Monday, March 19, 2018

Russia’s Mid-Sized Cities Aging Rapidly, Creating Problems Beyond Their Ability to Cope

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 17 – The decay of industries in the mid-sized cities of Russia, a group often ignored between the megalopolises and the villages, is accelerating, the result of the flight of young people and the inability of such places to attract or hold migrants from the Russian countryside or abroad.

            One such city is Naberezhny Chelny, briefly Brezhnev, in the Republic of Tatrstan and the rapid aging of its population as a result is placing burdens on it that are beyond the capacity of officials to cope and that thus threaten its survival as an urban center in the future (

            Over the last seven years, the number of pensioners there has risen by 30 thousand, while the number of newborns has stagnated or even fallen. And the industrial city like others of its kind, local analyst Elena Mashkova says, has not been able to retain working age people or attract migrants from rural areas or abroad.

            Of those leaving, she says, young people are not the most numerous. Instead, the departees are dominated by people aged 35 to 45 with children who are worried about college for them given that Naberezhny Chelny does not have its own university and by self-described entrepreneurs who can’t get a start there.

            Farid Basharov, the head of the city’s Trade and Industry Chamber, says that much of what is going on reflects older trends: those who came to work at KAMAZ 30 and 40 years ago are either pensioners or not among the living.  If it weren’t for the outmigration and failure to attract new immigrants, he says, the age group balance would have remained much the same.

            “Somewhat more than 70 percent of the graduates” of the city’s schools choose to go elsewhere for work. There are too few jobs for them to choose from, but more than that, the city fails to provide cultural amenities young people now expect, Basharov says, especially because it lacks a university.

            According to Natalya Zubarevich, a regional economist in Moscow, “people go mostly to regional capitals or further, directly to Moscow” rather than to cities like Naberezhny Chelny or Toliatti. As a result, she says, “many industrial cities are losing population as a result of migration … the population is aging and migration is not keeping it young.”

            In this situation, however, the city government has failed to do much for older people because it continues to think of itself as a “young” urban place.  It isn’t, and there needs to be more money spend and attention given to the problems of older people including accessibility, entertainment, and health care. 

            At present, however, officials in the city, the republic and Moscow seem more concerned about “the burden” young and old place on the working age population.  According to statistics, Naberezhny Chelny is getting worse in this respect: In 2014, there were 631 non-workers for every 1,000 residents. Now, there are 751, an increase of almost 20 percent in only four years.

‘One of the Strangest Russian Presidential Campaigns Ever’ Finally Ends

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 17 – Tomorrow, Russians will go to vote after what Yekaterinburg commentator Aleksey Shaburov says has been “one of the strangest Russian presidential campaigns” ever, a campaign that was about mobilization rather than choice, suppression of differences of opinion rather than their clarification, and a failure to talk about the future.

            The Yekaterinburg commentator says that even before the results are tabulated, there were three features of these elections that defined them and their likely impact on Russia’s future, features perhaps never entirely absent in earlier campaigns but that have defined the one just concluded (

            First, from day one it was clear to everyone that Vladimir Putin would win if he wanted to. What mattered was not that outcome but rather the level of participation because this election was all about the ability of the regime to mobilize the population, something measured by participation rather than by the share of votes cast for this or that candidate.

            That was shown by the enormous and striking difference between the amount of money and effort the authorities devoted to getting people to turn out to vote as compared to that devoted to getting them to vote for Putin. “Was participation really more important for the authorities than the results? Of course not.”

            But the goal of the campaign was mobilization because that provides a measure of the capacity of the Putin regime not just to get people to come to the polls but its ability to get them to act.  This “transformation of the elections into a mobilization campaign is not a good signal because it deprives elections of their proper function and makes other things possible.

            Second, elections are supposed to be the occasion for contesting points of view, for challenging the positions of those in power by those outside. But the campaign just concluded almost completely eliminated that possibility for within system protests that could help both the incumbents and the opposition know better where the population is and how to proceed.

            “All the concerns that the elections would lead to a growth in protest attitudes and to the exacerbation of contradictions in society turned out to be for naught,” Shaburov says. One need not restrict this to political protests but rather to enlarge it social ones because there are many social problems in Russia that should have given rise to protest. That didn’t happen.

            “The only significant protests during this time were connected with ecology,” with concerns about trash disposal. “But ecological protest by definition is local and therefore it is not appropriate to talk about its national dimensions.”  A major reason for the absence of protests is the opposition candidates did not encourage them lest they be accused of “’rocking the boat.’”

            Even Aleksey Navalny, who wasn’t allowed to be a candidate, did not make use of his efforts to stimulate protest attitudes.  He focused instead on promoting a boycott, that is, on demobilizing the population rather than mobilizing it against the authorities, according to Shaburov.

             If this absence of protests was very useful for the authorities, the commentator says, “it was not for society. Elections are the best means of talking about all-national problems, finding ways for their resolution or at least raising them at the level of the entire country. But nothing like that happened;” and it is difficult to foresee when it will.

            And third, this election produced no model for the future even though many had expected Putin to declare his intentions.  But he did not. “Moreoveer, Putin didn’t even present his own pre-election program.”  Putin himself became the image of the future, not any specific policies. In that sense, the campaign reinforced the notion that “if there is Putin, there is Russia.”

What these three things mean, Shaburov argues, is that this non-campaign campaign isn’t going to be remembered for very long.  Instead, Russians will immediately start thinking about the 2024 elections “if of course they in fact will take place.”

Russians Hate the West for Far More Reasons than They Used To, Makarkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 17 – Among the major changes that have occurred in Russia since Soviet times, Aleksey Makarkin says, is a diversification in the reasons Russians hate the West.  In the USSR, there was a single ideological message that the population was expected to accept as to why the West was to be hated. Now, there are many such messages.

            “In Soviet times,” the Moscow political analyst says, “hatred was based on official propaganda,” a source which was increasingly distrusted.  Now, however, it is based on a far more varied set of sources of information, with Russians now having access to more reasons for hating the West (

                That means that not all Russians hate the West for the same reasons: some hate the outside world for one reason and others for a different one, Makarkin argues; and that in turn means that the ability of the Kremlin to change directions on this point may be far less than either it or many in the West think.

            A Russian today can “hate the West because 14 powers launched a campaign against the young Soviet republic” or because it “did not save the sainted emperor and his family from the hands of the bloody Bolsheviks,” he points out.

            Alternatively, a Russian can hate the West for launching the Normandy invasion only in 1944 and not two years earlier as Moscow wanted, and at the same time, other Russians can hate the West for the firebombing of Dresden.  They can hate the West for not returning Russians to the USSR after 1945 and for forcibly deporting Russians to the Soviet Union.

             And a Russian is offered the chance to hate the West for destroying the Soviet Union or for failing to embrace it more fully once that happened, Makarkin writes. “People on the left are angry at colonial expansion; those on the right are upset by single-sex marriages;” and so on and so forth, a diversity never seen in Soviet times.

            “Such [diverse] hatred has a more constant character, even more so because various arguments in a post-modernist and pluralist society can be combined depending on individual choice without having to consider the position of the party committee.” Thus, one can hate the West whether one is “an Orthodox Stalinist or an anti-fascist xenophobe.”