Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Russian Authorities Use Soldiers as Voters to Limit Protest in Dying Company Towns

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 6 – Residents of Russian company towns whose main industry has shut down are angry and ready to vote for candidates who will reflect their attitudes. To counter that, at least in the case of cities near military facilities or the border, the powers that be are having soldiers take part in elections to ensure candidates who reflect popular attitudes don’t win.

            Tatyana Britskaya of Novaya gazeta describes this process in Nikel, a city whose main enterprise was shuttered a year ago. Because it is near the Norwegian border, there are many military facilities and border guard posts. The powers have thus found it easy to use their votes to defeat protest at the ballot box (

            Many Russians were pleased when the Nikel plant was closed because it was one of the most environmentally destructive facilities in the Russian Federation, regularly spewing out poisonous materials and harming the environment and the population far from the city itself. But residents were left in desperate straits.

            Because everything in Nikel was centered about the single enterprise, its closure meant that very soon, there was no water, heat or even sewage. More significantly, there were few alternatives to employment in that firm; and so people were left without income and without the possibility of making a new life.

            The fact that this happened during the pandemic when tourism came to a halt and when the residents of Nikel needed heat and medical care even more than normal only made the situation worse. And so many of them have decided to leave, given that the government has promised help but not delivered.

            Or alternatively, the authorities have come up with ideas that are all for show and put money in the pockets of officials and their allies but do nothing for the people. One “assistance” project, for example, involved training people to pain murals on housing blocks, places that in most cases are falling into disrepair anyway.

            As a result, Nikel residents who had been well paid in the past are now fleeing the city in hopes of surviving somewhere else. Evidence of this, Britskaya says, is that some are selling their apartments for as little as an I-phone, something that means they have little or nothing to begin live anew further south.

            But there isn’t going to be any within system protest, she points out. The authorities are able to count on the votes of soldiers and border guards to swamp those of residents. But as things deteriorate, it is entirely possible that people who can’t protest through the system may decide their only real option is to protest against it.


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