Russians in Small Towns Far from Moscow Live in Another World, Visitor from the Capital Says
(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, June 14, 2022)
Russians who live in major cities and those who live in villages receive a great deal of attention. Together, they form the overwhelming majority of the population. But those who live in smaller cities and towns seldom get much attention, Sergey Nechayev says.
But if one visits one of them as he, a Moscow journalist recently did, one discovers that Russians living in them live in another world, one that he says is not seen as bad by its residents but rather as something resembling the communism they were promised in Soviet times (sovsekretno.ru/articles/pobeda-kommunizma200622/).
Nechayev recently visited one such Russian town of 7,000 just east of Bashkortostan and north of Kazakhstan. He doesn’t give its name but relates that it was once twice as large because of the Soviet-era electric generating plant nearby. Now, it is getting smaller as older people die off and younger people move away to find work.
But those who remain do not feel they are suffering, Nechayev says. Local residents have practically no money and have to make do in a whole variety of ways. There is no longer any hospital or advanced educational institution, and many recreational facilities residents of larger cities take for granted aren’t available.
Half of the apartments in the city are empty, and they are being offered for sale at roughly the same price as a single square meter of housing in Moscow is going for. Trash blows through the streets, and street lights and fountains no longer work. But despite all this, the Moscow journalist says, “not everything is so bad.”
“When you come to the town from Moscow, everything for the first few days is appalling,” he says. “And you want to cry out: people, why are you this way? And why are you living so badly.” But then with the passage of time, a visitor recognizes that his initial reaction is wrong.
Trash, for example, blows through the streets not because people are slovenly but because there are high winds off the steppe; but more important than that, Nechayev says, is this: people in this little town are different. They are like those from another planet. They have different priorities and different ideas about what is good and what is bad.”
They live quietly and don’t run about. “They do not read newspapers or listen to news about what is going on in the country, they don’t know about fires in Siberia or the details about the military operation in Ukraine, and they watch television only to see old films” and talent shows.
Their lives are centered on their homes, and they gather together to sing. But they sing the old songs and don’t know any of the ones Muscovites now are listening to. Everyone knows everyone else, and anyone who requiring help needs only to ask. There are no taxis but people in the town can always find someone to drive them to a doctor 55 kilometers away of an airport 103 kilometers distant.
The townspeople have no interest in politics, they don’t get depressed, and they don’t engage in protest activities. “And why should they protest? They are satisfied with everything … There is no money, but then they don’t have anything to spend it on.” And they take pleasure in clean air, a bright blue sky, and clean water.
Someone might object that they are satisfied because they do not have anything to compare it with, much as was the case for most during Soviet times. A Zhiguli seemed a great car for those who had never driven a Mercedes or Toyota. And they had good schools and hospitals and could be proud of their country’s space exploits.
In this little town, Nechayev says, he “suddenly felt that this is how the communism we were promised would look, with happiness being achieved” because people were satisfied with what they had and did not assume they had to strive after more. In Russian cities now, people are unhappy precisely because they always want more. But in small towns, that isn’t the case.
While visiting the town, the Moscow journalist says, he underwent a change: he stopped watching television and he didn’t even read a French book he had brought with him. And he began to ask himself whether he should throw over everything he has in Moscow and “emigrate to the little town forever.”
[article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/07/russians-in-small-towns-far-from-moscow.html]