, an anthropologist with the Center of Social Research on the North at St. Petersburg’s European University which is studying Russians in the northern portion of the country, insists that “people are returning. It is simply the case that statistics about them aren’t seen” by many (

            “The Far North, already in Soviet times, was a special territory where there was higher pay, longer vacations, and paid travel to any other part of the country,” she says. “This permits many Northerners to be very mobile” and to have the chance to compare one part of the country to others.

            And life in the North because many services are nonexistent or far away is different because those who succeed there are ones who carefully plan for the future, Karaseva says.  That creates a different character and more than that a sense of regional identity different from those held by Russians elsewhere.

            These feelings are especially strong among those who go to isolated mines or oil fields, cycling back and forth from the rest of Russia. But “in the major cities of the North,” she says, “there is also a distinctive situation.” Services are more available, but records of those coming and going almost equally lacking.

            “In the 1990s, when the economic system changed and financial support collapsed, those who could leave did not put off their departure, and from the northern regions of the Far East, for example, more than 60 percent of the people left.” Their departures continue to attract attention and form a stereotype about people in the North.

            “But there are also those who are returning,” and many are doing so even if they have been away 20 years or more. They have relatives and friends there, and so when they go on pension, they go back. However, Karaseva says, “statistics don’t allow them to be seen.” They register their arrival and departure but no one knows how many are remaining there.

            In her Lenta interview, the anthropologist makes three other points. First, she says, she does not focus on the GULAG in her conversations with northerners because they have fixed opinions and do not reveal more about themselves than what they have heard in the media.

            Second, a much more profitable line of inquiry concerns accidents in the north because incidents that would quickly be addressed elsewhere often are not or lead to lethal outcomes. She and some of her colleagues are now examining this issue.

            And third, she recounts the fate of two ethnic groups in the North who live in the same villages but who have had a very different fate, the Saami who have been able to reach out to their co-ethnics abroad and remain on the list of peoples of the North who get benefits, and the Komi-Izhemtsy, who have no such contacts and don’t get those benefits.

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