Staunton, March 4 – Both officials and the population get used to the existing territorial divisions of the Russian Federation at all levels and thus are inclined to oppose any efforts to combine municipalities as well as regions, convinced that this will reduce their powers or mean that it will be more difficult for them to get services or intervene with officialdom.
Such concerns have slowed if not stopped Moscow’s hopes to combine non-Russian autonomies with larger and predominantly Russian oblasts and krays and led its officials to make promises to secure approval that they don’t then carry out or engage in deceptive and opaque practices to push things the center wants.
But the same thing is happening below the regional level, where depopulation provides a far more compelling case for combining districts that have lost population into larger units with more people and thus a greater ability to provide essential services. But even there, people, politicians and even officials often resist.
Because the populations involved are so small and so far from Moscow or even regional centers, this resistance seldom gets much attention in the Russian media. But the Nakanune news agency has pulled back the curtain to highlight just how much opposition there is to such moves however rational they may appear to outsiders and Moscow (nakanune.ru/articles/116773/).
Within the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, officials are currently pushing to combine in various ways six different existing municipalities. The district government has authorized going ahead an even organized public hearings so that people can share their feelings and feel that they are being listened to as the process goes forward.
Many residents have taken to social networks to complain that they weren’t given adequate notice about the meetings, that they don’t believe the promises of officials that they will be as well or better off if the amalgamation moves go forward, and that all the decisions are being made for them without them.
Eidko Serotetto, known as “the reindeer herder opposition leader,” says that the meetings were so arranged that the people were left without any chance to voice their objections. The sessions were intended to give the patina of legitimacy to these latest power grabs by officials. In short, the meetings were “only a show.”
He has a good case given the chronology that Nakanune supplies. First, the district duma approved the amalgamation plans and only afterwards did officials ask for public comment. And in both cases, fears of people that they would be left without nearby social services like hospitals were dismissed or promises made that history shows won’t be kept.
What is interesting in this election year is that some political parties are getting involved. The KPRF has decided to come out in defense of those who oppose the amalgamation and its leaders have declared that whatever officials say, “there were no public hearings” as is required for any such step. The party also says there is no reason to believe promises about a good future.