Saturday, January 22, 2022

Russia Desperately Needs Decentralization Not Expansion of Megalopolises, Shirokorad Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 2 – Even though Russia is the largest country in the world, the density of population in Moscow and other megalopolises is far greater than population density in far smaller European countries, a trend that has made it more difficult for Russia to combat the pandemic and raises economic and national security issues, Aleksandr Shirokorad says.

            As Western theorists pointed out and as Russians have discovered on their own skin, the overconcentration of people in major cities generates a variety of social pathologies including alienation, overconsumption, and social isolation and makes it far more difficult for regimes to fight problems like the coronavirus (

            According to Shirokorad, governments including the Russian government need to recognize that major cities now are not playing the same role they did a half century ago. They are no longer industrial centers where people are producing things but instead places where people make their way by buying and selling what others produce.

            That makes them parasitic on the rest of the country and increases tensions between them and the remainder of the population. Because that is so, decentralization of all kinds will benefit Russia, and decentralization to Siberia as Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu is advocating could help lead to the positive transformation of the country.

            “The advantages of the new Siberian cities,” the historian says, “are more than obvious. There will be broad avenues with a large distance between apartment buildings, the way Moscow was built in the 1960s. And possibly, entire sectors of the cities will consist of small cottages. There won’t be homeless or unemployed people, criminals or migrant workers.”

            Migrant workers may be used to build these places, of course. But they should be sent home as soon as they have accomplished this task much as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates do rather than absorbed as Russian citizens. If that path is followed, “the new Siberian cities can become the incubators of a new generation of Russian patriots.”

            These new Russians must be inculcated with a sober and healthy patriotism rather than the crude “kvas” kind so often on offer these days. “Kvas patriotism,” Shirokobad says, is inevitably and increasingly destructive of society, even more than was the case when it was dominant in the 1980s.

            A new more sober patriotism arising from Siberian cities may help to produce a new partnership between the state and society and help stem the increasing exodus of scholars and other highly qualified workers from Russia. That would benefit everyone including the state, and properly understood it would not threaten the state’s own goals.

            That is because, the historian says, it is quite possible “to combine an authoritarian regime with a high standard of living, the triumph of law, the non-interference in personal life and so on.” That happened in France under Napoleon; it can happen in Russia in the future under Putin. And the Kremlin should see that decentralization will benefit it by reducing the baneful influence of cities.

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